Sugar – it is the one staple ingredient, other than salt, that really adds flavor to the many foods we consume.
It’s there in our desserts, our coffee, our tea, and a host of other food items. Most of us find sugary foods hard to resist. In fact, sugar is even found in foods that don’t typically taste sweet. For instance, meats and bread have sugar in them too. Even ketchup contains sugar.
Foods with sugar obviously taste great and that’s why we find it hard to stop consuming them. However, do not be fooled by its sweetness, sugar is harmful if consumed without moderation, and it can even lead to life-threatening conditions.
In fact, many medical experts believe that sugar is one of the most harmful ingredients that a person can consume.
To make things worse, it’s found in almost everything we consume on a daily basis, particularly junk foods and sugary drinks such as cola. Studies show that sugar addiction is increasing, and becoming a major health concern for both children and adults.
By now you’re probably wondering why sugar is so harmful and what it can do to the human body. Well, let’s take a look.
Sugar and its impact on human health
According to statistics, an average person in the United States consumes around 32 teaspoons of sugar a day. These statistics were produced in 2015 by Euromonitor, a UK-based market research firm. (32 teaspoons is about 126 grams of sugar).
That is an enormous amount of sugar. In the 1700s, the average English individual limited his/her consumption to 1.8kg of sugar per year. That’s almost half the amount of sugar than what the modern American consumes in a month.
Also, the sugars consumed back then were sourced from natural foods, such as fruits. The sugars that we consume today are refined sugars that are added to food products.
Another alarming fact is that the sugar we consume today is mostly in the form of high fructose corn syrup or fructose.
These are heavily processed sugars and they are 20% sweeter than the sugars you would source naturally. Due to the lower cost of production, most manufacturers prefer to use this processed form of sugar than natural sugar.
Our bodies have not evolved to handle such high amounts of sugar, especially in its processed form. In fact, the process involved in metabolizing fructose is quite different from the process used to metabolize natural sugar. Fructose is actually a hepatotoxin. Hepatotoxins are toxic chemicals that damage the human liver. This hepatotoxin (fructose) is metabolized into fat.
As you can already figure out by now, this leads to all kinds of medical complications.
To begin with, the liver is incapable of metabolizing fructose in high amounts. Consuming fructose from natural sources such as fruits is fine as the fructose quantity in fruits is minimal. Also, people who are physically active metabolize fructose better.
In such scenarios, the fructose is converted to glycogen and stored for later use.
However, when fructose consumption is high, the liver ends up with too much glycogen. The excess glycogen is metabolized into fat. So, as we keep consuming more fructose, our liver keeps turning the resulting glycogen into fat. This causes our liver to become fatty.
This accumulation of fat in the liver leads to a condition known as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease or NAFLD. The condition has been associated with many other metabolic disorders and is a growing cause for concern in Western countries.
People who consume twice the amount of fructose than a normal person can end up with NAFLD.
Insulin resistance and diabetes
Heavy consumption of sugar also leads to insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Insulin is one of the body’s most important hormones. It facilitates the entry of glucose or blood sugar into cells via the bloodstream. It also “instructs” the cells to metabolize glucose, instead of fat, for energy. Excessive amounts of glucose in the blood leads to toxicity, which further leads to diabetic complications such as blindness.
Now, when the cells become resistant to insulin, we end up with conditions such as type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular diseases.
What happens is, when cells resist the insulin, the pancreatic beta cells produce more of it. This causes blood sugar or insulin levels to go up. After a point, the pancreas can’t meet the insulin demand, resulting in an imbalance. The imbalance prevents the blood sugar levels from staying within a normal range.
In fact, the blood sugar levels shoot up and this results in the development of type II diabetes.
How much sugar is too much?
Reading all this might convince you to throw out all that’s sugary. However, sugar in itself isn’t the issue here. The real solution lies in controlling the amount of sugar we consume. According to the AHA, women should avoid consuming more than 100 calories or 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. Men, on the other hand, should stick to a maximum of 9 teaspoons, which is around 150 calories.
To give you an idea of how much sugar that is, consider this – a 12 ounce can of cola or any such sugary drink has 8 teaspoons of sugar in it, which amounts to 130 calories.
Apart from limiting your sugar consumption, it is also necessary that you obtain your sugar from natural sources.
Some natural sources of sugar include fruits, fresh fruit juices (without added sugar), honey, dates, and sweet plants.
For people who may be addicted to sugar, there could be emotional triggers that might be driving the addiction. In such cases, it would be wise to try psychological treatments such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Talk to a psychiatrist or psychologist for more information on such treatments.