You may believe you don’t eat much sugar, certainly not as much as most people. Even the most health-conscious people eat more sugar than they think they do though because it’s everywhere. It’s hidden in condiments, soups, and even meat! So even if you faithfully abstain from sugary ice cream treats and sugar-laden cereal, you are probably getting much more sugar than you realize.
The average American consumes approximately 32 teaspoons of sugar per day, much of it hidden in the highly-processed foods our modern, busy society encourages by making it so readily available and inexpensive. Once we get started on the typical Western processed-food cycle, it’s hard to get off of it.
Why is it so hard?
Because sugar is addictive! In fact, it’s equated to a drug—it’s only 1 nitrogen atom away from cocaine, according to Dr. David Reuben, author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Nutrition.
Want proof that sugar is a hidden ingredient in so many of the foods we consume on a daily basis? Here it is:
- Energy drinks: 32-40 grams per 20 oz.
- Sweetened teas: 10-14 grams per 8 oz.
- Low-fat ice cream: 7-10 grams per scoop
- Soda: 32 grams per 32 oz.
- Agave syrup: 50-54 grams per ¼ cup
- Ketchup: 2-3 grams per 2 Tbsp.
- Sugar-free syrup: 11 grams per ¼ cup
- Granola bar: 3-5 grams per bar
- Orange sauce: 8-10 grams per 2 Tbsp.
- Canned fruit: 10-12 grams per 4 oz.
- Unsweetened apple juice: 16 grams per 8 oz.
- Fat-free dressings: 4-8 grams per 2 Tbsp.
- Raisin Bran: 6 grams per cup
- Granola with raisins: 8-12 grams per 2/3 cup
- Starbucks Frappuccino: 18 grams per 9 oz.
Sure, you may never have even tasted a Starbucks Frappuccino or a Red Bull Energy Drink, but what about granola, unsweetened apple juice, or low-fat salad dressing? Eek! Aren’t those things good for you? That’s what we’ve been told. But, the companies who produce highly-processed foods have big stakes involved—they want to keep us addicted to sugar so we’ll keep buying their products.
Oh, and you know all those “healthy” low-fat foods you eat? Guess how they make them palatable? By adding sugar, of course!
Now that you are starting to get the picture of how concealed sugar is in foods we enjoy daily, let’s look at why that’s a problem.
First, we need to understand what happens when we consume sugar.
Before it hits the bloodstream coming from the digestive tract, sugar is broken down into two different types of simple sugars:
- Glucose—is used by our bodies to create energy. It’s a natural part of all of our cells and our body actually produces it if we don’t get it from our food sources.
- Fructose—is not necessary for any of our bodily functions and our bodies do not produce it.
So, as we continue to discuss how sugar negatively impacts our health, we are talking about fructose only.
Sugar is not only addictive, it’s hazardous to our health. Yes, it’s bad for your teeth, but it goes way beyond that.
How Sugar Negatively Impacts Our Health
Creates Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Fructose is metabolized directly into fat, which contributes to the obesity epidemic in the West because the liver can only handle so much fructose at a time. The average amount of sugar eaten by Americans daily is too much for the liver. When an abundance of fructose is stored in the liver, it is released as Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL), a form of cholesterol. The fructose stuck in the liver causes Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.
Sugar feeds cancer cells, making these cells grow faster and divide faster, which causes cancer to spread quicker.
Causes Insulin Resistance
Having too much fructose in the bloodstream causes a metabolic dysfunction, causing insulin to stop working properly in the body. This is called insulin resistance, and it leads to a multitude of diseases, including metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type II diabetes.
Advanced Signs of Aging
Excess sugar causes your skin to sag, increasing the signs of aging. Once fructose reaches your bloodstream, it attaches to proteins. This process, called glycation, creates the loss of elasticity in aging tissue including your organs, arteries, and skin. The more sugar you consume, the faster this process advances.
A sugar spike in the bloodstream causes the same type of fight or flight response as stress does. When our body is stressed, or we have a burst of fructose hit our bloodstream, our body releases stress hormones, specifically epinephrine, adrenaline, and cortisol. Since we don’t need to run away from a wooly mammoth, these stress hormones have no way to be released, so they cause us to feel irritable, shaky and anxious. This can easily become a vicious cycle of low blood sugar, a spike in blood sugar, causing the release of yet more stress hormones.
Causes Tooth Decay and Gum Disease
We know from childhood that sugar is bad for our teeth. It basically rots them. But did you know it also causes gum disease? If you think a good dental hygienist is all you need to stop worrying about this issue, then consider this: Research shows that gum disease is a precursor to heart disease. Researchers believe the connection lies in the relation to the how the body deals with the constant inflammation caused by the periodontal infection over a period of time.
Unregulated Blood Sugar
High fructose levels impact blood sugar in multiple ways, including the deficiency of chromium in the body. Chromium is a trace mineral responsible for regulating blood sugar. This insufficiency further weakens the body’s defense against insulin resistance.
Lowered Immune Response
Animals that have diets high in fructose have been found to have inhibited immunity, making them more susceptible to all types of infections and illnesses. The research points to the fructose causing an imbalance in the body that allows bacteria and yeast to grow, which suppresses the ability to fight off illness.
Loss of Well-Being and Increased Emotional Instability
We’ve all experienced a sugar high, which is inevitably followed by a sugar crash. This vicious cycle sets the stage for fatigue, headaches, mood swings, and, you guessed it, more sugar cravings! It’s a real challenge to break this cycle once it gets started, because, just like with a drug, you know you can make yourself feel better just by having a “hit” of sugar.
When fructose hits the bloodstream, it causes your body to produce more insulin. That additional insulin blocks leptin—the hormone that reduces appetite and increases fat burning capabilities. Since sugar is so addictive, we tend to eat more and more of it, which leads to more hunger and leaves our body unable to burn the fat the sugar is producing.
How to Get Rid of Sugar!
If you need help getting off the sugar rollercoaster, there are some really great resources. I have read a number of books on the topic and here are some of my personal favorites:
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