Halloween Leftovers? Read This!
How Does Too Much Sugar Harm Your Body?
Sugar is sweet, but too much of it can sour your health. Whole foods like fruits, veggies, dairy, and grains have natural sugars. Your body digests those complex carbs slowly so your cells get a steady supply of energy. Added sugars, or simple carbs on the other hand, come in packaged foods and drinks. Your body does not need any added sugars. These added sugars come from processing and are therefore not natural or health promoting.
How Much Is Too Much?
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar a day for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for men. But the average American gets way more: 22 teaspoons a day (88 grams). It’s easy to overdo. Just one 12-ounce can of regular soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar (40g)– and no nutritional benefit. The ideal would be to consume no processed sugar and the practical approach is to keep the amount as low as possible.
Examples of Halloween candy: Each Hershey Kiss has 2.6 g sugar.
1 gum drop contains 2.1 g sugar.
A Twix bar contains 17 g sugar.
Each M&M contains 0.66 g sugar
Each Reese’s Peanut Butter cup has 4 g sugar
Tootsie Pops have 10 g sugar each
1 Snicker’s bar has 31 g sugar
Each piece of Candy Corn has 1.68 g of sugar
Note: “Who ever has just one piece of candy” – Beware how quickly it adds up.
Harm: Weight Gain
Sugar-sweetened beverages are a big source of added sugars for Americans. If you drink a can of soda every day and don’t trim calories elsewhere, in three years you’d be 15 pounds heavier. Putting on too much weight can lead to problems like diabetes and some cancers.
Harm: Heart Disease
One in 10 Americans gets 1/4 or more of their daily calories from added sugar. If you eat that much, one study found that you’re more than twice as likely to die from heart disease than someone who gets less than half as much. Sugar should be considered to be “fuel” for inflammation. Inflammation is at the core of all chronic disease. The exact physiology is uncertain and varies with each individual. But it could be that the extra sugar contributes to raising your blood pressure or releases more fats into the bloodstream. Both can lead to heart attack, stroke, and other heart diseases.
Sugary drinks in particular can boost your odds for type 2 diabetes. That can happen because when sugar stays in your blood, your body may react by making less of the hormone insulin, which converts the food you eat into energy. Or the insulin doesn’t work as well related to insulin resistance. If you’re overweight, dropping even 10-15 pounds can help you manage your blood sugar better.
Harm: High Blood Pressure
Usually salt gets the blame for this condition, also called hypertension. But some researchers say another white crystal — sugar — may be a more worrisome culprit. One way they believe sugar raises blood pressure is by making your insulin levels spike too high. That can make your blood vessels less flexible and cause your kidneys to hold onto water and sodium.
Harm: High Cholesterol
Sugary diets are bad for your heart, regardless of how much you weigh. They can:
- Raise your so-called “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lower the “good” (HDL) kind.
- Hike blood fats called triglycerides and hinder the work of an enzyme that breaks them down
Harm: Liver Disease
Most packaged foods, snacks, and drinks are sweetened with fructose, a simple sugar from fruits or veggies like corn. Your liver turns it into fat. If you regularly pump fructose into your body, tiny drops of fat build up in your liver. This is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Early diet changes can reverse it. But over time, swelling and scarring can damage your liver.
You know sugar rots your teeth. How? It feeds the bacteria in your mouth, which leave behind acid that wears away your tooth enamel. Sugary drinks, dried fruits, candy, and chocolate are common offenders. Sour candies are among the worst. They’re almost as acidic as battery acid! If you eat tart treats, rinse your mouth with water afterward or drink some milk to neutralize the acid.
Harm: Poor Sleep
Too much sugar during the day can mess with your blood glucose levels and cause energy spikes and crashes. You may struggle to stay awake at work or doze off in class at school. In the evenings, a bowl of ice cream or cookies can pump you with sugar that can wake you up at night. It also can cut short the time you’re in deep sleep. So you may not wake up feeling refreshed.
Harm: Mood Problems
Feeling down? Your sweet tooth may be part of the problem. Several studies have linked sugar and mental health problems. One of the latest showed that men who ate more than 66 grams of sugar a day — almost double what’s recommended — were 23% more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression than men who ate 40 grams or less. Too much sugar can fuel depression through swelling, or inflammation, in your brain, which is more common in people with depression.
You may know that you can get this painful arthritis from eating too much red meat, organ meats, and lobster. The same goes for fructose. When your body breaks it down, it releases a chemical called purines. That can make uric acid build up in your blood, which in turn forms hard crystals in your big toe, knees, and other joints. These can then manifest as very painful swollen joints.
Harm: Kidney Stones
You get these when chemicals in your pee turn into solid crystals. Your body flushes out some kidney stones without much pain. Others can get stuck in your kidney, ureter or another part of your plumbing and block urine flow. Too much fructose — from table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or processed foods — raises your chances for kidney stones.
Sugary drinks may add years to your biological age. DNA called telomeres cap the end of your chromosomes to protect them from damage. Longer is better. Shortened telomeres may go hand in hand with age-related diseases like diabetes. One study found that people who drink 20 ounces of soda a day have shorter telomeres. Researchers figure that’s like adding more than 4 years to the age of your cells.
A nutritious diet will help you control your blood sugar, get a handle on your weight, and feel better. Refined sugar found in almost all processed food is health negative. Consider alternatives to “sugary treats” as rewards. You should watch your portion sizes and calories. Minimize fried foods, sweets, sugary drinks, red meat, and anything salty or fatty and avoid excessive alcohol. Focus instead on eating lots of veggies, with whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, fruit, as well as fish, chicken, nuts, olive oil, avocado and legumes. It is generally better to eat your calories than drink them.
Throwing out candy and concentrated sweets is less “costly” than eating them.
Paul R. Block, MD, FACP, FCCP
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