Sugar gets a bad rap, but the truth is, it’s a vital source of energy and essential to our survival. Of course, not all sugars are created equal. Fructose found in fruits and vegetables and lactose found in foods rich in dairy products are natural sugars and we don’t need to worry because these foods contain fiber and calcium. Added sugar is often found in processed foods, and many of us consume too much of it.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, the average American consumes 270 calories per day, or 17 teaspoons of added sugar.
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Added sugar is anything added to food to make it sweeter, including natural sugars like honey and maple syrup. “Although they’re healthier than table sugar and provide more calories, they’re not as rich in vitamins and minerals,” says Jessica Cording, a New York City-based health coach and author of The Little Playbook. Changers.
According to the University of California, San Francisco, sugar is mysterious and can hide under 61 different names. Despite your best efforts to make healthy food choices, you may be consuming more sugar than you think.
Negative effects of sugar in the body
According to Harvard Health Press, when we eat sugar, most of it is broken down and absorbed in the small intestine. Specialized enzymes attack the larger molecules and convert them into three simple sugars: glucose, galactose, and fructose. The liver and muscles store some of the glucose in the form of glycogen, a molecule that is converted to glucose when your body needs it.
When glucose enters the bloodstream, blood glucose levels rise. In response, the pancreas secretes insulin to transport the glucose to where it is needed in your body. If you add a lot of sugar, your cells become resistant to insulin, a risk factor for systemic inflammation, type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
According to research published in the November 2016 issue of Nutrients, excessive sugar consumption is associated with risk factors such as weight gain, obesity, heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and cancer.
“Excessive consumption of added sugar affects our energy, mood, weight and disease risk,” Cording said. “It affects our physical and mental well-being.”
“We need our blood sugar to operate in the Goldilocks zone of energy in order to function as smoothly as possible,” says William W. Lee, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, MD and author of Eat. overcome illness.
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Are you eating too much sugar?
Recommendations for limiting added sugars vary among industry groups. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recommends no more than 10 percent of calories from added sugars each day. For someone consuming 2,000 calories a day, that’s a maximum of 12 teaspoons.
However, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories for women and children and 150 calories for men each day. It will be 6 teaspoons for women and children and 9 teaspoons for men.
Both groups agree that infants and toddlers under 2 should not have added sugar.
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If you don’t get enough fruits and vegetables in your diet and don’t eat a balanced diet that includes fats, healthy fats, and unrefined carbohydrates, added sugars can replace other healthy foods. Not only are you missing out on vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but the added sugar can show up in other surprising ways.
Here are 12 signs you’re eating too much sugar.
- Hunger and weight gain
If you’re consuming more calories with added sugar, one of the first signs is increased hunger. “[Sugar] is satisfying to the taste buds, but it doesn’t satisfy or fill our stomachs,” says Keri Stoner-Davis, RDN, who works at Lemond Nutrition in Plano, Texas.
Without the protein, fiber and healthy fats that most processed snacks and sugary treats lack, Cording says, the body burns sugar quickly and increases hunger, leading to mindless and even compulsive snacking.
Reviews and meta-analyses suggest that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages can lead to weight gain in both adults and children.
But it is not only excess calories, but also weight gain.
According to an article published in the journal Cell in May 2016, the gut microbiome, an ecosystem of 39 trillion microorganisms, is the body’s self-defense system. A healthy gut helps our metabolism regulate blood glucose and insulin levels and, in part, allows our body to use fat and regulate cholesterol. “When you add sugar, it damages that ecosystem,” Dr. Lee said.
Good bacteria decrease and bad bacteria multiply, leading to dysbiosis (imbalance between these bacteria), metabolism, and inability to process lipids and cholesterol properly.
In addition, sugar can damage fat hormones like leptin, which suppress hunger, Lee says. According to Lee, “High sugar disrupts metabolism and, in part, interferes with leptin.” “Eating sugar makes you want more sugar, which makes you hungrier.”
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If you’re feeling irritable, irritable, or tired, stress may not be the only cause—it could be a sign that you’re eating too much sugar.
A study published in January 2020 in the journal Health Predictions suggests that added sugar can improve inflammation, lower mood, and increase symptoms of depression.
High in sugar without protein or fat
loodstream because your insulin levels have spiked after eating a lot of added sugar, levels of blood glucose in the brain decrease as well. “Our brains are absolutely critically dependent on having a normal level of blood sugar to fuel them,” Li says.
The important thing is to pay attention when you’re feeling off. For example, if you start to feel irritable an hour after you eat a snack or at the same time every day, excess sugar could be to blame. “If you notice that’s happening to you a lot, it’s a good opportunity to take a look at what you’re eating,” Cording says.
- Fatigue and Low Energy
Sugar is easily absorbed and digested, so if you’re feeling tired, it could be due to the amount of sugar you’re getting in your diet.
“Sugar is a very quick energy source, so regardless of how much you eat, in 30 minutes you’re going to be hungry again, low on energy, or looking for energy again,” Stoner-Davis says.
Large swings of blood sugar and insulin can also cause energy levels to plummet and affect your overall energy level, Li says.
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- Foods Don’t Taste Sweet Enough
If you’ve noticed that foods don’t taste as sweet as they used to, or if you need to add sugar to foods to make them taste good (think: dusting your cereal with brown sugar), it could be that you’re getting too much sugar to begin with.
If you’re trying to make healthier choices, say by switching from flavored yogurt to plain yogurt, the difference will be more noticeable.
“You train your brain to expect a very high level of sweetness, and when you’re used to that, it can be harder to feel satisfied with foods that are less sweet because you’re primed to expect the high sweet levels,” Cording says.
If you’re replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners in your diet, you may also want to give it a second thought. “A lot of these sugar substitutes are so much sweeter than actual sugar so it tricks our brains into expecting this insanely high level of sweetness,” Cording says. This can increase sugar cravings overall.
- Cravings for Sweets
If you’re craving sweets, you may be addicted to the feel-good effects that sugar has on your brain. Sugar targets the brain’s pleasure center (called the mesocorticolimbic pathway), triggering a rise in the so-called “happy hormone” dopamine, Cording says.
This pathway in the brain plays a significant role in the food choices we make, including affecting cravings for sugar.
Put simply, eating sugar increases dopamine, and the dopamine rise itself can increase cravings for sugar, leading to a vicious cycle, according to research.
The good news is that focusing on small meals and snacks comprised of real, whole foods, and eating regularly, can help improve those cravings, Stoner-Davis says.
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- High blood pressure
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, too much added sugar in your diet could be a contributor.
According to research, consuming sugar-sweetened beverages has a significant association with high blood pressure and a higher incidence of hypertension.
Yet Li cautions that a direct cause-and-effect relationship has not been found. However, what scientists do know is that high levels of glucose can damage the lining of our blood vessels, making it easier for lipids like cholesterol to stick to the walls of the blood vessels. “When that happens, you get hardening of the blood vessels. When your blood vessels get hardened, your blood pressure goes up,” Li says.
- Acne and Wrinkles
If you’re battling acne, it may be worthwhile to consider how much added sugar you’re eating, suggests the American Academy of Dermatology Association. “Glycemic control plays a significant role in skin health and acne,” Cording says. For example, one study suggests that insulin resistance may influence the development of acne.
Wrinkles may be another sign that you’re consuming too much sugar. Advanced glycation end products, which are products of excess sugar, encourage skin aging, notes an article published in March 2020 in Nutrients.
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- Joint Pain
If you notice pain in your joints, it may not be age alone.
According to a survey published in December 2017 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, among the 24 percent of respondents who had rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and said food affected their symptoms, soda and desserts were most commonly cited.
Research shows that regularly consuming sugar-sweetened soda is associated with an increased risk of RA in some women, including those with late-onset RA.
Consuming too much sugar can lead to systemic inflammation, which may lead to joint pain, Cording says. That said, there are several causes of joint pain, she adds, so improving your diet by cutting back on the sweet stuff may not be a magic bullet.
- Sleep Issues
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, you may want to take stock of what you have
According to a study of 300 university students published in August 2019 in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, poor sleep quality is significantly related to higher consumptions of added sugars.
Our sleep cycles and the quality of sleep are regulated by the light and the temperature of the room, as well as glycemic control. “For someone who is chronically consuming excessive amounts of added sugar, it can absolutely mess with their sleep cycle and sleep quality,” Cording says.
- Digestive Issues
If you’re having stomach pain, cramping, or diarrhea, there may be many causes to blame, and your doctor can help you get to the bottom of your symptoms. Too much sugar, a known gut irritant, is one of the possible culprits, Cording says.
Plus, for those with underlying health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, or for those who have had stomach surgery, sugar can also exacerbate gastrointestinal symptoms, Stoner-Davis says.
If high-sugar foods are replacing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which offer fiber, constipation can be a problem, too.
- Brain Fog
Problems with mental clarity, focus and concentration, and memory could be a result of consuming too many added sugars.
Although glucose is the brain’s primary source of fuel, excess amounts can cause hyperglycemia, or high blood glucose levels, and have an inflammatory effect in the brain and a negative impact on cognitive function and mood, Cording says.
According to research, impairments with information-processing speed, working memory, and attention were found in people with type 2 diabetes who had hyperglycemia.
Research suggests the same is true for those without diabetes. A study that found high blood glucose has a negative impact on cognition, including decreases in delayed recall, learning ability, and memory consolidation.
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The bacteria in our mouths like to feed on simple sugars, so if your dentist is finding more cavities, or if you’ve been diagnosed with gum disease, it could be that you’re eating too much added sugar, Stoner-Davis says.
Although cutting back on added sugars is a good idea, if you’re going to consume a high-sugar food, swish water around your mouth afterwards or eat it with foods like carrots or milk, which protect the teeth and provide a coating, Stoner – Davis says.
According to research, consuming milk and dairy products, apples, cranberries, tea, peanuts, and high-fiber foods may help prevent cavities, but more research is needed.