Mountaintop Medicine: Nutrition Notes — Too Much Sugar Isn’t So Sweet for Your Health
Howdy! Welcome back to Mountaintop Medicine: Nutrition Notes! This week’s topic is the ever-concerning consumption of added sugars. In the United States, the average adult consumes an estimated 17 teaspoons of added sugar each day. Added sugars can be found in the most inconspicuous and unassuming foods such as marinara sauce and peanut butter. Almost all processed or pre-packaged foods contain added sugars.
What are added sugars?
Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. Added sugars have many different names, including brown sugar, cane juice, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit nectars, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, brown rice syrup, and sucrose. The major sources of added sugars are sugary beverages such as sodas, sweetened teas and coffees, energy drinks, and fruit juice, breakfast cereals, energy bars, candy, desserts, and sweet snacks like cookies, cake, pies, and ice cream.
Nutritionally, added sugar doesn’t have much to offer us in terms of our health. There aren’t any nutrients in it. No vitamins, no minerals, and no protein- none of the good things that keep our bodies functioning at their best.
Naturally occurring sugars are found in unprocessed, whole foods such as fruit and milk. These foods contain essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Our bodies do not process natural sugars as quickly as they do added sugars. Added sugars are digested quickly, therefore, you don’t feel full after eating them. Natural sugars, on the other hand, provide fiber that fills up our stomachs.
What’s interesting about eating sugar is that it has been proven to stimulate areas of the brain related to addiction, leaving us wanting more and more. It also drives up our blood sugar, and is soon followed by a blood sugar drop, causing us to crave it even more.
Sugar’s Effect on Our Health
Eating too much sugar can contribute to a variety of health problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Too much sugar leads to the accumulation of visceral fat, or deep belly fat, that causes obesity and its associated health issues. Eating more sugar than you should also leads to inflammation, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure. It has also been proven to increase the risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease because our body stores much of the sugar we eat in our liver.
Sugary diets can also lead to skin issues such as acne because it spikes our blood sugar levels, which in turn raises androgen secretion and oil production. It also leads to dental issues such as cavities. Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and release acid byproducts and cause tooth demineralization. Additionally, eating too much sugar has been linked to cognitive impairments, memory problems, and emotional disorders like anxiety and depression.
The Low-down on Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are compounds that are designed to taste like sugar but with very few calories. They’re also commonly used by people with diabetes because they don’t affect our blood sugar levels in the same way as sugar. Some of the most common artificial sweeteners include sucralose (Splenda), saccharine (Sweet n’ Low), and aspartame (Equal).
Much like eating excess added sugars, eating too many artificial sweeteners has been linked to several health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
Tips to Lower Your Sugar Intake
- Swap soda, energy drinks, fruit juice, and sweetened tea for water or unsweetened seltzer.
- Drink black coffee.
- Sweeten plain yogurt with fruit instead of buying flavored yogurt.
- Consume whole fruits instead of sugar-sweetened smoothies or fruit juices.
- Make a homemade trail mix of fruit, nuts, and dark chocolate chips rather than eating candy.
- Use olive oil and vinegar in place of sweet salad dressings such as honey mustard.
- Choose marinades and sauces with zero added sugars.
- Look for cereals, granola, and granola bars with under 4 grams of sugar per serving.
- Swap your morning cereal for a bowl of oatmeal.
- Instead of using jelly, slice a banana onto a peanut butter sandwich.
- Avoid sweet alcoholic beverages that are made with soda, juice, honey, sugar, or agave.
The bottom line is that added sugars are not so sweet for your health. Although consuming small amounts of added sugar now and then is perfectly healthy, you should try to cut back on sugar whenever possible. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends the average adult to consume only about 10% of their daily calories from added sugars, or less than 200 calories total. To figure out if a packaged food contains added sugars, and how much, check the Nutrition Facts label. You will find “added sugars” underneath the line for “total sugars.”
If you have any questions or if there are any nutrition-related topics that you would like me to discuss, please email me at LGardner@EPH.org.