As I’ve worked to improve my overall health through exercise and the food I eat, I repeatedly encounter sugar as one of the main culprits to poor health and bad skin. We’re all told to limit our intake of candy and other sweets, but why exactly do we need to do that? What does it do to us that makes an overabundance of it in our diet so bad?
In this post, I wanted to discover the ills associated with too much sugar in your diet, and discuss at a high level how sugar leads to that. In a second, related post, I’ll offer some possible substitutions for sugar that have fewer or none of the negative health effects of sugar.
What happens in your body when you eat sugar?
Here’s the gist of what happens when you eat sugar taken from a Women’s Health Today article:
Once you swallow sugar, it reaches your stomach where digestive juices dilute it before it goes into your small intestine. In your small intestine, enzymes break it down into glucose and fructose molecules. The glucose seeps out of your intestine walls and triggers your pancreas to secrete the hormone insulin. Insulin delivers it to your cells to create energy. Fructose also seeps out into your bloodstream, which then transports it to your liver.
Things go haywire when you consume too much sugar. Your pancreas secretes too much insulin, so your cells become resistant to it, and your liver gets so overwhelmed that it can no longer metabolize the fructose. This and other responses to too much sugar can lead to a host of possible health issues, including sugar crashes, increased appetite, cravings, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, and even fatty liver disease. That’s in addition to the obvious issues of weight gain, obesity, and cavities.
In general, sugar might also impact skin health. I have certainly found this to be true. WebMD wrote an article on whether or not food could impact your skin health, citing a study that showed insulin playing a role in the skin condition, acne. Although later research did not make the blood sugar, insulin and acne connection, this statement in the article resonated with me: “A nutritious diet that keeps your inside healthy will help keep your outward appearance looking good. On the other hand, a poor diet will show up on your skin.”
People in the U.S. consume way too much sugar
In “15 Terrible Things that Happen If You Eat Too Much Sugar”, the author mentions still more health issues that can result from consuming too much sugar. The article notes that from 2001 to 2004, the average U.S. adult consumed 22 teaspoons per day. A study by Euromonitor, quoted in a Washington Post article, showed that by early 2015, the average person in the U.S. consumed 32 teaspoons (126.4 grams) per day—that’s two and a half times the amount of “free sugar” consumption of 12 teaspoons (50 grams) that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends. By the way, that same set of recommendations suggests that you’d be even better off health-wise by reducing your daily intake to 6 teaspoons.
For WHO, free sugar refers to glucose, fructose, sucrose (table sugar) added to foods and drinks, and sugars that are a natural part of honey, syrups, fruit juices, and fruit juice concentrates. It’s important to note that free sugar does not refer to sugars naturally present in fresh fruit and vegetables or milk.
Are you a 32-teaspoon-a-day sugar-a-holic?
If you think you might be one of those sugar intake high-flyers, it might be time to look at ways to reduce the sugar in your diet. In my next post, I’ll discuss challenges to reducing that intake, and ways to overcome some of those challenges. I’ll also provide some information about natural sugar substitutions almost all of which have less negative health effects than refined sugar. By the way, they aren't artificial sweeteners that come in yellow, pink or blue packets.
In the meantime, consider preparing my latest recipe, Beet, Avocado and Pineapple Salad; it uses maple syrup instead of sugar in the dressing. While the WHO includes maple syrup in its free sugar definition, as you’ll discover in my next post, it does not raise blood sugar levels as high as white table sugar and has additional beneficial properties.