Sugar is a staple of our diet today. Common foods that contain sugar include milk, sodas, bread, and cake. Natural sugar occurs in all foods that contain carbohydrates including fruits, vegetables, and grains. Usually, whole and unprocessed foods contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are important for a healthy life.
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While natural sugars are important for the body, added sugars pose serious health problems. Food manufacturers use sugar to sweeten or enhance the flavor or to increase the shelf life of their foods. These added sugars have serious negative impacts on our health.
To understand the impact of sugar on health, we need to understand how sugar functions in the body. Sugar consists of two elements: glucose and fructose. Human cells consume glucose to produce energy that allows organs to function. However, fructose remains unused causing numerous negative health impacts including obesity, heart diseases, blood pressure, mental health problems, and poor gut health.
Added sugars cause weight gain and obesity. Although sugar is not fattening, excess consumption of sugar puts you at a higher risk of weight gain because many people overconsume sugar-rich foods because they are tasty. Also, sugar-rich foods contain more calories than natural alternatives increasing the risk of consuming excess calories. When the body doesn’t use excess sugar, it converts it into glycogen and later to fats that ultimately cause weight gain.
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Added sugar is harmful to gut health that is an important part of a healthy person. A healthy gut helps to process nutrients that are vital to the body. However, added sugars eliminate beneficial bacteria in the gut. An imbalance in the gut leads to poor digestion and absorption of food. The poor absorption of food in the gut results in the craving for sugary foods causing a vicious cycle.
Added sugars increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a common health problem that occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to process and regulate glucose resulting in high blood sugar levels. Sugar increases the risk of type 2 diabetes because it pressures the pancreas to work more to produce and release insulin. A strain on the pancreas destroys its beta cells preventing the pancreas from making enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition that causes numerous long-term health problems such as kidney disease, heart problems, and blindness.
Consumption of added sugars increases your risk of mental health problems such as depression. Research shows that people who consume a lot of sugar are likely to suffer from depression. Depression is a mental health condition that results in feelings of hopelessness and despair. People who are depressed do not find joy in life which makes it hard for them to live positively. Science shows that sugar-rich foods lead to neurotransmitter dysregulation which could result in depression.
The consumption of excess processed sugars increases fat accumulation in and around the liver. The liver is a vital body organ that converts fructose to glycogen to prevent the formation of fat. However, the liver can only store so much glycogen. The consumption of a lot of added sugars means that the liver cannot convert all of it to glycogen. Excess fructose is converted to fat resulting in a fatty liver that poses significant health problems. A fatty liver increases the risk of type 2 diabetes because it cannot process and regulate sugar levels.
Added sugars increase the risk of heart disease. Scientific studies have found that people who consume a lot of sugar are at an increased risk of suffering from heart diseases. There are numerous mechanisms through which added sugars increase the risk of heart disease. For instance, added sugars result in a fatty liver that cannot regulate sugar levels in the blood causing diabetes that increases the risk of heart diseases. Also, a lot of sugar raises blood pressure which is one of the major causes of heart disease. Further, excess consumption of sugar results in obesity which is one of the major causes of heart problems.
Therefore, you should avoid added sugar to avoid the numerous health risks that they pose. You can reduce and eliminate added sugar in your diet in several ways.
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Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas. Whether they are made from fruits or artificial sweeteners, sweet drinks are loaded with processed sugars.
Eat whole and unprocessed foods whenever you crave something sweet. Eating fruits instead of cookies is a good way to avoid processed sugars.
Cook your own food. Home-cooked food is superior to bought-out food because you can control the ingredients.
Monitor your diet to guard against the consumption of excess added sugar. Usually, food manufacturers list the amount of sugar in foods in grams on their food labels. You should note the amount of sugar and the total number of servings of the food you eat. Current guidelines state that men should consume no more than 150 grams of added sugar while women should consume less than 100 grams of added sugar per day. Monitoring your dietary intake can help you to know when your diet is above this recommended intake and take action to address the issue.
Although monitoring the diet is a crucial part of reducing the intake of added sugars, overzealous efforts might backfire. In some instances, people who give up processed sugars turn to foods such as refined starches such as white bread to satisfy their sugar cravings. These substitutes increase glucose levels leading to problems such as blood pressure and the heart. Therefore, you should be careful that efforts to reduce the intake of added sugars do not lead you to poorer dietary choices that harm your health.
It is almost impossible to avoid added sugars in today’s world. However, you can take the first step in eliminating added sugars in your diet. Cooking your own food, eating whole and unprocessed foods, monitoring food labels, and avoiding sugar-rich beverages are simple and effective ways to reduce the harmful effects of added sugars on your health.