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Who loves chocolate chip cookies, still warm from the oven (and with a touch of sea salt – SO worth the calories)?
Let’s face it – most of us love a little sweetness in our lives. I didn’t always have a sweet tooth, but unfortunately am starting to develop one. I was great about eliminating sugar when I was pregnant because I had gestational diabetes and practically eliminated all carbs and certainly all sugary treats. But I’m hungry all the time these days and like to have a little nibble of dark chocolate or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
But I’ve also been reading more and more articles about sugar rapidly becoming a body’s public enemy no.1. I decided to do a little more digging to find out why sugar is getting such a bad reputation these days (here are 11 ways it’s wrecking your body). I also wanted to start a health highlight because I talk about all sorts of pretty things. Why shouldn’t I talk about maintaining our wonderful bodies then too? We only have one body and keeping it healthy shouldn’t be a luxury. But information can be a luxury so I’m here to read through all the articles, condense it, and summarize it for you!
First off, “Glucose floats in our bloodstream at all times and without it, we’re dead.” says Dr. David Katz who has written at length about sugar in the American Diet (Refinery29). The brain and red blood cells use glucose or glycogen as an energy source to perform functions like digestion and cellular respiration (Live Strong). So we need some sugar in our lives! That sugar though should come naturally from fruits, vegetables and other carbohydrates that convert to glucose in our bodies.
Why is too much sugar bad for your body?
1. Sugar can make you older, faster. Sugar combines with proteins to form Advanced glycation end products which attack nearby proteins, including collagen and elastin. The result is that those proteins that keep your skin elastic and firm are damaged. AGEs also deactivate antioxidant enzymes which makes skin more vulnerable to sun damage (source).
2. Sugar messes with your mood and energy. It (along with other junk food) may actually lead to a 40% greater risk of depression. It affects the brain’s ability to release normal levels of dopamine (which makes you feel good) in those with insulin resistance (source).
3. Sugar makes you hungry all the time. It adversely affects leptin which regulates how your body is able to tell that it is full. It is also an appetite stimulant prompting your body to eat more in order to be satisfied, according to Dr. Katz (source). If you already consume a high amount of sugar, your body gets used to it and craves it more.
4. Sugar effects normal functioning of your organs. Sugar leads to excess insulin which will increase the rate at which muscle grows around your blood vessels. Tense artery walls lead to high blood pressure. Fructose triggers your liver to store more fat which could congregate around the liver (source).
Sugar can adversely effect the pumping mechanism of the heart (source). Sugar and starch both contain glucose metabolite glucose 6-phosphate (G6P) that was responsible for the changes in the muscle protein of the heart which in turn effects its pumping.
So obviously, there are good health reasons to limit sugar. But remember that these are the effects of large amounts of sugars.
How much sugar is it okay to eat?
So, you do need some sugar in your life but just remember to eat it in moderation. Excluding fruit or foods with naturally occurring sugar, the amount of free sugar recommended by the World Health Organization is now at 5% of your daily caloric intake. Free sugar is defined as sugar added by manufacturers or sugar in honey, juice, and syrups; basically limit the amount of sugar that isn’t in fruit or some natural source (honey also has healing benefits so it’s ok to have some!) This equates to 25 grams or 6 teaspoons daily (aka 4 Oreo cookies or half a cup of a popular ice cream flavor).
How do you stay healthy and regulate your sugar intake?
Good health starts with conscious choices about your food. As you can see from the pictures of chocolate chip cookies above, I love to bake and indulge in sweets now and then. But I’m trying to make an effort to think about the combination of foods that I consume.
1. Become more conscious of how much sugar is in your food. I limit refined sugars (juice, bottled marinade/dressing, baked desserts). I also read labels now and see that there is one gram of sugar in a bowl of Cheerio’s but six grams in a serving of Honey bunches of Oats (that cereal is so good!) Know what you’re eating and balance your sugar intake daily.
2. Have your cheat days. I don’t go cold turkey on refined sugar. I have it in bread or cereal a few times a week and will allow myself a sweet treat like chocolate once or even twice a week. Interestingly enough, when I do have sugar, it actually isn’t as enjoyable for me now.
3. Rotate in sugar substitutes. Perhaps you can have some water flavored with berries and mint instead of juice? How about a piece of cool, crisp watermelon instead of a piece of candy? Whole fruit takes more work to eat, but has added fibre and less sugar than the juice it becomes. Do a little research on lower sugar or no sugar versions of your favorite products or use similar products like plant-based Stevia for your coffee. I’ve discovered this fruit spread (sweetened only by dates!) and my husband and daughter absolutely love it. I make fruit yogurt with this jam and Greek yogurt and it is a family favorite!
So, in summary:
- A little sugar is necessary for your brain and red blood cells
- Sugar isn’t evil, but too much refined sugar isn’t good for your body
- Be aware of how much sugar you are consuming
- Indulge once in a while!