Added sugars are everywhere…lurking in your breakfast cereal…concealed in your fat-free muffin…hiding in that giant blob of ketchup atop your otherwise healthy quinoa burger. Yes, added sugar is everywhere, secretly wreaking havoc on your waistline, not to mention your physical health, mental health, and your pocket book.
But we’ll get to that in a minute. Firstly, we’ll tackle the issue of sugar itself, because information about sugar and your health is oftentimes vague and misleading. In its natural state, sugar is essentially harmless. In fact, certain types of sugar are necessary for our brains to function properly. Sugars found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, for example, contain ample amounts of natural glucose needed to fuel our busy brains.
The issue with sugar and your health arises when extra sugars are added to foods during processing to enhance the foods’ flavor, texture or color. The practice of adding extra sugar to processed foods may be more common than you realize. Essentially, you don't have to stand in the middle of a sugarcane field to be surrounded by a ton of sugar.
While it’s probably safe to say that cutting back on added sugar produces phenomenal health benefits, I must admit I still wept softly for the frosted donut I tossed into the trash can in favor of one of our new Low Sugar Protein Bars. (It had sprinkles, too – the donut. Oh, the agony.) However, I managed to lose 18 pounds (and counting!), partly by swapping out my morning donut with a low sugar, high protein meal replacement bar – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Below, I’ve listed four more health benefits, in addition to finally fitting into that pair of skinny jeans—that help support the common adage that less is more, especially when it comes to added sugar.
Benefit 1. Less Sugar Equals a Sharper Brain
While natural sugars in moderation are key for optimal brain health, too much sugar from processed foods can produce the opposite effect. A collection of scientific studies from across the globe suggests that eating too much sugar can impair cognitive function, as well as interfere with the brain’s ability to respond to stimuli and recall past events.
For example, in one of the studies, lab rats that were fed excessive amounts of sugar showed signs of cognitive impairment and had less synaptic activity in their brains than rats that were fed a diet much lower in sugar. Ultimately, a diet high in added sugar is associated with decreased cognitive function, and may even be associated with changes to brain structure, according to some studies. Yikes. Just put down the Twinkie and walk away right now. Before you forget.
Benefit 2. Your Skin Will Look Young and Clear
And now for the appeal to your vanity! Did you know that eating too much added sugar can make your skin appear saggy, dull and wrinkled? Did you know that excessive sugar consumption can also cause acne to appear on your face, chest or back? Yep. It’s all true. Too much sugar in your bloodstream can cause advanced glycation end products (AGEs) to build up in your system, which in turn causes damage to collagen and elastin – the fibers responsible for keeping your skin looking smooth and firm. Eating too much sugar can also trigger bouts of acne by interfering with your body’s ability to regulate hormones. And if that wasn’t enough, excessive sugar intake can also shut down the production of antioxidant enzymes in your body, leaving you vulnerable to sun damage, and even psoriasis.
Benefit 3. Less Sugar Means a Lower Risk of Certain Cancers
While the results of several studies on sugar and your health were deemed inconclusive, the results of many others appear to suggest a connection between excessive sugar intake and an elevated risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Also, due to sugar’s ability to cause cellular inflammation throughout the entire body, many researchers feel that eating too much of it can put you at risk for developing a much broader range of cancers –in addition to pancreatic cancer.
Many doctors and researchers believe that liver, kidney and thyroid cancers may also be linked to excessive sugar consumption. (I think I’m starting to miss that donut less and less.)
Benefit 4. Your Energy Will Skyrocket
Ever drink a syrupy sweet mocha latte or a sugar-laden energy drink in hopes that it will put the wind back in your energy sails? If so, you might want to reconsider your options. According to several clinical studies, consuming too much sugar can actually decrease cellular activity and induce sleepiness, sluggishness, and an overall feeling of lethargy.
This phenomenon explains why people often “crash” and want to take a nap shortly after consuming a food or beverage that’s high in added sugar. And while I’m admittedly still recovering from my now defunct obsession with caramel Frappuccino, I can’t deny the fact that I feel significantly less drowsy by the end of the work day when I consume less sugar.
The American Heart Association recommends that about half (or less) of your daily calorie intake comes from added sugars. This equates to about 100 calories or six teaspoons for women, and around 150 calories or nine teaspoons for men. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the average American eats between 13 and 20 teaspoons of added sugar a day. When it comes to sugar and your health, less is definitely more.