With the fast lifestyle that we have having a diet rich in sugar is quite common.
In the United States, the Pew Research center reported that the average American consumes 77 pounds of added sugar per year. Take note that this research only accounts for caloric sweeteners. So it doesn’t count other sources like fruits or no-calorie sweeteners.
If you break that down to a per day basis, that’s around 90 grams of sugars per day.
That’s a lot of sugar for our body. And if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you better find healthy alternatives because your health is at risk.
We’ll be looking at the negative effects of sugar and healthier alternatives that you can try to satisfy that sweet tooth.
How much sugar does the body need?
The American Heart Association recommends that women should not consume more than 20 grams of sugar per day (that’s six teaspoons or 100 calories).
Men should not consume more than 36 grams per day (or 9 teaspoons).
One teaspoon is equal to around 4 grams of sugar. If you have children, you have to watch their sugar intake more. They don’t need as much sugar – a max of only 12 grams.
One misconception that a lot of parents or grandparents have that children have a high metabolism, so it’s okay to consume a lot of sugar, but the reality is no.
So if you’re thinking of letting your children eat cereal for breakfast every day, you may need one to rethink that.
Types of sugar
Not all sugar is created equal. According to the American Heart Association, there are two types of sugars. The first type is natural sugars found in fruits and vegetable and the second type are added sugars.
The latter includes added sugars and artificial sweeteners like brown sugar, white sugar packets found in coffee shops and chemically manufactured sugars like corn syrup.
Sugars come in different forms and here’s the list of names that may appear on labels
- Brown sugar
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugar
- Corn syrup
- Corn sweetener
- Evaporated cane juice
- Organic evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrate
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt sugar
- Raw sugar
Why so many names?
All of the names above are sugars that come from artificial sources. The law requires manufacturers to list the most prominent ingredient first. So what they do is put two or three different types of sugar in their product to spread it out.
You’ll have to do your due diligence and look at the ingredients down the list. It can be tricky, but your health is at stake here!
Natural sources of sugar
Don’t forget about the natural sources of sugar like strawberry, mango, and apple to name a few.
Consuming whole fruits is much better than consuming artificial sugar because fiber slows down the absorption process of sugar.
The amount of sugar in fruit will vary. For instance, 100 grams of strawberries only contain 6 grams of sugar. A whole navel orange contains much more sugar at around 23 grams.
Some fruit has low sugar content at just 2.5 grams per 100 grams. So if you’re counting sugar content, you’ll need to know exactly how much sugar each fruit has.
Compare that to a can of soda where you’ll be consuming 60 grams of sugar, 225 calories, and zero vitamins and minerals.
If you’re looking to curb sugar consumption then eating whole fruit is the way to go.
So let’s look at the negative effects of sugar starting in the mouth.
Why is corn syrup worst than table sugar?
Corn syrup is a byproduct of corn due to excess supply of such.
During the great depression, farmers were encouraged to grow corn through subsidies.
Even if corn syrup the same as sugar at the molecular level, the way it affects our bodies is different from sugar.
Studies on rodents reveal that consumption of corn syrup will cause more weight gain than table sugar even at equal amounts.
Long term consumption of corn syrup causes an abnormal increase in body fat (especially in the abdomen), and it raises triglyceride levels that lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver.
The sad part is a lot of food manufacturers use corn syrup because it’s much cheaper, so it affects their bottom line.
If you want to know about corn, please watch the documentary King Corn to understand more about the multi-billion dollar corn syrup industry and how it affects us.
Think of it this way. Sugar is bad, but corn syrup is evil, avoid it like the plague.
1. Sugar is bad for teeth
According to Nerd Fitness, sugar is the lifeblood of cavity and scientific research proves this.
Sugar attracts bad bacteria like a magnet and feeds the two most destructive bacteria in the mouth – Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sorbrinus.
Why so bad?
Both these bacteria will cause plaque. If you’re not familiar, the plaque is a sticky colorless film that forms on the surface of your teeth .
Failure of removing plaque will result in a more acidic environment in the mouth.
It then snowballs into something much worst as the enamel erodes. Small holes will form on the tooth which can escalate if you don’t address it.
2. Sugar makes you fat
Once sugar is in the bloodstream it does either of these two things – the body uses it for energy or stores it as fat.
There are a lot of factors that determine which of the two the body will do.
First will be activity level. If you’re a world class athlete or a fitness junkie who works out five days a week, chances are your body will use it up for energy.
However, if you’re a regular dude who does what regular dudes do, too much sugar will not be good for the waistline.
The second factor is genetics. Some folks are blessed with a body that process sugar better than others.
But regardless of activity level and genetics sugar can make you fat.
Overeating sugar can cause insulin resistance and abnormally high insulin levels in the blood.
If your body’s insulin levels are high, sugar will be stored as fat and not used as energy .
Too much insulin is bad
Insulin’s role is to regulate blood sugar levels. When there’s a flood of sugar that comes in, the body produces more insulin.
The more insulin the produces wrecks the delicate balance that our body has to maintain. It results in a condition doctors call hypoglycemia which is a sugar crash.
And our body responds by telling the brain – we want more sugar! It’s a vicious cycle that can lead to various diseases like diabetes, obesity, non-fatty liver, high blood pressure, dementia, and cardiovascular illness.
Another reason why sugar is bad for the waistline is sugar causes resistance to leptin.
Why is leptin important?
Leptin is a hormone that tells our brain that we have enough fat and we should stop eating.
So here’s the equation. More fat = more leptin = our body tells our brain we have enough fat = we don’t eat.
Excess fructose consumption wrecks this delicate hormonal balance that protects us from overeating .
3. Accelerates the aging process
Those who want to look younger may want to curb sugar intake. Sugar contributes to the aging process of our skin.
Once sugar gets into the bloodstream, it attaches itself to proteins.
This process is known as glycation which contributes to the loss of elasticity in body tissues from the skin, arteries to internal organs.
4. Fructose doesn’t make us feel full
There’s a new study that proves that fructose consumption does not satisfy hunger. In the said study done in 2013 two groups of people were each given drinks sweetened with fructose and glucose.
Subjects who drank glucose had lower blood flow and hypothalamus activity (this is the food intake control center of the body). While subjects who drank the fructose drink did not.
In essence, subjects who drank glucose drinks felt fuller versus those who drank fructose. The latter also didn’t feel quite satisfied and still had hunger pangs .
5. Sugar can be addictive
Sugar consumption causes the release of dopamine and opiate in the reward centers of the brain. It’s the same reaction our brain has to drugs!
One study on rats confirms this as rats have the same reaction to drugs as humans do.
The study reports that consumption of sugar leads to behavioral and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of substance abuse .
6. Increases risk to diabetes
There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and 2. Consuming too much sugar doesn’t cause type-1 diabetes since the pancreas produces little to zero insulin. There are different causes of type-1 diabetes, and this includes genetics or some viruses.
Type-2 diabetes, on the other hand, is a lifestyle-related disease. Sugar per se does not lead to type-2 diabetes. It’s a combination of diet and lifestyle.
Overweight people have a higher risk of diabetes and sugar plays a huge role in weight gain but not the sole reason for it. So in a way too much sugar can indirectly lead to diabetes.
7. Excess fructose consumption can lead to heart disease
Many believe that if you want to lower your risk to heart disease, you’ll have to cut down on salty and fatty foods. But new research reveals that cutting down on fatty foods is one part of the equation.
The real danger is something different, something much, much sweeter.
A study done by the American Medical Association reveals that folks who consume 17 and 21 percent of their calories from added sugars increase their risk to heart disease by 38%.
The results were so compelling that the advisory panel that creates U.S. dietary guidelines had to ease up on their stand against fat and cholesterol.
They recommend instead limiting intake of added sugar to no more than 10% of their daily calorie intake.
How does sugar contribute to heart disease?
It’s not clear how sugar causes cardiovascular issues, but research shows that sugar does elevate blood pressure. A diet rich in added sugar can stimulate the liver to dump harmful fats into the bloodstream. Lastly, overeating sugar especially from sugary drinks will lead to obesity. All of these factors contribute heavily to heart disease .
8. Increases risk to obesity
Obesity is officially an epidemic. In 2010 alone, there were over 3 million deaths due to obesity.
The World Health Organization estimates that close to 2 billion people who are overweight globally.
It equates to around 13% of the adult population, and that number will rise going forward.
Research has shown that sugar, to be specific sugar-sweetened drinks are the main culprit of this. All studies reveal that increasing intake of dietary sugars increases the risk of obesity.
One way to curb this epidemic is to reduce the intake of sugary drinks like soda and even juices. Second is to increase activity level so that our body will burn calories.
I did mention earlier in this article that sugar increases the production of insulin. And that translates to more fat that’s stored in the body instead of being utilized as fuel.
9. Feeds cancer cells
The link between cancer and sugar has been long-elusive until recently. This nine-year research may give us a breakthrough in how sugar contributes to cancer. This study narrows down the mechanism of how cancer cells feed on sugar.
The study reveals how “hyperactive sugar consumption of cancer cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth.”
In layman, the research concluded that cancer cells could grow at an accelerated rate when there’s an overactive influx of glucose. This phenomenon is known as the Warburg effect.
By no means is the research is over, but it does provide a foundation that future research can be built upon.
10. Fructose is bad for the liver
Sugar comprises of two molecules, glucose, and fructose. Every cell in our body metabolizes glucose, and even if you don’t consume it, our body will make it.
Fructose is another matter. The only organ that metabolizes fructose is the liver.
Athletes and active people who love to work out can get away with eating more fructose because the liver will turn fructose into glycogen which is a storage form of glucose in the liver.
But for the rest of us regular folks, consuming lots of fructose is bad for the liver.
11. Sugar is bad for your sex life
If the reasons above didn’t scare you enough to curb sugar intake, this reason might do so.
Consuming too much sugar affects the chain of events that are needed for an erection.
Simply put, men who have diabetes or have sugar imbalances in their system will have a hard time maintaining erections.
In the worst case, it can cause erectile dysfunction.
To improve your sex life, you’ll need a good exercise regimen and a balanced diet rich in vegetables, protein, and good fats.
12. Bad for the joints
Added sugar according to research is also bad for the joints because of the inflammation it causes.
One such study proves this. Twenty-nine people who were given 40 grams of added sugar from a can of soda led to an increase of inflammatory markers, LDL cholesterol, and insulin resistance .
Since over-consumption of sugar leads to obesity, it can also have an indirect effect as overweight individuals are more prone to inflammation of the joints.
Drinking soda everyday can when overweight can increase the level of uric acid that’s another trigger for inflammation .
13. Increases risk of depression
A lot of men and women turn to binge eating junk food when they have a problem.
Numerous studies show that consuming foods high in sugar like sodas, fruit juices and pastries may trigger blood sugar swings, inflammation, and neurotransmitter dysregulation.
All these triggers can hurt our mental health .
One study done over 20 years on 8,000 people revealed that men who consume 67 grams of sugar/day increase their risk of having depression by 23% than men who eat less than 40 grams per day .
14. Higher risk of developing acne
Acne may isn’t just for teenagers. It turns out that people who love sweets increase their risk of having acne. Foods rich in sugar raise blood sugar and insulin levels.
It increases androgen secretion, oil production, and inflammation, all of which play a huge role in acne formation .
Folks who have a low-glycemic diet decrease their risk factor to having acne. And people who have high-glycemic foods increase their risk of acne .
Healthy alternatives to added sugar
The good news is there are lots of options to artificially processed sugars that wreck our health.
Here are some options that you may want to look at if you want a natural alternative.
This natural sweetener comes from the leaves of a South American shrub scientists call Stevia rebaudiana.
One reason why it’s a great option is that it has zero calories, so there’s no risk of weight gain.
It also has several health benefits. One study reveals that stevia consumption can lower blood pressure by 6 to 14% .
Stevia also helps lower blood sugar and insulin levels which in turn prevent diabetes .
There are two different types of stevia compounds – stevioside and rebaudioside A. Both will have different tastes. It is available in both powder and liquid form. If you’re looking for an alternative to white sugar or even brown sugar, try this alternative option.
Experts call xylitol sugar alcohol with a sweetness that’s similar to sugar. It comes from birch or corn wood and is found in vegetables.
Xylitol contains 40% fewer calories than table sugar, and it doesn’t raise insulin and blood sugar levels .
Here’s the best part – it contains zero fructose.
Be careful not to overeat of it because it can cause diarrhea, bloating and gas.
Erythritol is similar to Xylitol in that it’s sugar alcohol but with fewer calories.
It contains 0.24 calories per gram which are around 94% less than table sugar.
What makes it a good substitute is that it tastes almost like sugar and it doesn’t raise blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels .
Yacon syrup comes from the yacon plant in South America with the scientific name Smallanthus sonchifolius.
One benefit is this sugar substitute is that it can help women lose weight, but more research has to be done to verify.
It contains only a third of the calories found in sugar and contains fructooligosaccharides – a particular type of sugar that the body cannot digest.
One benefit of fructooligosaccharides is it can decrease the hunger hormone ghrelin which will make you eat less .
Don’t eat large portions because it can lead to gas and diarrhea. You can’t use this to cook or bake, so it is limited to salad dressings or drinks.
One of my favorite sugar substitutes, honey comes from bees.
Honey contains antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, so it isn’t empty calories.
Consumption of such can increase antioxidants in our system which can lower risk for diseases .
Research shows that honey can lower bad cholesterol (or LDL) and even raise good cholesterol (or HDL) .
However, it can also increase HbA1c which is a blood sugar marker – not good.
Despite all the health benefits, only consume honey in moderate levels because it does contain fructose.
When shopping for honey, make sure only to purchase “natural honey.” If you see the word “honey flavored” syrup, don’t buy it because it is corn syrup disguised as honey.
Some tips on reducing sugar intake
Now that you know the negative effects of excessive sugar intake let’s dive into some tips on how to lessen consumption.
Avoid fructose-rich drinks
A lot of products sold in the market contain high amounts of fructose. Even so-called healthy juices contain high amounts of sugar.
Consider that a 450ml bottle of apple juice contains around 49 grams of sugar! That’s more than the recommended amount per day on that one drink.
The worst offender is soda. A 16 ounce can of soda contains 52 grams of sugar.
Try healthier alternatives like green juice and smoothies. What makes these better options is you can make them at home using fresh ingredients minus the added sugars.
Lay off the velvet cake
Cakes, in general, are high in sugar and low in nutritional value. Not a good combination if you want to lose weight or live a healthy lifestyle.
Binge eating on such does not do anything good to your body except give you a sugar rush. Afterward, you’ll feel tired, have low energy and worst it makes you fat.
Instead of eating cake why not try healthier alternatives like eating whole fruit such as pineapple, orange, pear, and even dates. Some say dark chocolate is also a good alternative since it is low in sugar.
Granola bars aren’t as healthy as you think
A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that “healthy” snacks like granola bars won’t make them fat.
But one close look at the ingredient list says otherwise. Some brands contain as much as 32 grams of sugar! The only time you should eat granola if it’s something you made with no added sugars.
Better alternatives for healthy snacks include fruits, nuts, whole wheat bread and maybe a hard-boiled egg.
Start your day off right with a healthy breakfast
Breakfast is perhaps the most important meal of the day, so it makes sense it eats something healthy.
Typical All-American options like cereal, pancakes, jams or muffins aren’t the best options because these are rich in sugar. Cereal, for instance, contains over 50 grams of sugar per serving. If you insist on having this, you’ll have to be diligent in looking at the sugar content and ingredient list.
A better alternative would be eating rolled oats or oatmeal mixed with some fruits. Avocado is another option that contains lots of healthy fats. You can mix it with greens for a healthy breakfast salad.
Don’t stack up on unhealthy foods in the fridge
Here’s a fact, no matter how much discipline you have, chances are if you have a granola bar inside the refrigerator, you are eating it.
So the best way to avoid unhealthy, sugar-rich foods is not storing them in the first place.
It removes the temptation altogether. Instead of storing unhealthy drinks and snacks, why not stack the fridge with fruits, Greek yogurt, and homemade green juice.