Uh-oh.. something might be hiding in your food! From salad dressing to cereals, soups, sauces and breads, an addictive substance is lurking in many foods that you’d never suspect.
Far more loathed than fat or cholesterol these days, sugar has become public enemy No. 1 when it comes to the health of America.
In its recent report, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee cited sugar as one of our biggest health concerns and recommended that sugar make up 10 percent or fewer of our daily calorie intake. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 6-9 teaspoons, or 100-150 calories a day come from sugar (this depends on your bodyweight). But Americans are eating way more of it than that: The CDC reports that the average American eats between 13 and 20 teaspoons of added sugar a day (between 220-335 calories).
In its natural state, sugar is a relatively harmless, and necessary carbohydrate that our bodies need to function. It’s found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy as a compound known as fructose or lactose. The problem comes when extra sugar is added to foods during processing for flavor, texture, or color. This is much more common than you may realize. You don’t have to be in the candy aisle to be surrounded by sugar.
Consuming too much sugar has many undesirable physical effects, the most obvious of which being weight gain. Added sugar drives your insulin levels up, which signals your body to store fat. But while losing weight is well and good, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the positive effects of cutting back on sugar. We’ve hand-picked a list of 4 benefits unrelated to weight management:
1. It Makes Your Heart Happy
At this point, it is well-known in the medical community that sugar is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. One simple swap to cut your risk: Ditch soda and other beverages with added sugar. “In sedentary people, consuming soda and sugary beverages may raise the risk of heart disease by up to 25 percent,” says Darria Long Gillespie, M.D., a board-certified emergency physician at Emory University Hospital. That’s a lot! How do you know if your beverages contain sugar? Read the nutrition labels. Even so-called “healthy” beverages like fruit juices and bottled teas may contain enough to mess with your heart health.
2. It Keeps Your Mind Sharp
Research shows that too much sugar can cause impair cognitive function and reduce proteins that are necessary for memory and responsiveness. In this study, rats who were fed sugar had significantly impaired cognitive and memory function compared to those in the control group. Next time you eat a sugary snack, such as a cookie or doughnut, pay close attention to how you feel in the hours following- do you feel focused and energetic, or do you feel lethargic?
3. You’ll Break the Cycle of Addiction
It turns out that sugar is just as addictive as drugs. It may sound drastic, but when you consider the changes in the brain, it makes sense: research has shown that dopamine, one of the brain’s feel-good chemicals, is released during sugar absorption (we’ve all experienced that birthday-cake euphoria). This is almost identical to what happens in the brain of an addict indulging in their drug of choice. The problem is, as with drugs, that eating too much sugar interferes with healthy dopamine signaling, meaning it eventually takes more and more to fire off those pleasure signals. Check out this study for more detail.
4. It Will Keep Your Skin Looking Young
Our society today is seemingly obsessed with products that promise to save your skin from the signs of aging. However, it turns out that what you put in your body may be far more important than what you put on it. Consuming too much sugar can make skin dull and wrinkled. This is due to a process called glycation, where the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form advanced glycation end products (AGEs— an appropriate name for what they do!). AGEs damage collagen and elastin, the protein fibers that keep skin firm and elastic, and that damage leads to skin wrinkles and sagging. They also deactivate your body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, leaving you more vulnerable to sun damage.
Cutting back on sugar may have even more benefits than you realize. Many people report feeling more energetic, focused and having better digestion when they limit sweets. It can be difficult to do at first, especially if you’re used to consuming foods with added sugars several times a day.
You can try weaning yourself off of it (have 1/2 instead of a full glass of juice with breakfast, for example), or, commit to going cold-turkey and realize that the cravings will subside within 1-3 days. Give it a try and see how you feel!