By Rachel Gargano MS, RD, LDN, CSSD
Sugar is pervasive in our food supply. It’s one of the ingredients added to foods to not only make it taste delicious, but also make you want to come back for more. While we do need some carbohydrates (sugar) to survive, eating too much may wreak havoc on our health.
Refined carbohydrates, or foods that are highly processed and stripped of fiber and most nutrients, include white bread, candy, cookies, pastries, many crackers, juices/fruit-flavored drinks, soda, sweeteners and sugary cereals — to name a few. (Check out 5 foods that are surprisingly high in sugar.) These foods increase our blood sugar very quickly, giving us a burst of energy, but then leave us feeling fatigued and depleted shortly after. Studies show that eating too many foods that result in big spikes and dips in blood sugar may lead to increased internal inflammation and many diseases.
In addition to sugar causing winkles, behavior changes and nutrient imbalances, here are three ways sugar seriously affect our health:
1. Sugar increases the risk for heart disease.
That’s right, eating too many processed carbohydrates may be more detrimental to our heart than certain fats! It turns out that too much sugar in the blood can damage the artery walls, leading to a higher risk for heart disease.
What to do: Choose minimally processed whole grains and complex carbohydrates which are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Examples: Quinoa, millet, brown rice, 100 percent whole grain bread, high fiber cereal and lots of vegetables and fruit.
2. Sugar also increases weight.
One type of sugar, fructose, is metabolized differently than glucose. Instead of being shuttled into cells by insulin like glucose is, fructose gets metabolized in the liver, turned into fat and then released into the blood stream to be stored in fat cells. On top of this, fructose does not strongly trigger the hormone that makes us feel full, ghrelin, so we do not feel satisfied. This may lead to overeating. So not only are we hungrier, we are storing more fat.
Fructose is the sugar from fruit, but the majority of the fructose we consume is from High Fructose Corn Syrup, a man-made sweetener added to many processed foods. Fructose from fruit comes with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that protect us from its detrimental effects.
What to do: If a food has High Fructose Corn Syrup in the ingredient list, put it back. Instead, eat whole food snacks such as vegetables and hummus, apple and nut butter, nuts and pear, whole grain tortilla chips and black bean salsa or juices!
3. Sugar also increases the risk for diabetes.
In addition to how fructose may cause weight gain, eating too much sugar of all types can contribute to weight gain. And excess weight is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. But new studies are also showing that sugar alone is linked to increased diabetes risk, even without the weight gain. This may be due to big spikes in blood sugar causing damage to the insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas.
What to do: Be aware of how much added sugars are creeping into your diet. By weaning off sugar you can stop, and even reverse, your risk for diabetes – as well as reducing your risk for heart disease and weight gain.
Check out the Guided Reboot for Sugar Addiction to help reverse your risks, cut your sugar intake and take control!