One of the saddest facts of human existence is that sugar tastes so good but will likely kill us all. It seems like there’s a new study every few weeks telling us that sugar is way worse than we thought (which was already pretty bad). How are we supposed to enjoy dessert with everyone denouncing sugar all the time? Isn’t it natural? Fruit has sugar. Honey has sugar. Even vegetables have sugar. Can it really be that bad?
The thing is, when we talk about how bad ‘sugar’ is, we generally mean refined sugar. That’s the stuff that’s been processed and purified. Our bodies are equipped to handle sugar, just like we’re equipped to handle fat and salt. To an extent. Our bodies have limits and it seems we keep pushing them to the point where they just can’t handle it anymore. That’s when things start turning to body fat and a whole host of other problems start.
So, how much is too much?
According to the American Heart Association, women should have no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day and men should have no more than nine. The majority of Canadians are consuming way more than that though. The Canadian Sugar Institute found that Canadians have an average daily sugar intake of a whopping 22 teaspoons. That’s more than three and a half times the suggested amount for women!
What kind of health concerns are we looking at here?
Consuming huge amounts of sugar is hard on your whole body. Yes, it can cause weight gain and high cholesterol and diabetes, but it also effects mood, sleep, skin and digestion.
In the short-term, sugar has the effect of a high and then a steep crash when your blood glucose levels decline. During these crashes, you can become irritable and fatigued, but if you’re bingeing on sugar regularly, it can actually mess with neurotransmitters in your brain or even cause it to swell. That means more mood swings, even when you’re not coming off a sugar high and a heightened likelihood of developing anxiety and depression. This stress on your brain can also lead to other neurological problems like memory loss, cognitive decline and even dementia.
You might be wearing your sugar addiction right on your face too. According to research by European universities, there is a link between higher blood sugar levels and looking older. They found that heightened glucose levels led to premature cell breakdown. Sugar is literally breaking down your skin!
For all that sugar to get into your blood stream, it needs to go through your digestive system which is a challenge in itself. Sugar can weaken the lining of your intestines, feed any infections that you may have brewing in your gut already and cause gas, bloating and discomfort. Minerals in your body are also depleted in the process of digestion which could lead to other health problems.
What do we do?
The answer is pretty simple, but it’s easier said than done: limit your refined sugar intake. Sorry, but sometimes you have to put your health before your sweet tooth.
Learn to read labels. The first step is to know what you’re eating. Read the nutrition facts and ingredients lists on everything that you buy. You’ll find surprising amounts of sugar in places that may seem ridiculous. Diet foods, tomato sauces, cereals, granola bars and crackers all have more sugar than you might expect. Also learn what to look for in an ingredients list. Sugar can go by many different names in one product.
Start with whole foods. If you can, skip the processed version altogether. Don’t like how much sugar is in a sauce? Make your own from scratch. Having a hard time finding a granola bar that isn’t chocked full of the sweet stuff? There are a bunch of healthy recipes online. When you make your own food, you have the opportunity to add less (or no) sugar to something or use a healthier alternative to refined white sugar, like maple syrup or natural fruit juice.
Limit the things with the most sugar. You know what the big offenders are and you need to keep a check on how much of them you consume. Desserts and candy are big ones but so are soft drinks, juices, baked goods and dried fruit. Sometimes you just have to tell yourself ‘no.’
You might have a sugar addiction
Sugar consumption can be an addiction too. If you find it impossible to police yourself when it comes to sugar, you might need to seek help. Eating sugary foods might be a coping mechanism for something else in your life so it could be beneficial to seek counseling to get a check on your relationship to food. Admitting this is a problem you can’t handle alone is the first step to becoming accountable for what you put in your body and changing your eating habits. If you have a sugar addiction, there’s help out there for you.