You add it to your morning cup of coffee or tea. You bake it into pastries, cakes, and cookies. You even sprinkle it all over your breakfast cereal or your oatmeal.
But that’s not all. It’s also hidden in many of our favorite “treats” that people consume on a daily basis, such as sodas, fruit juices, candies, ice cream, almost all processed foods, and even condiments like ketchup.
But how exactly does sugar work in our body, how much sugar is acceptable and what are the side effects of eating too much sugar on people’s health?
How Excessive Sugar Affects Your Health
Today, an average American consumes about 32 teaspoons (126 grams) of sugar per day or 134 pounds per year, based on the latest research released in February 2015.
What’s even more disturbing is that people are consuming excessive sugar in the form of fructose or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This highly processed form of sugar is cheaper yet 20 percent sweeter than regular table sugar, which is why many food and beverage manufacturers decided to use it for their products, as it would allow them to save money in the long run.
The bad news is that the human body is not made to consume excessive amounts of sugar, especially in the form of fructose. In fact, your body metabolizes fructose differently than sugar. Fructose is actually a hepatotoxin (toxic to the liver) and is metabolized directly into fat – factors that can cause a whole host of problems that can have far-reaching effects on your health.
Effects of Consuming Too Much Sugar
Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology in the University of California and a pioneer in decoding sugar metabolism, says that your body can safely metabolize at least six teaspoons of added sugar per day. But since most Americans are consuming over three times that amount, the majority of the excess sugar becomes metabolized into body fat – leading to all the debilitating chronic metabolic diseases many people are struggling with.
Here are some of the effects that consuming too much sugar has on your health:
- It overloads and damages your liver. The effects of too much sugar or fructose can be likened to the effects of alcohol. All the fructose you eat gets shuttled to the only organ that has the transporter for it: your liver. This severely taxes and overloads the organ, leading to potential liver damage.
- It tricks your body into gaining weight and affects your insulin and leptin signaling.Fructose fools your metabolism by turning off your body’s appetite-control system. It fails to stimulate insulin, which in turn fails to suppress ghrelin, or “the hunger hormone,” which then fails to stimulate leptin or “the satiety hormone.” This causes you to eat more and develop insulin resistance
- It causes metabolic dysfunction. Eating too much sugar causes a barrage of symptoms known as classic metabolic syndrome. These include weight gain, abdominal obesity, decreased HDL and increased LDL, elevated blood sugar, elevated triglycerides, and high blood pressure.
- It increases your uric acid levels. High uric acid levels are a risk factor for heart and kidney disease and also the cause of Gout. In fact, the connection between fructose, metabolic syndrome, and your uric acid is now so clear that your uric acid level can now be used as a marker for fructose toxicity. According to the latest research, the safest range of uric acid is between 3 to 5.5 milligrams per deciliter. If your uric acid level is higher than this, then it’s clear that you are at risk to the negative health impacts of fructose.
Sugar Can Increase the Risk of Disease
One of the most severe effects of eating too much sugar is its potential to wreak havoc on your liver, leading to a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Yes, the same disease that you can get from excessive alcohol intake can also be caused by excessive sugar (fructose) intake. Dr. Lustig explained the three similarities between alcohol and fructose:
- Your liver metabolizes alcohol the same way as sugar, as both serve as substrates for converting dietary carbohydrate into fat. This promotes insulin resistance, fatty liver, and dyslipidemia (abnormal fat levels in your blood)
- Fructose causes superoxide free radicals to form, resulting in inflammation – a condition that can be also caused by acetaldehyde, a metabolite of ethanol
- Fructose can directly and indirectly stimulate the brain’s “hedonic pathway,”(addiction pathway) creating habituation and dependence, the same way that ethanol does
But if you think that’s the only way eating too much sugar wreaks havoc on your body, you’re dead wrong. Research from some of America’s most respected institutions now confirms that sugar is a primary dietary factor that drives obesity and chronic disease development.
One study found that fructose is readily used by cancer cells to increase their proliferation – it “feeds” the cancer cells, promoting cell division and speeding their growth, which allow the cancer to spread faster.
Alzheimer’s disease is another deadly illness that can arise from too much sugar consumption. A growing body of research found a powerful connection between a high-fructose diet and your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, through the same pathway that causes type 2 diabetes. According to some experts, Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders may be caused by the constant burning of glucose for fuel by your brain.
Other diseases that are linked to metabolic syndrome and may potentially arise because of too much sugar consumption include:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Heart Disease
- Peripheral Neuropathy
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Lipid (cholesterol) problems
- Dementia (Alzheimer’s disease)
Reducing Your Sugar Consumption
Sugar, in its natural form, is not inherently bad, as long as it’s consumed in moderation. This means avoiding all sources of fructose, particularly processed foods and beverages like soda. According to SugarScience.org, 74 percent of processed foods contain added sugar stealthily hidden under more than 60 different names. Ideally, you should spend 90 percent of your food budget on whole foods, and only 10 percent or less on processed foods.
I also advise you to severely limit your consumption of refined carbohydrates (waffles, cereals, bagels, etc.) and grains, as they actually break down to sugar in your body, which increases your insulin levels and causes insulin resistance.
As a general recommendation, I advise you to keep your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, including that from whole fruit. Keep in mind that although fruits are rich in nutrients and antioxidants, they also naturally contain fructose, and if consumed in high amounts may actually worsen your insulin sensitivity and raise your uric acid levels.
Remember that artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are also a no-no, as they actually come with a whole new set of health problems that are much worse than what sugar or corn syrup can bring.
KICK THE CRAVINGS!
We continue to see emerging evidence in the literature (research) that obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes are driving factors not only for chronic conditions like Peripheral Neuropathy, but also for a slew of other chronic diseases, including cancer. It’s important to realize that you don’t have to give up sugar completely but you must reduce it substantially in your diet. Research has shown that no one should be consuming more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day, and this includes fruit sugar, as well.
In order to get healthy and fight off chronic illness, here are some additional dietary tips to remember:
- Increase your consumption of healthy fats, such asomega-3, saturated, and monounsaturated fats. Your body needs health-promoting fats from animal and vegetable sources for optimal functioning. In fact, emerging evidence suggests that healthy fats should make up at least 70 percent of your diet. Some of the best sources include organic butter from raw milk, (unheated) virgin olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, raw nuts like pecans and macadamia, free-range eggs, avocado, and wild Alaskan salmon.
- Drink pure, clean water. Simply swapping out all the sweetened beverages like sodas and fruit juices for pure water can go a long way toward improving your health. The best way to gauge your water needs is to observe the color of your urine (it should be light pale yellow) and the frequency of your bathroom visits (ideally, this is around seven to eight times per day).
- Add fermented foods to your meals. The beneficial bacteria in these healthful foods can support your digestion and provide detoxification support, which helps lessen the fructose burden on your liver. Some of the best choices include kimchi, natto, organic yogurt and kefir made from grass-fed milk, and fermented vegetables.
How to Get Rid of Your Sugar Cravings
Sugar is highly addictive and affects depency centers in the brain but it can also have an emotional component, as well. In order to squelch sugar cravings, it’s important to detox. Here at our clinic we utilize a 21 day Jump Start program. This is a great program for detoxing your body from unwanted chemicals and sugar addiction and for decreasing inflammation.
The temptation to eat or indulge in sugary foods will always be there, especially with the abundance of processed foods and fast foods everywhere. However, most sugar cravings arise because of an emotional challenge. If this is what causes you to crave sugar, the best solution I could recommend is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This technique is a simple and effective strategy to help control your emotional food cravings.
For more information, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .
Whole Body Wellness
Following a balanced nutrition, participating in regular physical activity and getting plenty of rest are fundamental factors for maintaining whole body wellness. While all of these can make you look and feel healthy, its also essential to address the health of your spine in order to maintain the proper function of all the body’s structures. Chiropractic care is a well-known alternative treatment option utilized by many individual’s to restore the health of the spine as well as maintain it. Chiropractic can also help prevent complications related to spinal injuries and conditions.
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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*
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