By now, we all know that added sugar isn’t good for us. I mention just how bad it is frequently. Yet we all have cravings for sweets from time to time. We can’t prevent that from happening, especially during the holidays. However, we can limit the amount of sweets we indulge in over the next two months. It isn’t easy, but remembering why we should limit our added sugar intake might just be enough to keep us from going too far off the rails.
Added sugar is dangerous for your health. Here are some of the examples of the worst side effects your body will experience when you consume too much added sugar.
Spike in blood sugar levels
Why do we get food cravings? Signals are sent to our brains indicating that we need fuel in the form of calories. It makes sense, but the problem many of us run into is that the signal is subject to interference or manipulation. What I mean is that when we’re tired, unhappy or our blood sugar levels aren’t maintained at stable levels, we’re prone to eating more.
Why? Because our body is confused. It knows something is wrong, but it doesn’t quite know what it is or how to fix it. So, oftentimes, cravings kick in because we think we need food, but is that snack before bed really essential to our well-being? No, of course not. What our body really need are balance and stability. Those things don’t come naturally, however. That takes effort and training.
Excess water weight
Our body needs carbohydrates to function, but as with anything health-related, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. Our body expects to use the carbs we eat throughout the day. Ideally, everything would be used and then flushed out. However, we live more sedentary lives than our ancestors, so we often eat significantly more carbs than we end up using as fuel on any given day.
Since carbs soak up water when they enter the body, when those carbs are not burned off, at least some of the water retained doesn’t leave, either. Over time, this can lead to a significant and unhealthy amount of water weight.
The bad part about excess amounts of added sugar is that in addition to adding water weight, it adds to weight gain overall as well. A systematic review of 30 studies found that most studies, in particular the larger ones, “found a positive association between the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and body weight.”
There are more ways to introduce added sugar into our diets than soft drinks, but these are perhaps the most obvious example of “empty calories” entering our diets. They don’t provide any nutritional value and only serve to spike our blood sugar and lead to additional problems.
Increased blood pressure
If meditation can lower our blood pressure, doesn’t it make sense that stress and inflammation can increase our blood pressure? The excess water weight and fat linked to added sugar increase the stress and pressure on our internal organs. This can decrease the quality of our sleep, worsen our moods and increase the amount of stress in our lives. All this can lead to increased blood pressure.
Higher bad cholesterol
While we’ve been taught to associate saturated fat with higher cholesterol, we shouldn’t forget the association between added sugar and higher cholesterol as well. In addition to lowering our “good” cholesterol (HDL), people who consume larger amounts of added sugar have also been found to have higher amounts of “bad” cholesterol (LDL).
Our bad cholesterol does not get broken down effectively without adequate amounts of good cholesterol. If less bad cholesterol is broken down, it means more of this will be floating through our bloodstreams. This can damage our artery walls and increase our risk of stroke, heart attack and cardiovascular disease.
Damage to gut bacteria
Added sugar can do real harm to our essential gut bacteria. The research on gut bacteria is still in its early stages, but there’s evidence to suggest the Western diet, which is rich in fat and simple (added) sugars, leads to detrimental metabolic changes in our body.
One possibility is that these added sugars lead to increased gut permeability. This means that instead of properly digesting and flushing toxins out of our bodies, higher amounts of undigested materials leak out of our guts and into our bloodstreams. Yeah, it’s gross to think about, but it’s also a serious health risk.
What can you do?
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 and men no more than 150 calories from added sugar per day. Does this require a significant lifestyle change for most people? Yes, it does, but if you’re serious about improving your health, added sugar cannot remain a big part of your diet.
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.