What are the downsides of added sugars? (Photo: Mali Maeder, StockSnap)

In last week’s article, I talked briefly about how women are more likely to have food cravings than men, and how they’re also more likely to crave sweet foods. This week, I wanted to revisit just how important it is for each one of us to lower our added sugar intake each day. This goes beyond needing to lower it for weight loss. Our bodies simply run much more efficiently without copious amounts of added sugar.

Just what is added sugar?
In the simplest terms, added sugar is this: empty calories that provide virtually no nutritional value. Yes, added sugar can be broken down into glucose, which our bodies use for energy, but it’s a simple carbohydrate, which means it’s broken down quickly by your body, resulting in a dramatic spike in your blood sugar levels. Unless you’re involved in some kind of endurance training, that sort of sudden jolt to your body isn’t really what you need. Without getting into too much detail, I’ll say this: Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down, and while they do provide you with energy, they aren’t as much of a shock to your system. That’s a good thing.

How much added sugar are we really getting?
In the late 1970s, when Richard Simmons and many others kick-started America’s interest in aerobics and Jazzercise, fat quickly became the enemy. Not just being fat, but eating food containing too much fat. The food service industry started to move away from foods high in fat, but when they did this, they noticed a problem. Namely, without fat, the food they were trying to sell didn’t taste nearly as good as it used to.

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What was their solution? They increased the amount of added sugar in their food products, thus improving the taste while keeping the fat content down. For business, this was a great idea. Sales increased, showing that this method worked, so more companies kept doing it. As a result, since the late 1970s, consumption of added sugar has risen steadily. Overall, Americans consume 30 percent more added sugar today than we did before the health craze began.

The cumulative effect of added sugar consumption
Unfortunately, there’s no point in our lives when added sugar isn’t bad for us. Sure, when you or your kids are young and active, the short-term effects on the body are less dramatic. If your kids are playing sports, they will run off all that energy related to added sugar. The problem is this can create habits linking good feelings to sweet foods, and as they age and become less active, your kids will be more likely to have adverse side effects if they keep eating that added sugar.

The other thing to remember is even though added sugar provides little nutritional value, it still counts toward our daily calorie consumption, and we can and should only be eating so much every day. So if we all eat a candy bar and drink a can of Coke, we only make it more likely that we don’t eat a serving of healthy fruits and vegetables that day. Even if we do try to counteract the unhealthy food with healthy options, we run the risk of then consuming more calories than we actually need.

Is sugar really that bad for you?
This article does a great job of explaining some of the most significant adverse effects related to added sugar consumption. The list includes causing insulin resistance, which will only get worse if left unchecked. The associated health risks include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and a whole host of complications.

Insulin resistance basically leads to chaos within our bodies. It increases our cravings because our bodies struggle to know if we’ve eaten enough food, which leads us to eat more and gain weight. The result is often Type 2 diabetes and obesity, which can often seem impossible to overcome, in part because our insulin resistance is so high.

As I said earlier, though, this isn’t all about weight loss. It’s about the energy you have during the day. It’s about how sluggish and slow you might be every morning. Added sugar can lead to brain fogginess, decreased cognitive ability, poorer sleep and many other complications. These problems are often too subjective for anyone but you to notice.

What can you do to reduce your added sugar consumption?
There’s no easy answer here. I can’t show you a magic formula and make all the unnecessary calories in your diet go away. It takes hard work, but I can promise you it is work that is worth doing. The best way to start is to become more knowledgeable about the food you’re eating. Whether it’s the flavoring in your coffee, condiments like ketchup or even your favorite “fruit” drinks, added sugar is everywhere in your diet.

Consider switching to only home-cooked meals for a while to have better control of your ingredients. Replace those “healthy” snack bars loaded with added sugar with snacks like unsalted nuts, which are loaded with all kinds of beneficial nutrients. You know your diet better than anyone else, but do you always know the nutritional value of those foods you’re eating? If not, it might be time to do a little more research.

Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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