Most likely, you are aware that excessive sugar ingestion isn’t good for the body. What may be unknown is how much damage it can cause and how to avoid these possible risks.
In this article I intend to put a magnifying lens on sugar, discussing the types of sugar and their nutritional benefits, why we crave sugar, how sugar affects our bodies, the possible damages/health risk of sugar intake, and healthy methods of eating sugar.
I will also show you how we easily exceed the recommended daily sugar intake and strategies many food companies use to hide sugar in products to make us consume more than the healthy dose. However, I also focused on effectively calculating sugar contents from nutrition labels to burst these food companies and always eat healthy.
Let’s dive in already!
What is Sugar?
In the simplest terms, sugar is a form of carbohydrate consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules. When consumed, it digests and converts into glucose that serves as an energy source for cell functions.
What are the Types Of Sugars?
Natural: As you would guess, natural sugars come in naturally occurring foods like fruits and milk (called fructose and lactose, respectively). Although commonly misunderstood, natural sugars do not add so much nutritional value standalone. It works alongside vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals to provide numerous health benefits, including stabilizing metabolism and increasing satiety.
Refined: This sugar-type is commonly called processed or added sugar. These come from the chemical extraction and processing of sugar cane or sugar beets. Sometimes called “empty calories” because they add only calories to the body with no nutritional value, food manufacturers add these sugars to packaged foods like cereals, soda, fruit juice, and more in the form of fructose, corn syrup, and other options for sweetening.
Unlike the natural ones, processed sugars are digested quite rapidly and do not trigger any sense of satiety. Thus, the reason reports from the American Health Association states that adults readily consume up to 77 grams of refined sugar daily- twice the recommended amount for men and triple that of women (1)
What are the Risks of Sugar Intake?
- Immune System Decline: One unsung negative effect of consuming sugar is inhibiting the immune system activities when ingested over 75grams. Refined sugar does so by temporarily attacking (typically for a few hours after the ingestion) the white blood cells responsible for fighting bacteria. Hence, bringing down your body’s “defense system” for some time.
You might be thinking you don’t take as much as 75grams of sugar daily, but here’s a fun fact- one 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains up to 39g of sugar; so, you only need two of these to exceed the recommended limit.
Let’s not put all the blame on soda; other culprits are cupcakes (46g), low-fat sweetened yogurt (47g), sports drink (35g), etc. (I’ll show you how to search sugar levels in labels later in this article). Say you had a soda with a cupcake for lunch; you’ve got about 84grams of sugar already.
- Addiction: It is easy to relegate addiction to cocaine and street drugs. Howbeit, did you know that sugar is equally as addictive as cocaine? Experts agree that sugar plays with brain receptors similarly to street drugs by disrupting dopamine levels in the brain and stimulating the neurotransmitter serotonin’s release. High serotonin boost moods and provides short temporary pleasure. Yet, constant activation of this hormone can deplete its limited supply, causing depression afterward (2).
- Distortion Of Leptin Levels: Leptin is a satiety hormone secreted when you’re full. Sugar affects leptin levels, appetite, and metabolism in two ways (3).
First, think of it this way: when you’re full, the body produces leptin and transports it through the bloodstream to signal each part that it is full and should kick-start a breakdown of foods and stop seeking more. Sugar intake has a way of impeding leptin production. As a result, your body does not transduce the signal, slowing down metabolism and increasing food intake.
Secondly, your body increases insulin production commensurate with your sugar intake. Insulin is responsible for metabolism, and when high in the bloodstream, it signals to your fat cells to stop burning energy and start storing them. Consequently, you begin to gain weight. (Did you hear that sugar makes you fat? That’s how it works).
- Type-2 Diabetes: Despite being one of the most popular effects of sugar intake, reports from the US National Library of Medicine indicate that diabetes prevalence has doubled over the past 25 years (4). As stated earlier, sugar intake causes a spike in insulin production. Sadly, like with every other hormone, excessive and frequent rise in insulin levels causes your body to become resistant to it.
- Insulin Resistance: This describes a condition when cells in your muscles, liver, and fat do not respond well to insulin and wouldn’t use blood glucose (sugar) for energy. As a result, cells need more and more insulin, but the pancreas cannot produce enough to bring down blood sugar levels- the condition called Type 2 Diabetes.
- Increased Inflammation: Inflammation refers to the immune system response against conditions that harm your body. For instance, the chemical that produces sores and clots on bruises. Frequent ingestion of sugar speeds up free fatty acids and Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGEs) production when combined with the fat and protein in the blood. These factors trigger low-grade inflammatory responses that link to many health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and liver disease.
The Effect Of Sugar Consumption On Specific Body Parts
- Teeth: Sugar directly links to tooth cavity and decay. We all have bacteria in our mouths. These bacteria and saliva combine with sugar molecules when we consume sugary foods or drinks to produce an acidic compound that can dissolve enamel (a thin, hard, glossy layer on the tooth’s crown) and cause cavities.
- Skin: You may have heard so many secrets to anti-aging; I don’t know how true they can be, but avoiding sugar is one valid way. Don’t get me wrong, wrinkles and sagging of the skin are almost inevitable when you’re getting very old, regardless of your health. Howbeit, the speed at which they come can be altered.
As previously mentioned, sugar promotes AGEs when combined with fat and protein in the blood. Studies suggest that AGEs link directly in skin aging (5). It does so by damaging collagen and elastin- compounds responsible for keeping the skin intact and maintain a youthful appearance. Thus, causing sags and premature aging (6)
- Joint: One possible reason you have pain in your joints is that your sugar intake is too much. Excessive sugar intake increases the risk/worsens an inflammatory response called gout, a condition when uric acid levels in the blood are high, leading to frequent joint pain.
- Heart: Sugar does not directly link to heart disease but relates to multiple heart disease risk factors including, high blood glucose, obesity, high blood pressure, inflammation, and high triglyceride. Studies indicate over 30% greater risk of dying from heart disease when up to 21% of daily calories come from added sugar than when it is limited to only 8%.
Mind you, on the standard 2000 daily calorie diet, one can (50cl) of soda constitutes about 10% of the calorie consumption. Thus, putting you overboard the safe zone.
- Kidney: The kidney is responsible for removing excess sugar from the blood. Consistent intake of high-sugar meals can get them overly stressed and inefficient. Worse yet, diabetes and kidney failure.
Where is sugar hidden, how and why companies hide sugar in everything to make us eat more?
Why Do Food Companies Hide Sugar?
Sweeteners appeal to many people, and food companies know that, so they add sugar to processed foods to make them more appetizing. Albeit, they also add flavors, color, and texture to baked foods.
The reason food companies hide sugar is quite simple- if a soda company says, “our 50cl drink has almost 50g of sugar, and the recommended daily value is less than 75g,” they certainly wouldn’t get many sales. To get you to buy more products, they hide the sugar content or refuse to say anything about healthy sugar doses.
So, How Do Food Companies Hide Sugar?
There are two ways food companies hide sugar in their products. Let’s discuss them.
Different/Unusual Names for Processed Sugars: Sugars processed in different ways have equally different names. One method food companies hide sugar is using unpopular names of sugar a vast majority of people don’t know. Below are a few of these sugar-synonyms.
- White Granulated Sugar
- Turbinado Sugar
- Rice Syrup
- Raw Sugar
- Palm Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Malt Syrup
- Invert Sugar
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Golden sugar
- Evaporated Corn Sweetener
- Evaporated Cane Juice
- Ethyl maltol
- Date sugar
- Corn Syrup Solids
- Corn Syrup
- Coconut Sugar
- Carob syrup
- Caster sugar
- Cane Sugar
- Cane Juice
- Birch syrup
- Brown Sugar
- Brown Rice Syrup
- Buttered sugar
- Beet sugar
- Barley Malt Syrup
- Agave Nectar
Lowering Portion Size: Another method companies hide sugar is by reducing the portion size to give a false sense of how much sugar you consume. For example, a single product may have more than one serving, and while the amount of sugar in each serving is low, you may typically consume up to three products at a go; thus, ingesting more sugar than what’s on the label.
How Can You Accurately Calculate Sugar On Food Labels?
Thanks to the recent nutritional label change the Food and Drug administration imposed on food companies, getting an exact amount of sugar in any product wouldn’t be complicated or dicey.
The key things to check for in the updated nutrition labels are the servings per container and the total sugars/added sugar. Remember to multiply the total sugar by the number of products you consume and note how many servings you used if you don’t use the entire product in one sitting.
What Are The Action Points For Sugar?
- Avoid Refined Sugar, Prioritize Natural Sugar or Healthy Alternatives: Your best option for sugar is to use natural options like fruits because they offer numerous health and nutritional advantages over added sugars. More so, if you must add sweeteners to your meal, you should opt for natural sugar substitutes like raw honey, yacon syrup, pure maple syrup, pure monk fruits, or pure stevia.
- Detox: “Detox,” an abbreviation of detoxification, describes a process where the body reboots its metabolism and ejects toxins. The human body, via the liver and kidney detox naturally, without any dieting plan. However, specific diets can help your organs remove these harmful substances more efficiently and faster. In my free 3-day mini cleanse guide, I provided a three-day planner featuring healthy and delicious recipes that helps the body gently cleanse itself while keeping you satisfied and lively. The best part? I made a shopping list to make getting these foods as easy as possible.
Excessive sugar intake links to many adverse health conditions. Remember that “an excessive amount” isn’t so hard to reach- a can of soda and a cupcake gets you overboard already.
Still, we all know how unsavory some meals will be without sweeteners, but your overall health shouldn’t be compromised for the pleasure of a toothsome meal. Am I saying you eat untasty meals all your life? No! I don’t even do that.
A healthy approach will be to detox; you can use my free 3-day cleanse guide to remove these toxic compounds and reboot your natural body function. Then cut down refined sugar, and try using some of the natural, healthy sugar alternatives mentioned earlier. Still, if you must use refined sugar, follow the steps aforementioned to calculate and stay within 50grams of sugar daily.