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The Bitter Truth About Sugar

By Martha Michael

The Bitter Truth About Sugar

Sugar is a shiny object that most of us have trouble turning away from. But its effect on the body shows that it’s actually less a treat than it is a train wreck. The damage caused by overconsumption of sugar is pervasive, and cloaking it with flavor doesn’t remove its negative effects.

What Lies Beneath the Skin

Your internal organs are affected by everything you consume. Most Americans know that our cardiovascular health is affected by sugar intake, especially when you consume large quantities.

Harvard researchers completed a 15-year study comparing individuals who get 17-21 percent of their calories from added sugar with those whose diets are 8 percent sugar. Those with a higher consumption of sugar have a 38 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, says an article in JAMA Internal Medicine. They are more likely to develop fatty liver disease, which leads to diabetes. And diabetics have a higher risk of developing heart disease.

An overconsumption of sugar can also cause kidney damage and kidney failure. The job of your kidneys is to filter waste in your blood, and when you develop diabetes it damages the organ’s ability to release excess sugar into your urine.

There is a long list of functions that become impaired by too much sugar. You risk the onset of high blood pressure, inflammation, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and heart disease, among other conditions. But you can also lose your head when you don’t limit your intake.

Behind the Mask

Issues such as obesity make it easy to see the effects of sugar on your body. You may not be aware, however, that sugar also has an impact on your mind.

When you eat something sweetened, your body gets a surge of dopamine, sometimes called the “feel-good chemical,” according to an article on WebMD. That’s why you typically get more pleasure eating a candy bar than a meal of boiled vegetables.

It goes beyond sensory satisfaction, however. When you eat sugary foods, you can experience mood changes that you may or may not notice. Consuming sugar causes a spike in your blood sugar levels, which later crash, and that process can cause anxiety. Also, according to studies, there’s a causal relationship between sugar intake and depression in adults.

Choose Trick Over Treat

Not all sugar is bad for you, but even from childhood most Americans would rather grab a candy bar than an apple (unless it’s covered in caramel). Natural sugar that’s found in fruit and vegetables is lower in sodium and higher in water than the sugar in processed foods. Not only that, they contain vitamins and minerals you need.

It’s best to avoid -- or limit -- foods with sugar added to them. According to an article on, Americans’ favorite sources of sugary satisfaction include:

  • Soft drinks
  • Candy
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Pies
  • Fruit drinks
  • Dairy desserts
  • Milk products (ice cream, sweetened yogurt)

The American Heart Association warns that while it’s a good idea to read the ingredients listed on grocery products, be aware that sugar goes by more than 60 different names. Look for words ending in “-ose” and ingredients containing the words “syrup” and “malt” when you read the package.

Added sugars should make up fewer than half of your total sugar intake, which means that most of your glucose should come from whole foods. Men should consume less than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day and women should take in less than 6 teaspoons of sugar, which totals 100 calories, the Heart Association says. To put that in perspective, one 12-ounce can of soda typically contains 130 calories, which is 8 teaspoons of sugar. And it contains zero nutrition, by the way.

Pay attention to what you consume and improve your diet by avoiding processed foods. There are few who would choose pumpkin over pumpkin pie, but there are many natural sources of sugar you can substitute for a second helping of dessert.

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