Americans have an ongoing love affair with sugar. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American consumes a whopping 156 pounds of sugar each year. That’s about 31 of those five-pound bags from the grocery store. Can you imagine putting 31 bags of sugar in your cart?
We’ve all craved it, enjoyed it and heard that it is bad for us. But how damaging can sugar really be to our bodies? As it turns out, quite damaging indeed. Here are just seven ways sugar can wreak havoc on our bodily systems:
- Sugar is the “other” white poison. No wonder kids are begging for sugary snacks and drinks all the time: some experts say that sugar is as addictive as cocaine – except it’s legal. And widely available. People develop a tolerance for sugar much like they do addictive drugs – causing us to want more and more of it to get our “sugar fix.”
- Sugar makes us feel hungrier. Eating too much sugar confuses neural pathways and hinders the body’s ability to produce leptin, the hormone that tells our brains that we’re full. In other words, eating sugary foods makes us want to keep on eating them.
- We love sugar but sugar doesn’t love us. We’re all aware that eating too much sugar can contribute to weight gain. Combine that weight gain with high blood insulin levels over an extended time period, and that leads to insulin resistance and possibly diabetes, which in turn leads to an increased risk for heart disease.
- Sugar can cause “fatty liver.” Fructose, the sweet component in high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar, can tax our livers and cause us to store fat in our organs, including the liver. A liver with more than 5-10% fat is called a fatty liver. That condition could cause the liver to swell (cirrhosis) and may eventually lead to liver cancer or liver failure.
- Sugar can contribute to high blood pressure. This is ironic, since many of us crave a sugary treat when we’re feeling stressed, right? Too much dietary sugar increases blood insulin levels, which can harm blood vessels. Over time, high levels of blood insulin can cause arterial tension by impacting smooth muscle cell growth. This puts us at heightened risk for high blood pressure and in turn increases our risk for a heart attack or stroke.
- Sugar impacts cholesterol, too. This goes back to sugar’s impact on the liver. Experts believe that too much sugar stimulates the liver to produce an excessive amount of bad (LDL) cholesterol while simultaneously hindering our bodies from being able to process it effectively.
- Sugary treats zap energy levels. We’ve all experienced a sugar rush after eating sweet treats, but within an hour or so felt our energy levels crash, often causing us to crave more of the sweet stuff to pick ourselves back up again. To avoid that vicious cycle, try substituting a protein-rich snack with low or no added sugars – like maybe a handful of almonds.
As you can see, sugar gets a bad report card for the potential damage it can do to our bodies. But there’s a simple solution to avoiding all of these negative effects: lower your sugar intake!
The American Heart Association recommends that men eat no more than 150 added calories from sugar (about 9 teaspoons) per day, while women should limit themselves to 100 calories (about 6 teaspoons) per day. Stay tuned to our next blog for tips on how to lower your sugar intake and improve your health!