Every day it seems we are told that some food is bad for our health.
First it was carbs and then it was the hidden preservatives and now it is sugar.
But unlike some of the other data and warnings, the negative effects of sugar are not just about your waistline
Now there is increasing data indicating that high levels of sugar consumption can a have a health, from cognitive function to psychological well-being.
Sugar, which also goes by names like glucose, fructose, honey and corn syrup, is found in 74% of packaged foods.
- The typical American diet is comprised of 13 percent calories from sugar
- The World Health Organization recommends that only 5% of daily caloric intake come from sugar…that’s only 6 to 12 teaspoons per day!
A vicious cycle
One of the key reasons these types of sugars are so harmful is that eating sugar creates a vicious cycle of intense cravings and increased tolerance to sugar.
In fact, research has shown that the brains of obese children actually light up differently when they taste sugar, reflecting an elevated “food reward” response. This suggests that their brain circuitry may predispose these children to a lifetime of intense sugar cravings.
Memory and learning
A 2012 animal study, conducted by researchers at UCLA, found that a diet high in fructose (that’s just another word for sugar) hinders learning and memory by literally slowing down the brain. Consistent high levels of sugar impaired communication among brain cells.
According to Dr. Medha Munshi, a growing body of research suggests that a sugar-heavy diet could even increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. High blood sugar could actually be linked to dementia.
Depression and anxiety
If you’ve ever experienced a sugar crash, then you know that sudden peaks and drops in blood sugar levels can cause you to experience symptoms like irritability, mood swings, brain fog and fatigue.
That’s because eating a sugar-laden treat or drinking a sugary soda causes blood sugar levels to spike and then quickly plummet. When your blood sugar inevitably dips back down (the “crash”), you may find yourself feeling anxious, moody or depressed.
Chronically high blood sugar levels have also been linked to inflammation in the brain. And as some research has suggested, this may be one possible cause of depression especially among teenagers.
It doesn’t end there.
Research has also found that people who eat a standard American diet that’s high in processed foods and typically contains high amounts of sugar, are at an increased risk for developing depression when compared to those who eat a whole foods diet that’s lower in sugar.
If we are honest, none of us will completely eliminate sugar from our diet. But there are a few simple steps we can all take to minimize the negative effects of this sweet substance.
- Do the math – stay with me on this one…it is actually pretty simple.
- Look at the Nutrition Facts Label
- For every 4 grams of sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts Label, that is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar.
- Only consume foods where the sugar content is no more than 20% of the total carbohydrate.
- For example:
- Carbohydrates listed on the label – 40g
- 20% of the total carbohydrates would be 8g
- Amount of sugar listed on the label – 17g
- Bottom line: This product has too much sugar
- Read the labels – check the ingredient list at the bottom of the label for specifics on added sugars. Be sure that added sugars are not listed as one of the first few ingredients.
- Learn the terms – Other names for added sugars include corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey and maple syrup.
- Educate yourself – remember the amount of sugar on a label is per serving. Most food items have multiple servings per container.
An orange, banana or apple is clearly a better choice than gummy bears or chips. Do your best to make smart choices and enjoy a natural snack. Your mood, your brain health and your stress level depend on it.
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