Are you addicted to sugar? Without even looking at your diet, I can say that the answer is probably yes. In this day and age, you’d have a hard time finding any food product without some kind of added sugar or sweetener in it. So unless you are making a conscious effort to avoid added sugar, chances are you’re having too much of it. The American Heart Association recommends the following:
6 tsp of added sugar daily for women
9 tsp of added sugar daily for men
The reality? On average, adults consume a whopping 22 tsp of added sugar daily. Teens are even worse, with an average of 34 tsp daily.
Why it’s not your fault
If you’re addicted to sugar, it’s not really your fault, and I’m not just saying that because of all the added sugars that companies dump into their food products. There is an evolutionary origin of eating with pleasure. Foods with a high energy density (small amount of food with lots of calories) tend to be more palatable. Humans have been known to be addicted to sugar from a young age. In fact, babies crave fruit long before their parents expose them to added sugars in foods. So it’s in our nature to want sugary snacks… but we’ve gone overboard.
Historically, people would only consume refined sugars in small amounts, but they now account for almost 20% of total caloric intake. In the 1800s, the average American consumed 18 pounds of dietary sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes 150 pounds in a year. That’s a 733% increase in sugar consumption! It used to be an evolutionary advantage to find foods that were high in caloric density, but we have gone way above and beyond what our bodies need and into the dangerous territory of sugar overconsumption.
Problems caused by sugar
When a food has empty calories, this means that there are lots of calories but not much nutritional benefit. For an example, let’s look at Strawberry Twizzlers. If you eat 4 of these (which is a “serving” according to the label), you are consuming 160 calories. This product has NO vitamins, NO enzymes, and NO fibre. By contrast, an example of a food with more “full” calories is an avocado. A regular-sized avocado has 160 calories, same as those 4 Twizzlers. However, it also contains healthy fats, potassium, fibre, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and magnesium. So you can see how eating a fruit or vegetable gets you more bang for your buck in terms of calories consumed in relation to nutritional benefit. Sugar is giving you nothing but calories and all the problems listed below.
If you’re addicted to sugar, you likely have more risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as increased blood pressure. Sugar also decreases your HDL (high-density lipoproteins), which is what people call your “good cholesterol”. Sugar can also lead to increased platelet adhesiveness, which means it is easier for your blood to form clots, leading to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Infections feed off of sugar, which is why I often recommend that my patients cut down on their sugar intake when they are starting to get a cold. Fungal and bacterial infections love sugar the most, so it’s also good to cut back on sugar if you’re starting to get a yeast infection, a UTI, or an ear infection. Sugar also decreases immunity, so if you have an infection, all the sugar you are consuming will feed the infection AND lower your body’s ability to fight the infection. Double-whammy!
Acids demineralize tooth enamel, leading to dental cavities. Streptococcus mutans is a bacteria that produces these acids. And what did we just learn about bacteria? That’s right, it feeds off of sugar. This strain in particular loves glucose, fructose, lactose, sucrose and maltose, which will help it to produce those tooth-decaying acids.
Sugar can contribute to inflammation in the body, which can manifest in any of the following ways: digestive upset, joint pain, skin irritation, respiratory issues, and even autoimmune disorder flare-ups. If you have any of these issues, try cutting back on the sugar in your diet and see if it helps.
I could go on and on…
Seriously, the amount of problems caused by sugar is astounding. Here are just a few more:
- Confused hunger cues
- Digestive upset
- Mood swings
- Brain fog
- Increased body fat
- Skin irritation
How did I become addicted to sugar anyway?
It’s a vicious cycle! First you eat sugar, which causes your blood sugar levels to spike. In order to help drop your blood sugar levels, the body releases insulin. Your blood sugar levels drop, and this causes your appetite to increase and your body to crave the lost sugar high. So you eat sugar again. The cycle continues, over and over throughout the day. And each time you eat sugar, dopamine (the addiction hormone) is released in the brain. That big drop in blood glucose is what we call a “sugar crash” and can cause fatigue, brain fog, headaches, and mood swings. It also confuses the body’s hunger cues, since the body feels like it needs more food when in reality you are just addicted to sugar and therefore craving it.
How does sugar cause weight gain?
Remember when I said that your body releases insulin when you eat sugar? This insulin release signals the body to take sugar into the cells. If you are addicted to sugar, the cells will be full and so sugar will be converted to fat and stored in the body. So when you consume high-sugar food products, you are not only taking in lots of calories, but you are also storing more fat!
How do I avoid the sugar spike and crash?
One of the biggest problems with sugar is how quickly it gets into the bloodstream and how quickly it leaves it. We don’t want blood sugar or insulin to spike quickly. We are aiming for a slower process so that we don’t get the sugar high or ensuing sugar crash. One way we can do this is by combining fats with sugars, which improves the body’s ability to process sugar. For example, if you’re eating an apple, pair it with some nut butter. If you’re having oatmeal, add some nuts to it. If you’re eating toast (very carb-heavy), then put some avocado on it.
Which products have the most added sugars?
As I mentioned earlier, most food products do have added sugars. The top 5 sources of added sugars to really make sure you stay away from are:
- Sweetened beverages (this includes pop, iced tea, and specialty coffee drinks)
- Baked goods (cookies, pies, doughnuts, tarts, brownies, cakes, croissants)
- Dairy desserts (ice cream, frozen dairy bars, sundaes)
- Candy (gummies, chocolates, hard candies)
By now, the public is fairly well-informed about certain products and their sugar content. I’m sure you’ve heard of how horrifically high in sugar things like Red Bull, Coca Cola, Mountain Dew, and Dairy Queen treats are. But not all high-sugar products are quite as obvious as those. Let’s look at some other food and beverage products you might want to stay away from, keeping in mind that the maximum amount of added sugars in a day is 24 g for a female and 36 g for a male.
- 1 bottle of SoBe Green Tea: 61 g of sugar
- 1 can of Arizona Iced Tea: 72 g of sugar
- 1 container of Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt: 27 g of sugar
This means that if you’re a female and you’re having that Yoplait for breakfast, you are getting more than your recommended daily intake of sugar just from the one container of yogurt!
Clearly sugar can be sneaky, so it’s important to read labels. Look at the nutrition information table, specifically at the sugar section and keep in mind what the daily maximum is for you. If you do eat something high in carbohydrates or sugars, try to pair it with a healthy fat to avoid the sugar high and crash. If you would like healthy sugar-free recipes or more tips on how to control your blood glucose, book with Dr. Corina Kibsey, ND today.
Image courtesy of: Pete Wright