Sugar is everywhere in our diet. It sneaks into things you may not even realize, including healthy snacks and beverages like juices, smoothies, yogurts, and of course, many flavorful and fancy coffee and tea beverages. While sugar in a small moderation can be okay, too much sugar can wreak havoc on our bodies, skin, gut, and brain. Increased sugar intake can have a negative impact on health and can contribute to diabetes, hypertension, and liver and heart disease.
It is important to understand the process by which our body metabolizes sugar and the effects it has on our organs and blood sugar. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. When you eat sugar, your body has two choices of what to do with it: use it for energy or convert it to fat that is stored in your fat cells. Which option your body chooses can depend a lot on genetics, metabolism, what time of day you’re eating, and the type of sugar consumed.
Once you’ve gobbled down that Cronut that you’ve patiently waited in line for, your bloodstream becomes flooded with sugar, and your pancreas then produces and releases the hormone insulin. Insulin helps regulate the amount of sugar in our blood by helping remove the glucose so it can be stored in your muscles, liver, and fat cells. The more sugar we consume, the more insulin is produced to regulate this imbalance, which can place a huge stress on our bodies and eventually cause inflammation-related health issues, obesity, diabetes, cancers, and other diseases.
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Health and Wellness Coach Emily Whipple of Aspen Elevated Health, based in Aspen, Colorado states, “Sadly, sugar is not our friend when it comes to our health and overall wellness. Even in moderation we need to be careful. We are seeing an influx in published sugar studies revealing how harmful this addictive carbohydrate is on our entire bodies. The more educated we can become on sugar, the better choices we can make for our own bodies.”
Below, Whipple has rounded up 5 key relevant sugar tidbits to keep you educated, plus some advice on ways to help you stave off that sweet-tooth craving and keep you satisfied, healthy, and happy without completely avoiding sugars so you don’t have to live your life feeling deprived.
If you’re craving a sweet treat, Whipple’s advice is to try to choose something with natural sugar as opposed to processed and refined sugar. Natural sugars are the kind that exist naturally in a food, such as fruit, honey, maple syrup, and even some dairy. Natural sugar is digested more slowly in your body, which helps you feel full for longer and keeps your metabolism stable.
Alternatively, refined sugar, or sucrose—which can be found in pastries, candy, soda, and packaged desserts—is processed and extracted from sugarcane or sugar beets. The body breaks down refined sugar more rapidly than natural sugars, which causes insulin and blood sugar levels to drastically spike. This quick digestion often leaves a lingering feeling of hunger even after you’ve eaten your meal, regardless of how much you ate.
Generally, fruits are a healthy snack; they are full of essential fiber, minerals, and vitamins. But certain fruits are better for you than others when it comes to sugar content. Sugar in fruit is measured by the effect it has on your blood sugar, or your blood glucose levels. This measurement, called the Glycemic Index (GI) is a numerical unit describing how much your blood sugar levels will rise by consuming certain foods, based on a scale from 0 to 100. Foods with a higher GI will be harder for your body to process as compared to foods with a lower GI. Whipple recommends selecting fruit with lower GI values such as: grapefruits, cherries, pears, berries, apples, citrus, and plums.
If you tend to feel fatigued after lunch, it could be caused by your diet, especially if you’re eating foods that are loaded with sugars. There is a lot of evidence to support how your energy levels are affected throughout the day depending on what you eat. If you’re someone who typically reaches into the office candy bowl or sips on a Frappuccino to get you through that conference call, you’ve probably experienced some sort of “sugar high,” followed by a “sugar crash.”
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Your body’s automatic response is to produce enough insulin to help process the sugars you’ve just consumed. The more sugar you consume, the harder your body has to work, which can leave you feeling tired and sluggish. Eating excess sugar has also been linked to accelerating the aging process of your brain, causing deficiencies in memory and overall cognitive health. Whenever possible, Whipple suggests to try to avoid reaching for sugary treats, especially when you’re hungry.
Whipple warns, “The facts are simple. When we consume too much sugar, we end up eating too many calories, which can result in weight gain and more of that pesky, unwanted flab. Foods that contain more sugar are typically higher in calories and carbohydrates, which can have a negative effect on your waistline.”
Often times sugary treats contain little to no protein or fiber, causing you to keep eating more without ever feeling full—a dangerous cycle that leads to consuming extra calories and eventually gaining more weight. When we consume more calories than we need, all the extra unused calories get stored as fat.
Due to our natural biology, men and women have slightly different recommendations for the amount of sugar they should be consuming per day. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), women should have no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day and no more than 9 teaspoons for men. The AHA also suggests that less than five percent of your diet should come from the sweet treats, which comes to about 25 grams based on a daily 2,000 calorie diet.
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Fun fact: one teaspoon of sugar equals about 4 grams of sugar, which is important to remember as you’re reading food labels. For example, one Chobani blueberry flavored Greek yogurt has 14 grams of sugar per serving, which is 3.5 teaspoons of sugar in just one small container. If you’re a woman, that’s already more than half of your daily recommended serving!
Since you probably don’t have the willpower of Superman or Superwoman to avoid sugar altogether, Whipple outlines a few other pro tips on how to consume sugar and naturally cut down on unnecessary and unwanted sugars: