Excess Sugar Consumption: Effect on the Body
While sugar may seem like a substance that is harmful only to your teeth, causing cavities and gum disease, excessive consumption can cause severe damage to both physical and mental health. What is less well known are the systemic effects of sugar and that excess consumption is one of the leading causes of rising obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other chronic disease with addiction rates similar to narcotics. Because addition of sugar to food substances are often unregulated, the amount of sugar intake can remain largely unknown.
Sugar addiction or sugar craving?
Studies suggest sugar addiction or ‘cravings’ are similar to those of cocaine as it can increase energy and result in a short-term euphoric feeling. Sugar addiction has been shown to have withdrawal and relapse rates comparable to those associated with narcotics and other illicit drugs. One difference between narcotics and sugars is that unlike narcotics, sugar can be ‘added’ and hidden in foods, even foods considered healthy. Processed foods like protein bars, sweetened beverages like energy drinks, ‘healthy’ cereals, juices, and yogurts can be loaded with sugars. According to the American Heart Association, the average recommended sugar intake for men is 36 grams/day for men and 25 grams/day for women. One cup of Dannon low fat yogurt, a food substance deemed ‘healthy’, has 34 grams of sugar alone. Because of these hidden sugars and a lack of nutrition education, it is estimated the average American consumes 71.14 grams of sugar a day accounting for up to 17% of total adult calorie intake.
What does excess sugar consumption do to the body?
- Obesity: fat diets trended in the early 2000’s but those diets replaced fat with sugar and sugar has been labeled as the number one reason why obesity rates have increased. Fat around organs have been associated with organ damage and failure.
- Diabetes: Sugar overconsumption can spike insulin levels and drive insulin resistance. The risk for diabetes grows approximately 1.1% for every 150 calories of sugar consumed in 1 day. Diabetes is a risk factor for many diseases including periodontal disease.
- Inflammation: high sugar consumption significantly increases pro-inflammatory cytokines and increases adipose tissue which further increases levels of inflammation.
- Gut Dysbiosis: Studies have shown that diets high in sugar can trigger changes in gut microbiome favoring those associated with obese body types.
- Depression: diets high in sugars and processed foods can cause neurotransmitter dysregulation increasing the risk of depression. Research has also found a correlation between excessive high fructose corn syrup consumption and an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
- Premature Aging: The shortening of telomeres is a natural process in aging which can be accelerated by a high intake of sugar. One study with 5,309 adult subjects showed that regular drinking of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with shortened telomere length and premature cellular aging.
Curbing the Sugar Addiction/Craving
Dietary changes that directly limit sugar consumption and replace processed products with whole foods or ‘the single ingredient method’ is the best method. Eating whole fruits, vegetables, high fiber foods, and grains instead of processed snacks with added sugars will help keep blood glucose levels stable throughout the day. Avoiding high-fructose corn syrup-containing items, added sugars & dyes, and cutting out refined carbohydrates can help decrease inflammation and balance hormone levels. Additionally, mindfulness techniques can be incorporated as a supportive measure; these can include post-meal walks, meditation, and non-distracted eating practices to slow down the speed of food consumption.