Sugar has become a staple in our diets, and it's not just because we love the taste of sweet treats. We can find sugar in so many foods, even those not traditionally thought of as 'unhealthy'.
Processed meats like hot dogs and sausages also contain high amounts of sugar, as do bread and pasta sauces. Even healthy snacks such as granola bars contain added sugars to provide sweetness without adding calories from fat.
We all know that overeating sugar is terrible for us, but what exactly does it do to your body?
How Does Sugar Interact With The Body?
Before we get into sugar's specific effects on your health, it's important to know how it interacts with your body. The first thing you need to understand is that not all carbohydrates are sugars.
Carbohydrates are a diverse group of molecules that include both simple sugars, like glucose, fructose, lactose, and very long chains of sugar molecules called starch. Starch cannot be broken down into individual sugars in the stomach. It is usually broken down into glucose molecules once it reaches the small intestine.
When we talk about sugar affecting your body, we're usually talking about sugars that can be broken down in this way and then absorbed into your blood.
Once in the bloodstream, all blood sugar, or glucose, travels around the body to provide energy for our cells. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that allows cells throughout the body, especially muscle and fat tissue, to take in glucose from the blood and use it as a form of energy.
Sugar Is Addictive
Along with salt and fat, sugar is one of the three ingredients that make up the 'holy trinity of processed foods. This means that we crave foods containing sugar; we want them and need them.
This development in processed foods has been an issue because people now eat much more significant quantities of sugar than they did previously.
With it being added to so many foods, we're eating more and more of it throughout the day. People who drink a lot of soda, for instance, can easily consume 20 teaspoons or more of added sugar in a single day.
The reason sugar is so addictive is that it activates the reward pathway in our brains. This pathway is activated when we eat or drink things that make us feel good. Evidence suggests sugar releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure.
Sugar Can Lead To Weight Gain And Obesity
It may seem intuitive, but eating more sugar is associated with gaining weight and obesity. This association becomes obvious when we consider the fact that many foods containing added sugars, such as candy and soda are also calorically dense.
A single can of soda contains around 150 calories, almost all of which will simply be converted into glucose and travel to the organs. This contributes little in terms of satiety, and so we may easily drink several cans of soda, or eat an entire bag of chips throughout the day. Thus supplementing our regular meals and snacks with plenty of empty calories.
As a result, we don't feel as full or satisfied after eating or drinking these foods, so we keep eating and drinking, often consuming far more calories than we need.
Sugar Can Cause Diabetes
Diabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are chronically high, leading to increased risks of heart attack, kidney failure and stroke.
Generally speaking, when we consume large amounts of sugar in a short amount of time, our blood sugar rises very quickly. Our bodies then release insulin that helps cells take up the glucose and use it for energy over the following hours or so.
Although this system is very efficient for dealing with the occasional sweet treat, consuming large amounts of sugar regularly can lead to poor regulation of blood glucose levels. The body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn't produce enough insulin in response to glucose, leading to insulin resistance.
This means that cells cannot take in glucose from the blood, so sugar remains elevated in the bloodstream. This state is what causes diabetes, a disease that you can manage but never cure.
Sugar Can Damage Your Teeth And Gums
Since the main way of absorbing sugar is through your mouth, it's no surprise that consuming large quantities of sugary foods and drinks can have a detrimental effect on oral health.
This is because sugars remain in contact with the teeth for long periods, especially if you eat or drink sugary things slowly. This allows bacteria to feed off these sugars and produce acids that will dissolve tooth enamel.
As tooth enamel is porous, acids will eventually dissolve the dentine underneath, leading to cavities. The sugars also provide an ideal place for plaque to start growing, which can lead to gum disease and tooth loss.
Bottom Line: Reduce Your Sugar Consumption
The scientific evidence clearly proves that sugar can harm our health, but understandably, not everyone is ready to give it up. Our best advice would be to get a clear picture of how much sugar you consume each day and gradually reduce your intake if that quantity exceeds 24-36 grams for women and men, respectively.
This means eliminating food and drinks containing added sugars, which is almost everything you'll find on supermarket shelves. Sugar has no nutritional value, and so there's no reason for it to be added to food at all.
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