The Truth About Sugar
......And the Real Impact it Can Have on Your Health
When we think of sugar, we usually picture candy and soda. But there is a high likelihood that you are consuming more sugar than you think, as sugar hides in many foods we consume every day. Sugar does add a delicious sweetness to virtually anything but should only be consumed in moderation. More and more research connects a high sugar intake to a higher incidence of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, etc.
How Much Sugar Are We Consuming?
The World Health Organization suggests an average American adult should consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day. This is hard to do when the average soda contains about 44 grams.
The average American consumes around 66 pounds of added sugars per year, which equates to about 22 teaspoons of added sugar each day. The CDC recommends that no more than 10% of your daily calories come from sugar and on a 2,000 calorie diet that is 200 calories. Two hundred calories of sugar are about 12 teaspoons. The average adult man consumes almost double that daily.
The human body was just not designed to process that much sugar on a daily basis, let alone all the different chemically altered versions of sugar such as artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and high fructose corn syrup. Sugar contains calories but no nutrients. Nutritionally sugar contributes nothing beneficial for the body virtually. You are likely consuming more sugar than you are aware of because sugar hides under many different names on food labels. Sodas, juice, candy, and baked goods are the most well known for their high sugar contents. But sugar is also found in large amounts in savory foods like bread, condiments, power bars, and chips.
Where Sugar Hides
Common names for sugar disguised in our foods:
Agave nectar, Barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, syrup, confectioners sugar, corn syrup, date sugar, dextran, dextrose, ethyl maltol, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, glucose, golden sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, palm sugar, organic raw sugar, refiners syrup, rice syrup, sorghum syrup, sucrose, turbinado sugar.
Sugar is Addictive
But no matter what sugar is referred to on the food label, sugar is sugar. Sugar in excess can easily lead to adverse effects on the body. Dopamine is released into the body when you consume sugar, and tryptophan absorption is catalyzed and converted into serotonin (the mood-elevating chemical). Since the reward pathways are activated when sugar is consumed, sugar can quickly become an addiction. Something that we have witnessed living in the United States with the increasing instance of obesity. Sugar addiction has been genetically linked to drug and alcohol addictions, as they both involve the same neural pathways.
Sugar can produce a reward and craving response in humans that are comparable to the reward response from addictive medications, according to available research. Overall, this study found that sugar rewards can not only replace addictive drugs like cocaine, but that the response can be more rewarding (1).
Short term, sugar can create a boost of energy and quick 'high.' The temporary high comes from sugar, causing a spike in your blood sugar; you get an instant increase in energy. When the sugar begins to get absorbed, the blood sugar drops quickly, leading to what some experience as a sugar crash. The feelings of being jittery, hangry, and anxiety are often associated with a quick drop in blood sugar. To combat this drop in blood sugar, people often reach for something short and sweet, which will cause a spike in blood sugar only to have it crash again. Reaching for something sweet or high in carbohydrates will only further perpetuate this blood sugar roller coaster.
How Sugar Affects Your Body
It is a common misconception that consuming fat will contribute to weight gain. But the real culprit behind weight gain is too much sugar in the diet. Excess sugar consumption can cause resistance to leptin, the hormone that tells your body when it is full and should be done eating and monitors energy balancing in the long term. Without proper functioning of leptin, we won't recognize we are full and continue to eat. Long-term dysfunction of leptin contributes to weight gain and obesity.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found a connection between participants who consumed a high sugar diet and a higher likelihood of dying from heart disease. This 15-year study found people who had 17% to 21% of their daily caloric intake from sugar had a 38% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease compared to those who only consumed 8% or less of their daily caloric intake from sugar.
Another side effect of high sugar consumption is cavities. Sugar feeds the harmful bacteria that live in the mouth, contributing to an increased number of cavities.
When sugar is consumed, the body breaks it down to glucose and fructose before entering the bloodstream. Glucose is fuel for the body, and if not enough is consumed through the diet, we will produce it ourselves. But fructose, on the other hand, is not essential, and therefore the body will not produce it in any significant amount. A 2018 systemic review states that increased intake of added dietary sugars contributes to an increase in inflammatory markers in the blood. Chronic low-grade inflammation is a key factor in the progression of many cardiovascular diseases, is related to a 'higher risk of all-cause mortality in old age' (1) and an increased risk of developing diabetes. Therefore decreasing the incidence of chronic, low-grade inflammation can play a role in preventing developing chronic disease.
How Do We Compare
The United States had the highest per capita sugar consumption, with the average adult consuming around 126 grams of sugar per day. They are then followed by Germany and the Netherlands consuming around 102 grams per day. Sugary drinks such as soda, juice, etc., account for nearly 46% of the United States sugar consumption.
Ahmed SH, Guillem K, Vandaele Y. Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013 Jul;16(4):434-9. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328361c8b8. PMID: 23719144.
Della Corte, K. W., Perrar, I., Penczynski, K. J., Schwingshackl, L., Herder, C., & Buyken, A. E. (2018). Effect of Dietary Sugar Intake on Biomarkers of Subclinical Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Intervention Studies. Nutrients, 10(5), 606. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10050606
Ervin, R.B., & Ogden, C.L. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). NCHS Data Brief, No. 122: Consumption of Added Sugars Among U.S. Adults, 2005â€ "2010. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db122.pdf