The packet of white granules in your morning coffee, the ketchup on your fries, the bottled salad dressing, and the ‘all-natural’ fruit flavouring in your yoghurt or instant oatmeal – all contain a surprising amount of added sugar. Many people are not even aware that added sugar stalks them in almost every product.
What is added sugar?
Before we get into the topic of added sugars, it is worth having an understanding of what they are.
Added sugar is defined as syrups and other caloric sweeteners used as a substitute sweetener in other foods. This includes only sugars added to foods during processing and does not include sugars that occur naturally in fruit and milk.
How added sugar damages your body
Whatever you call it, sugar is sugar, and in excess, it can negatively affect your body in many ways. Here is a more in-depth look at how sugar can ruin your health from head to toe.
1May raise your risk of cancer
Eating excessive amounts of added sugar may increase your risk of developing certain cancers. First, a diet rich in sugary foods and beverages can lead to obesity, which significantly raises your risk of cancer.
In addition, diets high in added sugar increase inflammation in the body and can cause insulin resistance, which increases the risk of cancer. A huge systematic review analysed 27 years of studies on sugar consumption and cancer risk. Two of the five studies on added sugar showed that there was a 60-95% increase in cancer risk linked to higher sugar intake.
The same review found that in 8 out of 15 studies on sugary foods and drinks, there was a shocking 23-200% increase in cancer risk with greater consumption of sugary drinks.
2Increases your risk of type 2 diabetes
Diabetes is a major cause of mortality and reduced life expectancy all over the world. Its prevalence has doubled in the past 30 years globally and its burden is predicted to continue to increase.
Research has found that people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages are more likely to develop diabetes. Increased overall consumption of sugary drinks, which includes both sugary drinks and 100% fruit juices has been associated with a 16-18% increase in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
3May elevate your risk of heart disease
Diets high in added sugar are linked to an increased risk of many diseases, including heart disease. The population study involved 25,877 individuals. During the mean follow-up of 19.5 years, there were 2,580 stroke cases, 2,840 coronary events, 4,241 atrial fibrillation cases, and 669 aortic stenosis cases. Added sugar intakes above 20 energy percentage (E%) were associated with an increased risk of coronary events. More than 8 servings/week of sugar-sweetened beverages were associated with increased stroke risk.
Data suggest that diets high in sugar can lead to obesity and inflammation as well as elevated triglyceride levels, blood sugar and blood pressure – all of these are risk factors for heart disease. In addition, consuming too much added sugar, especially from sugar-sweetened drinks, is linked to atherosclerosis, a disease characterised by fatty deposits that clog arteries.
4Can lead to weight gain
Obesity rates are rising worldwide, and evidence suggests that added sugar, often from sugary drinks, is a major contributor to obesity. Sugary drinks such as sodas, juices and sweet teas contain fructose, a type of simple sugar. Consumption of fructose increases hunger and the desire to eat more than glucose, the main type of sugar found in starchy foods.
Fructose is not as effective as glucose in stimulating insulin, which regulates appetite and metabolism. Additionally, fructose may not activate certain hormones that signal fullness, such as leptin and ghrelin, as effectively as glucose. However, more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind these effects and to determine if the effects of fructose on hunger and food intake are significant enough to have a meaningful impact on weight management.
5Can cause liver damage
Excessive added sugar consumption can actually have a negative effect on the liver. When the body consumes large amounts of sugar, the liver is responsible for processing and storing it. If the liver is constantly overloaded with too much sugar, this can lead to the development of a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This condition occurs when excess fat accumulates in the liver, leading to inflammation and eventually liver damage.
People who consume large amounts of added sugars, especially those who are overweight or obese, are at increased risk of developing NAFLD. It is important to remember that consuming moderate amounts of sugar as part of a balanced diet is not usually associated with liver damage. However, limiting the consumption of added sugars and living a healthy lifestyle can help to reduce the risk of liver health problems.
6It lacks nutritional value
Sugar is an ‘empty’ calorie.
Adding it to foods and drinks increases their calorie content without adding any nutritional benefit. The body usually digests these foods and drinks quickly. This means that they are not a good source of energy. Foods that naturally contain sugar are different from one another. For example, fruit and dairy products contain natural sugars.
The body digests these foods more slowly, making them a long-term source of energy. Such foods usually contain other nutrients as well. For example, they also contain fibre and several vitamins and minerals. Consuming empty calories erodes the health benefits of eating other foods and drinks that actually have nutritional value. It can also cause imbalances, in which nutritional deficiencies can lead to further health complications.
7Leads to tooth cavities
Sugar consumption can cause tooth decay, which may lead to the development of cavities. After eating sugar, bacteria in the mouth form a thin layer of plaque over the teeth. These bacteria react with the sugars present in foods and drinks. This reaction triggers the release of an acid that damages teeth. It is possible for the body to repair some of this damage itself.
Over time, however, a diet high in sugar will cause lasting damage. Limiting the consumption of foods high in added sugar is one of the most effective ways to prevent tooth decay.
8Makes your body lack energy
Sweet foods can boost our energy, but this only lasts for a while and is often followed by a rapid drop in blood sugar levels, which can cause feelings of fatigue, weakness, and decreased focus. This drop in blood sugar levels is sometimes referred to as a ‘sugar crash.’
This phenomenon is not unique to sugar and is similar to the effects of some recreational substances and drugs that can cause a temporary boost in energy and mood, followed by a period of decreased performance and lethargy. Have you ever noticed this before? In fact, excessive consumption of added sugar, among other things, deprives us of strength and energy. In this state, you only want to do something other than go to bed, for example.
Don’t fall for the sugary tricks of the producers
Feel free to look through your cupboards and pick up any store-bought product. Chances are that there is sugar hidden in one form or another.
Don’t fall for marketing tricks. Food brands like to decorate their packaging with fun illustrations and words like ‘healthy,’ ‘lean’ and ‘low-fat.’ Ignore these marketing gimmicks and appreciate the nutritional information on each product and the ingredient list.
For example, many food packages have attractive marketing with superhero themes that distract parents and children from unhealthy ingredients and high added sugar content. If you read the nutrition information carefully, you will see that many ‘healthy’ foods are actually high in added sugar and low in protein. And protein is much healthier than sugar.
We would also like to remind that sugar is an excellent and cheap preservative for manufacturers. In addition, it is addictive and you want it again and again, it can be compared to drug addiction, so it is a benefit, but only for one party – the producer. You and your family and millions of others worldwide regularly make a profit by buying products with added sugar. What could be better than that? Sorry for the sarcasm, but you get the idea. Next time you are in the shop, check all your groceries in the shopping trolley to see if you really want them or if your desire is driven by sugar.
Why giving up sugar-added foods is so hard
As an adult, you’ve probably tried to stop drinking or smoking at some point in your life, right? But have you ever tried giving up sugar?
Sweet foods are tasty, sugar makes you feel less stressed. Just one bite makes you crave more. Why? Brain cells need sugar to function, but sugar also seems rewarding to the brain because it triggers the production of dopamine.
According to brain scans, eating sugar stimulates the same area of the brain that is activated when drinking alcohol. This triggers the urge to eat more sugary foods. The more sugar you eat, the more you reinforce this reward cycle, making it harder to quit the sugar-eating habit.
Stress also plays a significant role. When you are stressed, you have probably noticed that you want something sweet and tasty immediately. When faced with situations like these, it can be difficult to restrain yourself and you may end up eating your favourite chocolate bar.
We understand that giving up sugar is difficult. Especially giving it up abruptly will not lead to anything good. For many people it is not easy psychologically, so try to reduce foods with added sugar in your diet gradually. Fill your diet with whole, unprocessed foods, be active during the day and go to bed on time.
What is the source of added sugar in food?
The tricky sugar hides from us where we think it’s not there at all, and we eat perfectly healthy foods.
Have you ever played hide-and-seek in a grocery shop? Here is a fun new game. The food manufacturers have hidden added sugar in your food and your task is to find it. While you might expect to find lots of added sugar in baked products, you might be surprised to find hidden sugar in crisps and crackers, bread, ketchup, salad dressings, granola bars, pre-made foods, sports and energy drinks and even in the food that has a label ‘healthy’ on it.
Imagine if all foods that contain added sugar were taken off the shelves. About 90% of the so-called food would simply disappear and people would obviously start to panic. Nobody wants that, right? We feel safer when the shelves are full of food, the producers are happy that we are buying it all. And everyone seems to win. But please pay attention to the ingredients of the product you’re going to pay money for. Spend a little more time in the shop and read exactly what they want to sell you under the guise of a harmless ‘sugar-free’ candy bar.
How is added sugar indicated on food labels?
Sugar is a master of disguise: if you do not see the word ‘sugar’ or ‘added sugar’ in the ingredient list when reading a food label, this does not guarantee that the product does not contain sugar or sweeteners. There are several ‘synonyms’ for sugar that you need to be aware of – at least 56 of them!
Sugar has many different names, so it is easy for manufacturers to hide how much-added sugar is in a specific product. While some of these names are more obvious, such as brown sugar and cane sugar, others are more difficult to recognise, for example, dextrose, corn syrup, and maltodextrin).
More than 68% of barcoded foods sold in the US contain added sweeteners, even if they are labelled as ‘natural’ or ‘healthy,’ which is shocking.
What you can do to minimise your added sugar intake
It is not always as easy as they say, but it is possible if you set yourself a goal.
It is easier to think of reducing added sugar intake in terms of shifting rather than restricting it. Restriction implies that we are depriving ourselves of something desirable. Shifting, on the other hand, involves a small, gradual change towards foods with more nutrients that make us feel our best.
Most added sugars in people’s diets come from sugary drinks: sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened teas and others. So think about it more carefully and try to reduce your intake of these types of drinks. Try drinking more water, unsweetened sparkling water, herbal teas, and black or green tea.
Also, try to avoid sugary desserts and sauces and reduce the intake of quick breakfast dishes, such as cornflakes and any other kind of flakes. There is also a lot of sugar hidden in them.
It is helpful to limit the number of sugary foods in the house also. Because if you keep sugary foods in your home, you may be more likely to eat them. You will need a lot of willpower to stop yourself if all you have to do to get a portion of sugar is to open your pantry or fridge. To reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet, eat more whole foods, protein for better satiety and muscles, and healthy fats such as fish, avocados and nuts.
It also helps to read the labels on products, as clever manufacturers hide the real state of affairs regarding added sugar from us behind various unfamiliar names (you may have seen them in the previous section). If you follow these simple tips eventually, you will learn to enjoy whole foods that contain more vitamins and minerals that will benefit your health.
Let’s sum up
Added sugar accompanies us everywhere, in a huge number of products and has many names. It can lead to serious health problems if consumed in excess and on a regular basis. Worldwide, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are the leading causes of death. Reducing added sugar intake and choosing foods more thoroughly can help you be healthier and stick to healthy eating habits.
Hungry for knowledge? Here you go!
In this video, Dr. Berg will explain to you what happens if you stop eating sugar. Dr. Berg specialises in healthy ketosis and intermittent fasting. He is the director of Dr. Berg’s Nutritionals and one of the best-selling amazon.com authors.
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