If there’s one thing we have been ingrained to believe our whole lives, it is that sugar is bad for you. Despite this warning, sugar is still found in many of our foods, sometimes unknowingly, and makes up a large portion of our diets.
When it comes to sugar, though, things aren’t so black and white. Yes, too much sugar is not good for you, but the body does need some sugar to function. However, consuming too much sugar can increase your risk of certain health conditions, which is why cutting down on sugar can significantly improve your health.
Before getting into how sugar can impact your body, it is first necessary to differentiate between the different types of sugar, since sugar is just a general term for the many different forms.
The four most common types of sugar are:
However, these types of sugar can be separated even further into natural sugars and added sugars.
Like the names suggest, natural sugars are the kind found in foods; fruit is a natural source of sucrose, while dairy products naturally contain lactose.
Most problems with sugar come from consuming too much added sugar, which can be found in most sweets and processed foods. For example, candy, sugary drinks, and pastries all possess added sugar.
That’s not to say that added sugar is inherently bad, either, but problems can occur when consuming too much, which is easy to do.
The American Heart Association estimates that the average adult consumes 77 grams of sugar daily. This number is more than three times the recommended daily amount for women, but why is it so high?
The reason behind this excessive sugar consumption is that added sugar is hidden in many foods we eat without us even knowing it. We all know that sweet treats such as cookies and soda have added sugar in them, but many foods that we wouldn’t consider “sweet” also contain sugar, and in some cases, we believe that we are eating something healthy, although the sugar content is really high.
Other hidden sources of sugar include breads, salad dressings, pasta sauces, granola bars, instant oatmeal, and condiments. Even packaged and dried fruits often contain extra sugar, making these sweet treats even sweeter.
Consuming too much sugar can have some serious consequences for your health, putting you at a higher risk of:
When you start cutting down on how much sugar you consume each day, you will notice some significant improvements in your well-being:
The body responds to damage with inflammation, a natural part of the immune response. However, sugar can also cause this reaction, and scientists believe it is because sugar stimulates the liver to produce free fatty acids, which trigger inflammatory processes when digested.
A 2018 systemic review linked consumption of more dietary sugar with chronic inflammation, with sugary drinks the most common source. The inflammatory marker C-reactive protein was found in these individuals’ blood at a greater concentration.
However, studies have found that reducing your sugar intake can reduce these inflammatory markers, decreasing overall inflammation (and reducing the risk of the health conditions that can result from it).
While sugar is often associated with giving you extra energy, these results do not last long since sugar only provides a quick burst of energy.
Looking further into our body’s chemistry, sugar may affect our energy level in more ways. Research has found that elevated blood glucose levels can block the activity of orexin neurons, which are found in our brains and are responsible for providing energy to the body and stimulating wakefulness.
By reducing the amount of sugar you eat, these neurons will not be blocked, helping you feel more alert.
The effect of sugar on energy levels can also be tied to its impact on sleep. A 2016 study found a link between consuming more sugar and more restless sleep, meaning that no matter how much sleep you get, it’s not a good quality sleep that leaves you well-rested in the morning.
By reducing your sugar intake, you will have an easier time falling asleep, and the sleep that you get will be of much greater quality.
In addition to affecting your alertness, sugar can also cause “brain fog” or difficulty concentrating because of how inflammation affects the brain.
Research has shown that frequent exposure to high glucose levels can lower your mental capacity, affecting memory, learning, and motor speed. By cutting back on sugar, you can decrease inflammation in the brain and increase your ability to focus.
While too much sugar can cause problems in the body, sugar itself is still essential for a properly functioning body and is not something that can (or should) be completely cut out of a diet.
This is because sugar, or glucose, is the primary energy source for many cells in the body and is essential for the central nervous system, brain, and red blood cells to work correctly.
However, while the body needs sugar to function properly, it does not require added sugar. This is because all the sugar our bodies need can be found naturally in foods, along with the other vitamins and nutrients we need.
The recommendation for maximum daily sugar is about 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women, although it is always best to consume less than this amount.
To significantly reduce your sugar levels, opt for water or sugar-free alternatives when hydrating.
Another healthy alternative is to turn toward natural sources of sugar, such as fruit, whenever you are craving something sweet. In addition to satisfying your sweet-tooth, fruit also contains important vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function.
Sugar is an essential part of our diet because of the role it plays in providing energy for our cells, but it is easy and dangerous to overconsume it. By cutting back on added sugar, you can experience a decrease in inflammation, improvements in energy, and increases in focus.
It’s important to be more conscious of the sugar content in the foods you enjoy and to opt for sugar-free options or natural sources of sugar, such as fruits or dairy, instead of added sugar. Your health will thank you when you take this step to protect it.