Think of a holiday. Any holiday. Is it one that you loved when you were growing up?
Now, think about the kind of foods associated with that holiday. Chances are, no matter what holiday crossed your mind, you relived a flashback or two involving sweet, sugary trees. Ahhh, what wonderful memories of limitless candy, chocolate, cakes, and pies.
No matter how wonderful the memories, however, a closer look is needed to really understand the health risks involved with consuming foods with high sugar content. Certain things happen to the body when high amounts of sugar are ingested, so that's why it's easier to pinpoint eating habits during the holidays due to common celebratory indulgence.
Most candy products consist of two ingredients, and they're not good ingredients, either. Hydrogenated fats, also known as trans-fatty acids, are the worst kind of fats because studies have shown their direct link to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. In fact, a lot of restaurants and food processing companies are removing trans fats from their ingredient list. The second ingredient is, of course, sugar. What's candy without sugar?
Most Americans, however, are not aware of the foods away from candies and chocolates that produce sugar. Did you know that the average adult consumes 15 to 20 teaspoons of sugar a day? And that's just the adult population. Imagine how much sugar kids are consuming every day.
Sugar In Its Many Forms
Sugar comes in a lot of different varieties and substances. You'll see it everywhere, from white sugar (which is also called sucrose or table sugar), brown sugar (this is just white sugar with molasses added), cane sugar, raw sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, rice syrup , etc. Carbonated sodas, jams, ketchup, breads, packaged foods, juices, and low-fat foods also add a high amount of sugar for taste. Another commonly overlooked source of sugar is found in refined flours, chips, pretzels, muffins, white rice, and pasta. When consumed, these carbohydrates-rich foods just turn to sugar in the body. All forms of sugar pose health risks, despite sugars in their raw forms (such as honey or maple syrup) tend to be a bit safer.
Energy Highs and Sugar Crashes
If you have a sweet tooth, you're probably very familiar with a sugar crash. Feeling quickly energetic then quickly fatigued are very common symptoms. Understanding how a sugar crash works in the body, though, can greatly help combat these incompetent symptoms.
When foods high in sugar are eaten, glucose enters the bloodstream. This causes blood sugar to rise, causing the pancreas to start working hard to make insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps sugars enter the cells. Once entered, sugar will do one of two things depending on current levels of blood sugar in the body – they will be used up as immediate energy, or stored as fat for later use. If used up for energy, the blood sugar levels quickly drop back down to a normal or below-normal level.
You can see this trend especially in kids during the holidays. They get all hopped up on sugar and have too much energy to spend, then they crash out on the floor surrounded by all their toys that they're too tired to play with anymore. After a while, they are constantly beg for more sugary foods, causing them to experience the cycle of energy and fatigue all over again.
A Compromised Immune System
Two scientific studies were performed concerning the effects of sugar on the body's immune system. The first study was performed in the early 1970s, and the second was replicated about 25 years later in 1997. Both studies confirmed the suppression of white blood cells after the consumption of sugar. White blood cells are the body's warriors, in a sense. They are the first part of the immune system to fight off any invading viruses, bacteria, or other infections that the body may encounter. So when white blood cells are suppressed, this leaves the immune system in a compromising position, making it weaker than it should be. Increased consumption of sugar increases the steady weakening of the immune system in general. Doctors admit that their patients who snack on sugary treats and candies at their desks are usually the first ones to be admitted to the hospital with severe flu cases, shingles, and other illnesses.
Sugar and the Aging Process
Sugar is also part of a process in the body called glycation, an abnormal occurrence whereby sugar molecules affix themselves to cells in the body. This causes cells to shrink, dehydrate, and occasionally wrinkle due to the sugar imbalance present. The elasticity of cell tissue stars decreasing, initially leading to sagging skin, stiff arteries, and poor organ function. Consuming sugars has also been shown to poorly effect the brain, eyes, and nervous system. And, of course, it's horrible for teeth as well. Bacteria in the mouth convert sugar to acid, slowly eroding away at tooth enamel, which causes cavities.
The Good News
Learning all the bad things sugar may cause can be overwhelming, especially when looking at all the processed foods in the pantry. But cutting back on sugar is by no means an impossible task. The best way is to quit cold turkey and eliminate all sugars from the diet, but you may find it easier to take it a step at a time, cutting out high fructose corn syrup or white flours to start. Also make sure to consult your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet, because you may have special insulin needs.
So the next time your sweet tooth starts craving that super-moist slice of untouched triple-chocolate cake on the break room table, think about sugar crashes, suppressed immune systems, health risks, and increased aging. Bring healthy snacks with you to work, like fruit and nuts, so that you have something naturally sweet that you can enjoy in its place.