’Tis the season for visions of sugarplums dancing in your head…and lurking in your food, too. The holidays are certainly a time for all sorts of treats and goodies, many which are loaded with sugar in one form or another. It’s virtually impossible — and unnecessary, I might add — to completely avoid sugar. We all know that it’s OK for people with diabetes to eat sugar in moderation. However, too much of a good thing isn’t all that good, diabetes or not.
Americans love their sweets. But becoming too sweet on sugar has its downfalls. Dietary guidelines advise us to get no more than 10% of our calories each day from sugar (as an example, that’s about 13 teaspoons on a 2000 calorie diet). But we consume more like 42 teaspoons of sugar each day. That translates into about 6 cups, or 3 pounds, of sugar per week! Of course, a lot of that sugar isn’t coming straight from the sugar bowl. Instead, our sugar intake comes from the following sources, in descending order:
• Regular soft drinks
• Sugars and candy
• Cakes, pies, cookies
• Fruit drinks
• Dairy dessert (like ice cream) and milk
• Other grain foods
Soft drinks are a big culprit. Dietitians love to point out that drinking a 12-ounce can of regular soda is pretty much like guzzling down 10 teaspoons of sugar. And it’s not just soda that contains sugar — energy and sports drinks, sweetened ice tea, and fruit drinks are loaded, as well.
Sugar is sweet, but its potential health effects can sour you. We know that eating too much sugar can lead to cavities and weight gain. Eating too much sugar, which is a type of carbohydrate, can also raise blood glucose levels unless you carefully count it in your eating plan. Sugar may also play a role in the following health problems:
Heart failure. A high intake of added sugar from, say, processed foods, may cause a buildup of a substance called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, or G6PD. Too much G6PD can stress the heart and lead to heart failure. Having high blood pressure on top of having too much of a sweet tooth can further increase heart failure risk.
Addiction (maybe). Health experts are divided as to whether sugar, or food, in general, is addictive. There are a lot of factors that feed into a person’s propensity to become addicted to something. Eating sugar doesn’t cause one to become addicted to it, but it may stimulate the brain in the same manner that some drugs, like cocaine or heroin, do.
Belly fat. Besides the burden of carrying a spare tire around your middle, too much belly fat is linked with heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes. While consuming too many calories is a major contributor to belly fat, the source of the calories plays a role. Refined carbs, like white bread, white rice, and sugary, sweet foods seem to promote more belly fat as opposed to healthier carbs, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Premature aging. If you’re looking for the fountain of youth, you won’t find it at the nearest soda fountain. Some experts believe that indulging in too much sugar can lead to dull and wrinkled skin. A high-sugar diet may damage collagen and elastin, the proteins that keep your skin firm and supple by forming substances called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs for short. AGEs may also lead to wrinkling and make your skin more vulnerable to sun damage.
High blood pressure. A study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology reported that people who consumed a high-fructose diet (consisting of regular soda, fruit punch, cookies, and candy) were more likely to have high blood pressure than people who consumed less of these foods. The researchers pointed out that this doesn’t mean that sugar causes high blood pressure, but it’s a good idea to go easy on the sweets.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a sweet treat on occasion. Sugar tastes good, and for many of us, eating a holiday cookie or having a taste of eggnog is a family tradition. The key is to avoid overindulging. Allow yourself to have a few treats over the holidays, but focus on the other joys, like family, singing, sleeping, or vacationing, that the season can bring.