Let’s Talk About Sugar

SugarTalkJacquie Eubanks RN BSN

While a bit of sugar in your morning coffee may sweeten the cup, the typical American consumes an average of 22 teaspoons or 110 grams of sugar daily, equating to an extra 350 non-nutritive calories every day. The key word here is average, as per the Obesity Society, the top 20 percent of adult consumers are eating an additional 721 empty calories daily. Equally alarming is the fact that the top 20 percent of children are consuming an average of 673 calories from added sugars each day. Research shows that added sugar consumption has increased by more than 30 percent over the last three decades. Along with increased consumption, the general state of health of Americans has declined. Data shows that two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, one child in six is obese, and almost 115 million adults have diabetes or prediabetes.

While controversy reigns over how much added sugar is too much, the nearly 66 pounds that the average American consumes yearly can be construed as more than a bit excessive, especially when compared to the American Heart Association (AHA) recommendation of no more than six teaspoons daily for women and nine teaspoons a day for men. The World Health Organization (WHO) takes it a step further and recommends that everyone reduce their daily intake of added sugars to less than six teaspoons, or below five percent of total daily calories.

How is added sugar harmful to health?

As opposed to sugars naturally present in healthy nutritious foods, such as dairy and fruit, added sugars are omnipresent in processed foods, sweetened beverages, condiments, and formerly healthy, but highly sugar laden foods, such many cereals and yogurts, marketed to both children and adults. Over time, overconsumption of added sugars can negatively affect natural hunger and satiety hormone balance, leading to insulin and leptin resistance.

While added sugars may supply a short-term energy boost, they provide no nutritive benefit and decease nutrient density in the diet, often contributing to the risk of inflammation, tooth decay, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and type 2 diabetes, as well as classic metabolic syndrome with symptoms of weight gain, abdominal obesity, high blood pressure and elevated triglycerides and blood sugar.

What happens when you give up sugar:

Those who are accustomed to a high sugar diet can experience disagreeable short-term side effects when eliminating sugar from the diet. Sugar dependency can bring on withdrawal symptoms when sugar is restricted, resulting in irritability, fatigue and headaches. Fortunately, the unpleasant side effects are short-lived, while the positive health effects like better sleep, stable energy levels, improved immune health, lowered triglycerides and more stabilized blood sugar will remain if the diet continues to be low in sugar.

Reducing the amount of sugar in the diet can result in a healthier weight, smaller waist size, healthier looking skin, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Very importantly, above normal blood sugar, even in those without diabetes, is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School found that any incremental increase in blood sugar increased vascular disease, as well as metabolic issues such as insulin resistance.

Transitioning to a sugar restricted diet:

Hydration, nourishing foods, and healthy fats can help to keep the appetite and cravings under control, and reduce withdrawal symptoms while transitioning to a healthier pattern of eating. Choosing whole, unprocessed high fiber foods, and skipping foods with lengthy ingredient lists will help one eliminate sources of added sugars. Enjoy an occasional sweet treat, but be aware of the total amount of sugar consumed daily. Individuals who are looking to stabilize or reduce their blood sugar level, may also consider reducing refined carbohydrates, especially those who are prediabetic or overweight.

Those who are willing to shift to a healthier eating pattern that restricts added sugars and refined carbohydrates can make a real difference in their health. Above normal blood sugar can be lowered with proper diet and increased physical activity. Taking short, but frequent walking breaks, small amounts of activity throughout the day, and taking a walk after a meal can make a difference in improved physical and mental wellness.

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U.S. Adult Consumption of Added Sugars Increased by More Than 30% Over Three Decades. http://www.obesity.org/news/press-releases/us-adult
How Much Is Too Much? http://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption/
Sugar 101. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Sugar-101_UCM_306024_Article.jsp
How to Ease Withdrawal Symptoms When You Quit Sugar, According to a Nutritionist. http://www.health.com/nutrition/sugar-free-diet-help
Short Term Side Effects of a Decreased Sugar Diet. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/short-term-side-effects-decreased-sugar-diet-1397.html
Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying with heart disease. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-too-much-added-sugar-increases-the-risk-of-dying-with-heart-disease-201402067021
Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1819573
Added Sugar in the Diet. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/added-sugar-in-the-diet/
WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/
Too Much Can Make Us Sick. http://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/too-much-can-make-us-sick/
Above-normal blood sugar linked to dementia. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/above-normal-blood-sugar-linked-to-dementia-201308076596
Statistics About Diabetes. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/