There’s no doubt that sugar’s sweet and triggers great memories. That’s because sugar is the constant ingredient in many of our beautiful celebrations and functions. Yet, this sweetness disguises many dangers of this substance too. In this article, I am exploring some of the real risks of eating sugar.
I can vividly recall the moments of my childhood where I would chew on sugar canes with my buddies. Unlike the sugar candies, the sugar canes are full of beneficial stuff. It contains a pretty rich amount of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fibre.
And chewing the sugar canes is even good for your teeth.
Now looking at the benefits of sugar cane, you may think that the sugar that comes from it must also be good for you too, right?
When sugar canes are highly processed and refined, you get white (or brown) sugar. Through this processing, all the beneficial stuff I mentioned are lost. So the end product of sugar is just plain sugar. There is almost no nutrient attached to it. Here is a quick view of sugar nutrition facts:
Before I delve deeper into this topic, here’s what you need to know about sugar:
Sugar doesn’t nourish you, nor is it a health food
- Sugar doesn’t add any nutritional value to your body
- Sugar doesn’t add any value to your mind
- Sugar doesn’t make your body stronger, healthier, better or more functional.
So, what does sugar really do to your body?
Danger #1: Sugar Can Be Addictive
In a study on rats, the researchers at Princeton University demonstrated that sugar can be an addictive substance. The lead researcher Professor Bart Hoebel suggests, “rats eating large amounts of sugar when hungry, undergo neurochemical changes in the brain that appear to mimic those produced by substances of abuse, including cocaine, morphine and nicotine.”
In another research compiled by scientists at the University of Bordeaux in France concluded that sugar and sweet rewards cannot only be a substitute for addictive drugs like cocaine but can even be more rewarding and attractive than those drugs!
I do need to stress the point that these studies have been done on rats in a laboratory setup. More human-based studies are needed to confirm these findings in humans.
However, Robert Lustig, a world-renowned professor of paediatrics at the University of California argues that sugar is in fact “the alcohol of the child”. Based on research he argues that “dietary sugar fries your kid’s liver and brain; just like alcohol.”
Furthermore, he elaborates “fructose is metabolised in the liver in exactly the same way as alcohol. And that’s why, when consumed chronically and at a high dose, fructose is similarly toxic and abused, unrelated to its calories or effects on weight. And that’s why our children now get the diseases of alcohol (type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease), without alcohol”.
If you are a parent, I highly recommend you to read the above-quoted article.
Danger #2: Sugar Makes You Look Older
You always have the drive to look younger, regardless of your age, right? Here is bad news for you!
Consuming sugar make you look older than you really are. The reason for this is a process called ‘glycation’, in which the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs).
The more sugar you eat, the more harmful AGEs you develop. These AGEs damage surrounding proteins like collagen and elastin, which help to keep your skin firm and elastic. Once damaged, springy and resilient collagen and elastin become dry and brittle, which makes your skin wrinkle and sag.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, these ageing effects (catalysed by AGEs molecules) start when you hit the age of 35 and increase rapidly after that.
So reduce sugar from your life, if you want to stay and look young!
Danger #3: Excessive Consumption of Sugar Can Be the Doorway For Diseases
Sugar is a contributing factor in over 35 million deaths worldwide, every year. These deaths are a result of obesity and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. There is no denying the fact that sugar is one of the worst ingredients added to foods, in the modern history of humankind.
Excessive consumption of sugar is linked to
- changes in metabolism,
- increased blood pressure,
- liver damage,
- interference with hormone signalling,
- high blood sugar levels, caused by health conditions like diabetes, cancer of the pancreas, skin, uterus, urinary tract and breast.
Scientists at the University of California argue that many of the health effects caused by drinking too much alcohol are, in fact, also caused by eating too much sugar.
For instance, too much sugar is associated with an increase in the risk of heart disease. One study found that those who got 25 percent or more of their daily calories from sugar had double the risk of having low HDL (good) cholesterol compared to those who consumed less than 5 percent of their calories as sugar.
Those who ate the most sugar also had the highest triglyceride levels. Now if you wonder, what it means to your health, here is what you need to know: Low HDL and high triglycerides are two of the primary risk factors for heart disease.
Danger #4: Sugar and Your Hormones
According to a study in Journal of Clinical Investigation, high intake of fructose and glucose (aka sugar) can even affect the levels of active sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen in your body.
Now in common language, here is what happens when the levels of these hormones are affected:
When the testosterone levels decline in men, these are the consequences:
- reduced desire for sex
- fewer erections
When oestrogen levels decline in women, these are the consequences:
- decreased sex drive
- vaginal dryness (oestrogen helps the vagina by keeping its walls moist and elastic)
That’s basically bad news for your reproductive health!
Danger #5: Sugar Rewires Your Brain
In an interesting study, researchers from Cardiff University in the UK found that higher rates of sugar consumption as children can lead to higher rates of violence as adults.
The researchers suggest, “sweet-eating children don’t learn to defer gratification and carry impulsive behaviours into adulthood. They also speculate that big candy eaters are also more likely to eat additive-laden food–which some researchers claim has adverse behavioural effects throughout life.”
So, the next time you want to add more sugar or have a sugar-laden food, think about how your choices will impact your brain and behaviour. Train yourself to make good choices rather than choices based on whims and fancies!
Key Message: Reduce Your Sugar Intake
When it comes to consuming table sugar, you may not consume a large amount of sugar off the spoon. Most of the sugar you consume comes from hidden sources, such as from highly processed food or soft drinks. So, first focus on reducing your sugar intake from such sources.
Here is a quick guideline to follow:
Women: No more than six teaspoons of added sugar (An important note: A can of your favourite soda has more than that)
Men: No more than nine teaspoons of sugar (An important note: Your favourite chocolate bar has more than that)
Take control of your life by kicking sugar to the curb!