It seems like sugar is everywhere! One can find sugar in obvious foods like baked goods, but it’s also readily found in delicious bacon, salad dressings, and that ‘healthy granola bar’ that you love. Stats Canada has reported that in 2004 the average Canadian consumed 110 grams of sugar per day! That is the equivalent of 26 teaspoons of sugar and about 20% of daily caloric intake. That’s a lot of sugar. It’s no wonder that we are seeing a decrease in health nationwide.
What type of sugar are we talking about? Yes, sugar is found naturally in all foods containing carbohydrates including fruits and vegetables. But the sugar content in whole foods is okay to consume. Whole foods typically have lower sugar content and also contain fibre which helps to regulate the rate at which these sugars are absorbed.
Refined sugar was not a significant component of our diets until the introduction of modern food processing. There has been a steady increase in sugar consumption since then. Refined sugars are found in a wide variety of processed foods, including salad dressings, baked goods, frozen dinners, bacon, canned goods, cereals, soda, juice, jams, candy, etc.
But how does sugar affect your health?
The addition of massive amounts of sugar in processed foods stimulates an appetite for more sugar. (It’s a vicious cycle!) Consuming sugar releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine helps control feelings of reward and pleasure. This dopamine response from eating sugar sends chemical messages to continue to eat sugar to receive the same pleasurable feelings. Excess sugar is linked to obesity and various health issues. Sugar is nutrient void and the more you consume, the more you have to eat to get your minimum nutrient requirements. Sugar is rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream. Therefore, consuming foods that are high in sugar, spikes your blood sugar which creates a demand for insulin followed up a blood sugar crash. This blood sugar roller coaster leaves you feeling tired, shaky, irritable or weak. This high demand for insulin and low blood sugar is stressful on the body. Your stress hormone, cortisol, responds to these blood sugar fluctuations with a state of alarm in your body. Cortisol is your fight or flight hormone; it prepares your body to handle stressful situations. In actual emergencies, it is beneficial for helping you escape the jaws of a predator. However, the majority of our modern stressors do not require fight or flight mechanisms. Excess cortisol has been directly linked to weight gain, specifically abdominal weight gain.
The prevalence of diabetes has been correlated with sugar consumption in various countries. The habitual consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has been associated with the occurrence of type 2 diabetes, independent of obesity. Sugar is readily absorbed into the bloodstream, therefore consuming excess sugar results in a spike in blood glucose levels. This creates a strain on your pancreas to produce more insulin to combat the high levels of blood sugar. Poorly managed blood sugar may result in the development of type 2 diabetes.
Not only does sugar consumption affect your waistline but it has negative effects on your heart. Saturated fat has gotten a bad rap for heart disease when in fact sugar is a more likely culprit. A 2014 study demonstrated the correlation between increased sugar consumption and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The study resulted in a 38% greater chance of dying of CVD when 17-21% of daily calories are of added sugar. Though not fully understood from a biological level, researchers have hypothesized that excessive consumption of sugar is directly correlated with an increase in blood pressure. Excess sugar intake may increase triglyceride levels and LDL cholesterol while lowering HDL cholesterol levels, known risk factors for CVD. Several recent studies have also demonstrated the correlation of sugar consumption and an increase in inflammatory markers. Chronic inflammation plays a role in almost every disease. An excessive amount of dietary sugar leads to metabolic damage by increasing oxidative stress. Your body’s ability to fight oxidative damage is weakened with a diet high in inflammatory foods such as sugar.
Knowing the effects of consuming excess sugar, I suggest trying to reduce your sugar consumption by limiting refined and processed foods in your diet. Since sugar can have many names it can be tricky when reading labels.
Refined sugar comes in many forms including:
High-Fructose Corn Syrup