Is Sugar Actually Bad for You?

It’s time to start a new week! I hope you all had an awesome weekend. I got to see Tim Tebow speak, and he is definitely an amazing person and speaker! I will always look up to him for his courage and passion. I also drove home to spend time with my family and get some errands done. It was great to see them, and it reminded me of the importance of being flexible. I am, as I’m sure some of you are too, a very ordered person. Every day, I have a list of things in mind that I want to get done, and I set up my day to accomplish those goals. When you have company visit or are traveling, it’s hard to be able to do this, but it’s even harder to let go of the reigns and go with the flow. I like going home because it reminds me that everything doesn’t have to be so structured all the time. What’s more important than that is spending time with loved ones and eating some really good food. We just came back from having sushi while I’m writing this, and man, was it delicious! But, I digress. This week marks the beginning of our Q&A series! I am very excited to kick it off with this awesome question: Is sugar actually bad for you?

To tell you the truth, I think there are more questions than answers when it comes to this topic. There is a lot of conflicting data in the research, but there are a few items that I want to mention. Added sugars have been associated with an increased level of triglycerides, the storage form of fat, in the body. This is worrisome because high blood triglyceride levels have been linked to an elevated risk for heart disease. Moreover, excess body fat can lead to obesity, a major health crisis itself. A few other studies have linked a high sugar intake with inflammation in the body, too. My favorite fact is that eating sugar activates the same part of the brain that doing cocaine does; namely, they both increase dopamine levels. Now before you start comparing yourself with a drug user, let’s slow down a second and consider what dopamine does. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and hormone whose nickname is “the happy hormone”. Basically, it makes you feel good, so most things that make you happy will increase dopamine levels. For example, laughing will cause dopamine levels to rise. Does laughing make you a cocaine addict? Not at all!

Before I give you my recommendations on sugar, I think it’s important to make the difference between natural sugars and added sugars clear. Sugars are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and other natural sources. These sugars are not the ones you should be worried about because they are found along side beneficial things like fiber, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants that will do your body good. On the other hand, added sugars get in the diet when companies take sugar and add it to foods like cereal, granola bars, baked goods, etc. Heck, most bread has added sugars. The reason they are in there is because we are naturally attracted to sweet foods, thus we will buy more of these products.

Overall, I think it is safe to say limiting added sugars in the diet might be a good idea just because of the effects it could have on the body. While the research is not 100% clear, it does raise some interesting points that are worth considering. Aside from this, added sugars provide the body with no nutrients at all. The average American consumes about 22 teaspoons, or 350 calories, of added sugar every day. Yet, the American Heart Association recommends having no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) a day for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) a day for men. To put that into perspective, a can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of added sugar, already putting you over the recommendation. Why do we eat so much of it? To tell you the truth, there are a lot of reasons for this. It is instinctual, and it tastes delicious. Even more so, I think that consumers are not aware of the names sugar can appear under on a nutrition label. This may include names like agave nectar, brown rice syrup, corn syrup, cane sugar, dextrose, maltose, fructose, maple syrup, honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, and the list goes on and on.

Avoiding added sugars can be done by reading the ingredients list on products and looking for names like the ones above. Some of the new nutrition labels also have a section for added sugars, which appears under the sugar section. When purchasing products, I’d make sure sugar is not listed within the top few ingredients. Baked goods, ice cream/frozen yogurt, cereal, flavored yogurt, granola bars, candy, some protein bars/shakes, chocolate milk, some fruit juices and fruit cups, Gatorade/sport beverages, iced coffee/frappacinos, soda, store/restaurant bought smoothies, and even spaghetti sauce are all common sources of added sugar in our diets. By simply being conscious of this at the grocery store, you can greatly reduce your intake.

So all in all, it’s okay to have that piece of cake or a soda every once in a while, but the keywords are “every once in a while”. Just treat your body right in the long run, and you’ll do fine 🙂

Take Aways:

  • Added sugars are found in a wide range of products, from pasta sauce to Gatorade.
  • Added sugars have been linked to various health issues, and its safe to say they should be eaten in moderation (less than 24 grams a day for women and 36 grams a day for men).
  • There is a difference between the natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables, and the added sugars found in processed foods.

References:

https://mic.com/articles/88015/what-happens-to-your-brain-on-sugar-explained-by-science#.0gsr2PzJ2

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/added-sugar/art-20045328

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/added-sugar-in-the-diet/

http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/100112p28.shtml

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