There’s no harm in enjoying a bit of sugar from time to time, but eating too much of it can increase your risk of a vast array of chronic health issues and diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), cognitive decline and even some cancers. What’s even more shocking is that although the majority of Americans (86%) know the negative impact consuming too much sugar has on their health, almost half of the population still eats too much. In fact, the average American eats approximately 270 calories worth of sugar each day, which is equivalent to 17 teaspoons! If that’s not enough to make your sweet tooth turn sour, the information you’ll find in this article certainly will. In this article, you’ll learn about the negative effects sugar has on your health and most importantly, simple ways you can reduce your consumption of sugar to help stave off the various diseases and illnesses associated with it.
The Dangerous Side of Sugar
The overconsumption of sugar can be devastating to your health. Unfortunately, it can be found in everything from sodas, sweets and processed foods to certain versions of fruits and vegetables, and other items that are considered and sometimes even labeled “healthy”. As a result, most Americans eat far too much with studies showing that most Americans’ calorie intake includes up to 13 to 22 teaspoons of sugar, which accounts for 12-16% of their daily calorie intake. Add in the fact that the World Health Organization recommends consuming less than 5% of your daily calories from added sugar in to maintain optimal health, it’s safe to say that many Americans are eating their way towards many chronic health concerns.
It isn’t just an assumption though. Various studies have confirmed the link between sugar and the development and/or prevalence of many health conditions. When you consume too much sugar, insulin resistance eventually occurs, which is a precursor to conditions, such as fatty liver, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. And since insulin is necessary for the body’s absorption of sugar (glucose) for energy, those with a resistance to it experience a build of glucose in the blood.
But what are the risks you face with excess sugar? Here’s a quick look at the potential dangers:
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
When you consume too much sugar, your liver starts storing fat which can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a term used to describe a variety of health conditions that are caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. Eventually, this can lead to serious liver damage and increase your risk of many other health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease.
Cavities and Tooth Decay
We learn at an early age that eating too much sugar can have a negative impact on dental health, as it’s linked to causing cavities. This is because the bacteria in your mouth feeds on the sugar and causes tooth demineralization.
Experiencing high insulin levels long-term causes the muscle cells around your blood vessels in your arteries to grow faster than normal. This eventually leads to high blood pressure, which can constrict your arteries. As a result, the blood and oxygen flowing to your heart get decreased, leading to heart disease.
High blood pressure can also lead to aneurysms, heart failure, kidney problems, metabolic syndrome, heart attacks, strokes, dementia and changes in cognitive function.
High Cholesterol Levels
People with the largest spikes in levels of unhealthy cholesterol and the lowest levels of healthy cholesterol are those who consume the largest amount of added sugars, according to studies. This poses many risks, as you start to develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels when you have high cholesterol. These fatty deposits continue to grow and in time, make it difficult for blood to travel through your arteries. These deposits can also break apart and form a clot and/or cause a stroke or heart attack.
Insulin resistance and a diet high in fats has recently been linked to contributing to Alzheimer’s disease, a condition where people experience cognitive decline and difficulties, such as memory loss, getting lost, repeating questions, and personality and behavior changes.
Type 2 Diabetes
The overconsumption of sugar can contribute to premature aging and/or the worsening of wrinkles and the aging process. This is due to the increased production of AGEs, a compound formed by the reaction between sugar and protein in the body, that comes with eating too much sugar. AGEs can damage elastin and collagen, causing the skin to lose its firmness.
Various studies have linked the overconsumption of sugar to chronic inflammation. What’s worse is that research has confirmed that chronic inflammation plays a key role in the development of diabetes, heart diseases, arthritis and bowel disease, such as Crohn’s.
Disruption of appetite control
Fructose, a specific type of sugar commonly found in fruits, fruit juices, honey and some vegetables affects your leptin hormones, which tell your brain when you are full. It’s necessary for proper body function but when consumed in excess, it can cause you to feel hungry even when you’ve eaten enough to be satisfied. As a result, this can lead to weight gain and obesity, and increase your risk for other chronic health problems, such as sleep problems, joint problems, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and GERD.
When you have consistently high blood sugar levels, the blood vessels in your kidneys can become damaged, which increases your risk of kidney disease.
Various studies have found a link between sugar excess and depression. It’s said that consuming too much sugar sparks an imbalance in certain brain chemicals, which can lead to depression. In fact, those who consume too much sugar long-term have a 40% higher risk of developing depression than those who eat healthily.
Many studies have found sugar to be as addictive as cocaine due to the release of dopamine (happy hormones) and opioids that activate the brain’s pleasure centre. And since it doesn’t take much to build a tolerance to sugar, you quickly need larger doses to experience that euphoric effect, which can eventually lead to an addiction.
Eating excessive amounts of sugar can significantly increase your risk of certain cancers, as diets high in sugar can lead to obesity, inflammation and insulin resistance, both of which raise cancer risk.
Eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain and obesity, which also increases your risk of developing other chronic health problems, such as sleep problems, joint problems, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and GERD.
Eating a diet high in sugar foods and drinks puts you at higher risk of developing acne and other skin imperfections, such as blackheads. Additionally, many of the health conditions linked to excess sugar, such as diabetes and high blood sugar, can also affect your skin health. For example, diabetes and high blood sugar can cause dry skin.
Although sugar may give you an initial spike in energy, commonly referred to as a sugar rush, it is short-lived and is often followed by a “crash”. This is when your blood sugar levels suddenly drop, leaving you feeling drained and fatigued.
Tips for Reducing Sugar Consumption
Although it can be terrifying to hear about the long list of dangers associated with eating too much sugar, there are many things you can do to instantly reduce your sugar consumption. Over time, you can start repairing your body to decrease your risk of all of the negative health impacts mentioned. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to go on a strict diet either. All you need is a few simple adjustments in your diet and daily habits, and you can bring your sugar consumption closer to the recommended amount.
Track Your Sugar Intake: Keeping tabs on how much sugar you consume is the first step to reducing your sugar intake. There are many apps that calculate the amount of sugar you consume based on the food items you eat, making this step an easy process.
Trade in the Table Sugar: Swapping out table sugar for healthier alternatives, such as syrup, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, agave nectar, stevia extracts, xylitol and molasses will instantly decrease your daily consumption of unhealthy, added sugars. Of course, there are some varieties that are better than options. If you can switch right to the healthiest forms right away, that’s great! However, if this is too much of a challenge, you can gradually work your way to healthier versions.
Cut Your Usual Amount In Half: Another excellent tip for reducing sugar intake is to cut the amount you typically have in half. Apply this rule to anything that you usually add sugar into, whether it’s your morning cup of java, bowl of cereal or baked goods.
Just Say No to Soda: Sugary drinks are often the root of all evil when it comes to excess sugar consumption and should be eliminated completely. Water is certainly the best option but if you’re craving something sweeter, you can always add in some freshly sliced fruit or squeeze in some lemon. At the very least, opt for diet drinks.
Keep Your Fruits Fresh, Dried or Canned in Water: If you’re going to eat fruit, make sure it’s fresh or canned in water or natural juice. The varieties that are canned in syrup are high in sugar and should be avoided. If nothing else, make sure you drain and rinse them before consuming.
Use Fruit Instead of Sugar: Speaking of fruit, it can be used to sweeten things up instead of using sugar. Try this tip in your next bowl or cereal or oatmeal. Applesauce is another great alternative.
Treat Yourself to Extracts: When fixing together a recipe that calls for sugar, opt for extracts, such as almond, vanilla, lemon or orange instead.
Use Spice for Sugar: Another excellent option for adding some sweetness without adding sugar is to use spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and allspice.
Read the Labels: Don’t get tricked by foods labeled “healthy” or “low in sugar”. Companies have found many ways to hide sugar on food labels and the only way to spot them is to be aware. Some clues that the ingredient you’re reading is actually sugar is when it is a syrup, such as corn syrup, or ends in the letters “ose”, such as fructose, dextrose, maltose, etc. Additionally, you’ll want to get in the habit of checking the amount of sugar listed as well because you will be surprised to discover what’s actually in those snack bars, yogurts and cereals.
Reducing your sugar intake can drastically improve your overall health, while also staving off the development of many health conditions and diseases. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to keep your daily sugar consumption to 20g for women, 36g for men, and 12g for children.