What Happens When You Eat Refined Sugars?
If the old adage, “You are what you eat [and drink],” is true, then many Americans are giant sugar cubes. According to the American Heart Association, American adults consume an average of 15 teaspoons of sugar per day – 60 pounds of sugar in a year! Compare those amounts to refined sugar’s recommended daily allowances (9 teaspoons for men and 6 teaspoons for women), and it’s clear that a spoonful of sugar doesn’t help the medicine go down; in fact, it could mean lots of medicines to take and diseases to manage.
Reducing refined sugars is essential to better health, but cutting out sweets and sugary drinks is just half the battle. In this article, we will cover several topics related to refined sugars:
- Refined sugars and your health
- Hidden refined sugars in your food
- Frequently asked questions (FAQS) about refined sugars
Refined Sugars and Your Health
It’s no secret that high refined sugar intake leads to obesity and diabetes, which bring with them a host of other health problems. But did you know refined sugars can affect your liver, skin, and brain?
“The term sugar, at least in the scientific world, is really just a designation to determine what type of carbohydrate it is, “explains Samantha Lander, a Functional Diagnostics Practitioner, Certified Personal Trainer, Holistic Lifestyle Coach, and the founder of the holistic medicine practice, See Fit.
Refined sugar activates the brain’s reward system, and once your brain gets that first hit from a cookie, chocolate kiss, or piece of cake, chances are you’ll want more and more.
“What happens when our energy tanks, our moods swing down, our control falters, and our cravings escalate? We eat more sugar! Sugar brought on the dopamine “Woohoo” moments, which we remember. So, we inadvertently create this perpetual up-and-down swing without realizing sugar is not making things better; it’s making things worse. Not only does this set us up for a difficult road of maintaining optimal energy, weight, and mood; it also raises our risk of insulin resistance and diabetes,” says Lander.
What goes up must come down, and we’re talking about more than just a sugar high. Men and women who consume high amounts of refined sugar (15 and 13 teaspoons per day, respectively) are at a 23% greater risk for clinical depression.
High blood glucose levels, which are common among Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics, can cause the brain to shrink, according to data published by Harvard. Restricted blood flow in the brain caused by small-vessel disease, another side effect of diabetes, can lead to cognitive difficulties up to and including vascular dementia.
As sugar is digested, it heads to the liver, breaking down between glucose and fructose. The liver can control how much glucose to hold and how much to send into the bloodstream, but it holds onto all that fructose, even when it’s not needed. Fructose is converted to fat, which has been hinted at as a cause of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
“The nutrients that come with the sugars are more important. Pure table sugar has no fiber, vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats or enzymes – it only has empty calories and no health benefits—just consequences.”
Hidden Sugars in Your Food
Sugar isn’t just on the baking aisle in the five-pound bags, or in the frozen food cooler stacked high with ice cream, or even at the children’s temptation section: the checkout line. It’s throughout the supermarket.
“Identifying the sources of refined sugars and making healthy choices can help you reduce your sugar intake and avoid the many health problems associated with refined sugars,” says Lander.
Reading the Nutrition Facts is a great beginner guide, but not necessarily a hard and fast rule when it comes to fruit and dairy products. Nutrition labels are required to indicate any sugar, including sugars naturally occurring in dairy and fruits.
If you have recently read labels, you may now know just how much sugar you consume. The Standard American Diet – SAD – is filled with foods that are highly processed, loaded with refined sugars, and devoid of quality nutrients. SAD indeed!
“For example, a yogurt on the label may seem high in sugar, but the ingredient list could indicate no added sugar. Therefore, the best method to determine how many added sugars are in your food is to look at the amount of sugar and the ingredient list. Just remember, the less food you have with a nutrition label, the more whole foods, and less added sugars you’ll consume anyway,”
Here are some additional simple tips to help kick those bad sugars to the curb.
Cleanup on the pasta aisle!
Did you know that a half-cup serving of pasta sauce can have between 1 and 3 teaspoons of refined sugar? On the high end, that’s up to half of a woman’s recommended amount of sugar for the day. Check nutrition labels for the sugar content before serving up that plate of spaghetti and remember that the carbs in those noodles (if they’re not whole wheat) can turn into sugar too!
Don’t start off the day with a sugar high!
Yogurt can be a deceptive source of refined sugars. Fat-free does not mean sugar-free! Just 8 ounces of flavored yogurt can have up to nearly 8 teaspoons of sugar. That’s as much sugar as one cup of chocolate ice cream. Try plain, unsweetened yogurt with fruit, or add 1 teaspoon of honey if you need a little more of the sweet stuff.
Spill the (sweet) tea!
Maybe you’ve sworn off carbonated soft drinks for a refreshing bottle of tea. Before you take that plunge, know that the most popular brands of lemon-flavored iced tea have more than 7 teaspoons of refined sugar in a 32-ounce bottle. Take control of the sugar by making your own tea at home.
“We are creatures that crave pleasure and happiness, which is our birthright! However, happiness comes in many packages. There are many avenues to seek pleasure and happiness without spiking insulin – accomplishing a challenging goal, cuddling with your partner, laughing, spending time with loved ones, and anything that brings pleasure to you increases your dopamine levels. Start reducing your sugar intake and seek out these resources for happiness instead.”
(FAQS) Frequently Asked Questions About Refined Sugars
Q. What is commonly used as a refined sugar?
- A. Heavily processed sugar cane, sugar beets, and corn are the primary sources of refined sugar.
Q. How can you tell if a sugar is refined?
A. Read nutrition labels and look for syrups, juices, and words ending in -ose (e.g., fructose, dextrose, maltose). These are the tell-tale signs of refined sugars.
Q. What are the differences between natural sugar and refined sugar?
A. Foods with natural sugars, like unprocessed fruit and starchy vegetables, minimally processed carbohydrates like brown rice and whole grain pasta, and milk and cheese, have components that slow down digestion. Refined sugars may originate from a natural source, like corn or sugar beets, but the processing has removed everything but the sugar, causing quick digestion along with blood sugar spikes and drops.