All things on sugar

The World Health Organization currently recommends that daily added sugar intake should be no more than 25g for women (6 teaspoons) and 38g for men (9 teaspoons.) Seems totally reasonable, right?

Unfortunately, the majority of folks following a typical North American diet are crushing on average 136 g of sugar per day. That’s equivalent to 34 teaspoons DAILY!  (Insert jaw drop here)

Why is sugar so bad?

Let’s start by stating that sugar and furthermore, carbohydrates are not evil. Our bodies require carbs and sugar molecules to function. The issue arises when we have a constant supply of sugar to the bloodstream.

When we eat sugar, it is quickly absorbed into our bloodstream. To bring down our blood sugar, the body releases insulin, a hormone that shuttles the sugar molecules from our blood into our cells for energy. However, our cells can take in only so much sugar before they are full. Any excess sugar molecules that cannot be shuttled into the cells are then stored as fat or left lingering in the bloodstream.

A chronic high-sugar diet is dangerous as it wreaks havoc on our body in the following ways:

  • Reduces our ability to handle carbs
  • Reduces insulin sensitivity
  • Increases insulin response to meals
  • Promotes excess fat gain due to high insulin levels (love handles & upper back)
  • Causes borderline or full-blown diabetes
  • High levels of sugar molecules can bind to blood protein which can cause premature aging, cancer, altered vision, Alzheimer’s, vascular disease, erectile dysfunction, kidney disease, and joint pain / Arthritis.

To make matters worse, studies have shown that sugar can be more addicting than cocaine as it stimulates the brain’s reward centers even more robustly than the drug itself. So even when we know we shouldn’t eat that sugary piece of cake, our bodies tell us we need it.

How are sugar intakes so high?

Most folks wouldn’t consider themselves to be sugar addicts. They don’t add sugar in their coffee, they don’t drink soda, they opt for salads for lunch, and save desserts for special occasions. So how could they possibly reach daily sugar intakes upwards of 100+ grams?

One of the main factors for our extreme sugar consumption is our unknowingness of which products contain added sugar. By simply eating a cup of flavored yogurt topped with granola for breakfast and a few tablespoons of BBQ sauce at lunch, one can easily hit their daily quota.

Common foods and their sugar content.

FoodSugar Content
2 slices of white bread3 teaspoons
1 bowl of cereal 4-5 teaspoons
1 bagel4-5 teaspoons
½ cup dried fruit4 teaspoons
½ fruit juice3-4 teaspoons
1 can of soda9 teaspoons
1 cup of chocolate milk6 teaspoons
1 bowl of ice cream23 teaspoons
1 packet of light balsamic vinaigrette2-3 teaspoons
2 tablespoons of Ketchup2 teaspoons
1 tall caramel frappe from Starbucks12 teaspoons
1 serving of strawberry Yoplait yogurt4-5 teaspoons

Condiments and processed foods are notorious for containing high levels of sugar. We must become more mindful of sugar consumption by reading the labels and recognizing all different names for sugar.

Keep in mind, sugar is sugar. So even if it’s “organic” or from natural sources, it will still absorb quickly in the bloodstream and cause an insulin reaction.


The many names of sugar.

SucroseFructose
GlucoseMaltose
DextroseMaltodextrin
Hydrolyzed starchInvert sugar
Corn syrupHoney
Cane SugarAgave Nectar
Sugar BeetsHigh-fructose corn syrup
Maple SugarMolasses

What about artificial sweeteners?

You may believe that artificial sweeteners are a “healthy” choice considering their lack of calorie content. However, even though the overall calorie count may be lower there are other major concerns that deem these sweeteners “unhealthy”.

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugars that are chemically designed to stimulate our taste receptors. They are much more potent than regular sugar so it only takes a little sweetener to deliver a big taste. One of the major concerns here is that our taste receptors can actually become desensitized when consuming artificial sweeteners. This means that healthier food options that once tasted sweet like fruits, no longer provide the same flavor, and that less “sweet” food like vegetables become intolerable. The end result becomes a diet that craves processed, non-nutritious foods over whole, nutrient-dense foods.  

Finally, the biggest concern is the true lack of knowledge on the long-term effect that these chemicals can have on our body. Studies have already shown that “daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36% greater risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes.”

By becoming more aware of our consumption patterns, we can drastically reduce our sugar consumption and increase our wellbeing. It takes a little time to get the hang of it, but with a little practice and mindfulness, it’s possible.

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