Sugar can be found in all kinds of foods, from the obvious (cakes and cookies) to the surprising (marinara sauce and salad dressing). We know that sugar contains excess calories, which can contribute to higher body weight — and the health problems that go along with being overweight.
But what if you’re overall pretty healthy and aren’t trying to lose weight? Should you still cut back on sugar?
Yes — and I’ll give you a few reasons why.
How much sugar is too much?
First, let’s discuss how much sugar we should be eating vs. how much we actually consume. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that we should limit calories from added sugars to no more than 10 percent of our daily calories. For someone eating 1,500 calories a day, that’s only 150 calories worth of added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily sugar intake to 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men.
However, the average American eats 17 teaspoons of added sugars each day — more than double the recommended amount.
But what is added sugar? And how is it different from sugar found in some healthy foods, like fruits?
There are two key differences between added sugar and sugar found naturally in some foods: quantity and quality.
- Quantity: Added sugar tends to be present in high amounts. A can of soda, for instance, contains 39 grams of added sugar. That’s more than your entire day’s worth in one beverage. But, to get 39 grams of sugar from whole fruit, you’d have to eat a cup of pineapple, a cup of blueberries, and half an orange.
- Quality: Whole fruit contains a good amount of natural sugar. But, it also contains fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins. Many processed foods, however, contain sugar that was put in the food to make it taste better. This is referred to as added sugar because it’s not found naturally in the food. Added sugar equals extra calories — and the health risks of eating too much sugar — without any nutritional benefit.
One of the best ways to cut back on added sugar is to limit processed foods. Instead of applesauce or juice, eat a whole apple. Instead of chips or crackers, eat fresh vegetables. Focusing on whole foods is the simplest way to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need — without the sugar you don’t.
Reasons to cut back on sugar
The evidence against eating too much sugar continues to mount as more studies are conducted. Following are just a few of the biggest reasons you should limit or avoid added sugar.
1. It’s extra calories — and nothing else
Food is fuel for the body. A healthy diet can keep your energy levels up so you can enjoy life and function at your best. This is because healthy foods like fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that our bodies need.
Added sugars, however, contain no nutrients that will improve your health. They simply add extra calories that you could have used on foods that contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, or protein. While it tastes good on the tongue, sugar offers no benefits beyond that short-lived, temporary satisfaction we get when we eat it. And as many of us know, that satisfaction wears off quickly when we have a blood sugar crash later or feel guilty about the unhealthy food we consumed.
2. Sugar may increase the risk of cancer
Natural health proponents have been naming sugar as a possible carcinogen — or cancer-causing substance — for years. But until recently, there wasn’t much hard medical evidence to back it up.
However, a study published in 2017 found that the sugar industry has known that sugar is a possible carcinogen since 1965, but the information was never publicized. The research showed that rats on a high-sugar diet had higher levels of a cancer-causing enzyme. Whether these findings were intentionally covered up isn’t known, but one thing is certain: sugar is void of nutrition and we don’t need it in our diets. So why eat something that does our health no good — and could be implicated in cancer?
3. Sugar accelerates skin aging
While sun damage is a big part of the aging process, many world-renowned dermatologists have stated that eating sugar is also your skin’s enemy. Eating too much sugar damages collagen in the skin in a process called glycation. Collagen is an important building block for healthy skin. Without it, the skin becomes less plump, less elastic, and more prone to wrinkles and sagging.
4. Sugar affects the brain
When you eat sugar, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which is part of the brain’s reward system. In other words, eating sweets immediately makes you feel a pleasurable “high.” This can cause a person to seek out more sugar again and again, similar to how someone can become addicted to a substance like alcohol.
Saying sugar is “addictive” may seem alarming, but medical evidence shows that eating sugar causes the brain to crave more sugar. This could explain why many people keep eating sugar even though they know it’s bad for them and they’re trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
5. Sugar wrecks your sleep
The body needs quality sleep as much as it needs nutritious food and regular exercise. But, eating sugar can wreck your sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Sugar can pull you out of the deep, restorative sleep you need for proper physical energy and mental focus. Added sugars and their sleep-wrecking properties could be the reason you find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning despite going to bed on time. Or, sugar could be to blame for your trouble concentrating and focusing at work or school due to fatigue.
It can be frustrating to learn just how bad sugar is for you, especially if sugar is a big comfort food for you. And while it had be hard at first to break a sugar habit, it’s definitely doable — and well worth the effort. When you make a shift towards healthier foods, you will likely find that your food preferences change over time, and the foods you once craved no longer have the same appeal.
Need help with your weight-loss and wellness goals? Garcia Weight Loss and Wellness Centers offer personalized weight-loss plans with consistent, professional support to help you conquer your biggest weight-loss barriers, including sugar addiction. Contact us today for a no-cost consultation!
Dr. Jay J. Garcia, has over the last decade, created a comprehensive weight-loss program that has earned him the most trusted name in medically managed weight loss in Tampa Bay. Our doctors and staff strive to create warm, inviting environments full of motivation and support. As a patient at Garcia Weight Loss & Wellness, you can expect a customized plan, personalized supplements, and consistent support to help you reach your goal and maintain it.