Weekly Wellness: Am I eating too much sugar?
COLUMBIA - Oh, you sweet thing, you. Sugar. As a society, we just LOVE the stuff! But I fear that, in many cases, it is a very unhealthy love affair. We are in a very dysfunctional relationship. How can you tell if your sugar relationship is the wrong kind of love?
You constantly crave sugary things.
The more sugar you eat, the more you’ll crave it. This isn’t just because your taste buds have adapted and left you needing more and more to get that same taste, but also because of how sugar gives you a high followed by a crash, just like an actual drug.
You feel sluggish throughout the day.
After sugar causes an initial spike of insulin and that “high” feeling, it causes an inevitable crash. Eating a lot of sugar also means it’s likely you’re not eating enough protein and fiber, both important nutrients for sustained energy.
Your skin won’t stop breaking out.
Some people can develop breakouts of acne and rosacea due to the insulin spike that comes with too much sugar consumption.
You’re way moodier than usual.
The blood sugar crash that happens when you’re coming off a sugar high can cause mood swings and leave you feeling crabby. Not to mention, if your energy is also tanking, that just contributes to a bad attitude.
You’ve been putting on some weight.
Excess sugar is excess calories, and since it has no protein or fiber, it doesn’t fill you up (so you just keep eating it). When we eat sugar, the pancreas releases insulin, which carries sugar to our organs so it can be used for energy. When you load up on sugar, your body’s told to produce more insulin—over time, that excessive output can lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means our bodies can’t respond to normal amounts of insulin properly and therefore can’t use sugar the right way.
You’ve been getting more cavities.
When bacteria is present to deal with the food particles between teeth, acid is produced (which causes tooth decay). Saliva maintains a healthy balance of bacteria, however, eating sugar can impact the pH and gives the bacteria a chance multiply - which can lead to cavities.
Your brain tends to get foggy, especially after a meal.
This fog is a common symptom of low blood sugar. When you eat a lot of sugar, your blood sugar levels rapidly rise and fall instead of gradually doing so.
Nothing tastes as sweet as it used to.
When you eat too much sugar, you need more sugar to satisfy your taste buds. Sweet becomes "not sweet enough." However, if you cut back and suffer through the lack of sweetness, you’ll eventually lower your tolerance again and be content with minimal sugar.
What really happens when we eat sugar? Here's a breakdown of the step-by-step sugary process:
Step 1: You eat sugar.
Your insulin spikes to regulate your blood sugar.
When you eat sugar (or any carbohydrate), your body releases insulin (a hormone from your pancreas). The insulin’s job is to absorb the excess glucose in the blood and stabilize sugar levels.
Step 2: The crash.
Once the insulin does its job, your blood sugar drops again.
Step 3: The start of addiction.
Your brain responds to sugar the same way it would to cocaine. Eating sugar creates a surge of feel-good brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin (kinda like cocaine). And just like a drug, your body craves more after the initial high. We can get addicted to that feeling and want more and more and more.
Step 4: The extra weight.
More sugar = more calories = more weight gain (in the form of fat). Not only do high sugar foods pack a ton of calories into a small amount, but they contain almost no fiber or protein (which means you eat more to feel full).
Why should we care about too much sugar?
Well, aside from the obvious (above-stated) reasons, too much sugar consumption can lead to obesity. (Obesity, in case you were curious, affects over 1/3 of American adults today.) Obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, and other life-threatening diseases and issues.
When we talk about sugars in the diet, it’s important to make the distinction between added sugar and naturally-occurring sugars. Fruits and vegetables have naturally-occurring sugars but are healthy foods that also contain water, fiber and various micronutrients. Added sugars are those that are added to foods. The most common added sugars are regular table sugar (sucrose) or high fructose corn syrup.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are:
- Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons).
- Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons).
So read labels, pay attention to what you’re eating, and try to limit your added sugars. It will do your body good.