The body needs sugar as energy to perform its physical and physiological processes. However, this doesn’t mean that you should take it in excess. After all, sugar is readily available in carbohydrates and fresh fruits that you take regularly. We call it natural sugar and it’s rarely a health concern. The biggest concern, nevertheless, is added sugar (sugar added to processed foods and drinks). You’ll find the additive in energy drinks, sodas, juices, cakes, cereals, and desserts.
Why is Sugar Added to Food?
We all know that anything sweet is likely to be appetizing, more so for kids. This is the primary reason why sugar is added to food. The manufacturers believe that doing so will help them sell their foods quicker. There are also a few others who use added sugars as a preservative. This is common in the production of jams.
In producing things like ice cream and baked foods, added sugars are used as bulking agents (nonnutritive additives meant to add bulk). Lastly, added sugars are widely used to add color and texture to processed foods. In this case, the additive makes processed food pleasant not just in taste but also in appearance and feel.
How Bad is Added Sugar?
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, you should not take added sugars that exceed 10% of your body’s calorie intake. If for example, you are on a 1500 calorie diet, you should not take more than 150 calories (9 teaspoons) sugar a day. The WHO, on the other hand, recommends only 5% of the daily calorie intake to be added sugar.
The other agency that puts restrictions on dietary added sugar is the American Heart Association (AHA). They don’t advocate for added sugars to children below 2 years but advises against exceeding 100 calories (6 teaspoons) by children over 2 years and a majority of women. Also, the association advises men to keep their intake below 150 calories.
Unfortunately, most people exceed the recommendations by the AHA and the WHO. This is generally bad for their health and here are 5 reasons why:
1. Can Lead to Fast Weight Gain
Most people gain unnecessary weight and become obese over time without realizing it just because they can’t resist added sugars. There are strong pieces of evidence indicating that added sugars are a primary contributor to weight gain. So, you need to avoid them.
It’s suggested that added sugar interferes with leptin, a hormone that controls hunger. As a result, you tend to feel hungrier and crave more sugars. In the long-term, you introduce more sugar than your body can assimilate, leading to fast weight gain.
2. Can Promote Tooth Cavities
You probably were advised not to take so much candy when growing up as they can cause tooth decay. Well, it’s not just candy that you should avoid. You also need to avoid excessive intake of biscuits, processed cereals, juices, and sodas as they are high in added sugar.
It’s claimed that sugar in these foods not only causes tooth decay but can also cause cavities. Usually, the added sugar encourages bacteria to form plaque on your teeth that eventually attack your enamel. As a result, permanent holes that we call cavities result.
3. May Hasten Skin Aging
We all know that wrinkling is normal when you advance in age. However, it becomes a serious concern if it happens prematurely. Though there are different causes of premature aging, one popular is added sugar.
Research shows that added sugar can hasten skin aging and this is widely expressed in the form of wrinkles. It’s argued that added sugar causes the body to produce advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that accelerate aging. AGEs, unfortunately, make the skin sag after losing its firmness.
4. May Lead to Diabetes Type 2
Most people are aware of the relationship between added sugar and diabetes type 2 but often choose to ignore it. Generally, high-calorie foods can cause diabetes and since high sugars are considered high calories, they are not exempted.
In particular, you should avoid sugary drinks sodas. According to one meta-analysis, taking sugary drinks improve the risk of diabetes type 2 by about 26%. Overall, it’s better to avoid the drinks entirely. This is according to the American Diabetes Association.
5. High Risk of Dying from Heart Disease
Did you know that added sugar can increase the risk of suffering from Heart Disease even when you are not overweight? According to a JAMA Internal Medicine study, this is possible. What’s worse is the possibility of death occurring in the long run.
Based on this study, subjects who exceed their added sugar intake by more than 10% of their daily calorie intake are twice likelier to suffer from Heart Disease than those who keep their intake below 10%.
It’s sad to learn that the added sugar we crave comes unaccompanied with viable minerals like fiber and vitamins but only brings the risk of a deadly condition like Heart Disease.
Tips for Managing Added Sugar Intake
The first thing you should do is read the label to see how much sugar in calories or grams the food has. Of course, you must know that added sugar comes in different names. Some may call it honey, sucrose or maple syrup while others may call it sugarcane juice, molasses or sweeteners. So, do not let the name to deceive you as they all mean the same thing.
While at it, look at where added sugars are listed in the ingredient list. Usually, the higher the ingredient in the list, the more grams or calories it contains. So, avoid foods that contain added sugar at the top of the ingredient list. You can also manage your added sugar intake in the following ways:
- Take water more often instead of sodas and sports drinks.
- While taking fruit juices, consider natural options.
- Flavor your herbal tea with citrus fruits instead of refined sugar.
- Swap processed bread and rice for whole options.
- Avoid processed juices as they have excess added sugar.
- Choose your cereals properly to ensure you only take low sugar options.
- Cut down your cravings for pastry and candies. You can take fruits and low-calorie yogurt in their place.
Generally, added sugar is bad for your health and so you need to avoid it. This means being watchful of what you eat, especially processed foods. If you are not sure how to transition, talk to a nutritionist about it.