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Feeling a bit sluggish? Too much sugar could be the cause.
When the average American swallows 130 pounds of added sugars each year, sugar is toxic. Science shows that this overload of sugar—often stemming from hard-to-detect hidden added sugars—is affecting our bodies in all sorts of ways.
Sugar primes you for diabetes
A PLoS One study found that for every extra 150 calories from sugar available per person each day, diabetes prevalence rises by 1.1%.
It’s easy to recommend giving up sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, but the truth is that those drinks account for just one-third of your added sugar intake. You have to look further, really honing in on labels. Much of the hidden sugars hide out under your own roof, in unassuming places like ketchup, frozen dinners, beef jerky, and bread.
Sugar hammers your heart
You might expect sugar-curbing recommendations from the American Diabetes Association, thanks to sugar’s clear impact on the disease. But the reality is that heart disease and diabetes are intricately related: Heart disease and stroke are the number one causes of death among people with type 2 diabetes, accounting for 65% of those deaths.
Tip – Don’t exceed the American Heart Association’s recommended sugar levels, which are 5 teaspoons for women (20 grams); 9 teaspoons for men (36 grams); and 3 teaspoons (12 grams) for children. For reference, a can of soda generally contains up to 12 grams of sugar; a single slice of whole wheat bread contains up to 2 teaspoons of added sugars.
Sugar creates tense blood vessels
Added sugars cause excess insulin in the bloodstream, which takes its toll on your body’s circulatory highway system, your arteries. Chronic high insulin levels cause the smooth muscle cells around each blood vessel to grow faster than normal, according to The Sugar Smart Diet. This causes tense artery walls, something that puts you on the path to high blood pressure, and ultimately, makes a stroke or heart attack more likely.
Sugar promotes cholesterol chaos
There is an unsettling connection between sugar and cholesterol. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, after excluding people with high cholesterol and/or diabetes and people who were highly overweight, those who ate the highest levels of added sugars experienced the biggest spike in bad cholesterol levels and dangerous triglyceride blood fats, and the lowest good (HDL) cholesterol levels. One theory? Sugar overload could spark your liver to churn out more bad cholesterol while also inhibiting your body’s ability to clear it out.
Eating a protein-rich breakfast can help. Skipping breakfast makes you 4.5 times more likely to become obese. Eating breakfast also helps keep your blood sugar levels more favorable. An added perk? One study found that when overweight women chose protein-rich eggs over a bagel, they naturally ate fewer calories during the subsequent lunch.
Too Much Sugar leads to type 3 diabetes
Brown University neuropathologist Suzanne de la Monte, MD, coined the term “type 3 diabetes” after her team was the first to discover the links between insulin resistance, high-fat diets, and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, her work suggests Alzheimer’s is a metabolic disease, one in which the brain’s ability to use glucose and produce energy is damaged. To paraphrase, it’s like having diabetes in the brain.
Know sugar’s many names. Check labels; ingredients that end in –ose are sugar, and so is anything with sugar or syrup after the name. Don’t overindulge in sugary, fatty foods—that seems to be what sets off Alzheimer’s-like symptoms in rat studies.
Sugar creates fat organs
The fructose—a component of table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup—in added sugars triggers your liver to store fat more efficiently, and in weird places. Over time, a diet high in fructose could lead to globules of fat building up around your liver, a precursor to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, something rarely seen before 1980.
Try to avoid drinks with lots of added sugars, including healthy-sounding smoothies. You’re better off if the fructose in your diet comes from natural sources like fruit—the fiber helps blunt the sugar shock to your system. Plus, a piece of fruit has way less sugar than a commercial smoothie full of added sugars (some of them contain 54 grams or about 13½ teaspoons worth of sugar!).
Much like street drugs, sugar triggers the release of chemicals that set off the brain’s pleasure center, in this case, opioids and dopamine. And as they do with street drugs, people develop a tolerance for sugar, meaning they need more sugar for a feel-good “fix.” In rat studies looking at sugar addiction, when animals binge on the sweet stuff, they experience chattering teeth, tremors, shakes, and anxiety when it’s taken away.
Finally, Sugar wrecks your skin
Sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. These unwanted invaders attack nearby proteins, damaging them, including protein fibers in collagen and elastin, the components that keep your skin firm and elastic. The result of too much sugar? Dry, brittle protein fibers that lead to wrinkles and saggy skin.
There’s more! AGEs promote the growth of fragile collagen and deactivate your body’s natural antioxidant enzymes. This opens the door to more sun damage, which, as we all know, also damages and ages your skin.
So, instead of reaching for a standard chocolate bar, opt for a bit of organic chocolate with at least 70% cacao. When you feel a sugar craving coming on, walk for 15 minutes. Researchers found a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for a sugar-laden chocolate bar by 12%. Whatever you do, don’t just sit there—that will actually increase your sugar cravings.
Beware of natural sweeteners, too. Agave products boast a higher fructose content than high-fructose corn syrup. For a sweet treat, use up to a teaspoon of honey no more than once a day.
Sources and more info. on the harmful effects of sugar: