Sugar is a fundamental substance for our body, since it provides energy and allows all organs to function properly.
It can perfectly be part of a healthy diet, as long as it is natural sugar, that is, it is found naturally in foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, cereals or dairy.
A diet rich in these foods also allows you to obtain fiber, essential minerals and antioxidant compounds.
This changes completely when the energy comes from added sugar, which is added during the manufacture or preparation of food.
This is because it lacks the nutrients that we obtain when consuming natural sugar, since it is often hidden or camouflaged in food, so we can ingest more calories than we need.
In recent decades, diets rich in added sugars have increased. For example, in the US, these sugars represent up to 17% of the total caloric intake of adults, while in Mexico it is up to 13%.
This incidence in the diet represents a greater risk of suffering from diseases and health problems. Here we will see which ones, what are these effects due to, and how you can control your sugar intake.
Effects of sugar on health
The excessive and prolonged consumption of sugars, especially added ones, can cause damage to the body and promote the appearance of different diseases:
Added sugars can go unnoticed when we eat. This is a problem, since in excess they can cause many harmful reactions in the body.
For example, resistance to leptin, a hormone that regulates hunger and signals the body when to stop eating.
- The sugar we use, which is better?
By not being able to respond adequately to satiety signals, energy concentration is increased. If this is not used, it becomes fat, increasing the risk of being overweight or obese.
People who are overweight or obese have a high probability of suffering from diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and cerebrovascular accident (CVA), among other conditions.
May diabetes risk
Obesity, usually caused by eating too much sugar, is the strongest risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
In addition, prolonged and high consumption of sugar can lead to resistance to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates blood glucose levels.
Insulin resistance increases blood glucose levels, and with it, also the risk of diabetes.
Consuming too much added sugar can raise many risk factors for cardiovascular damage, such as blood pressure, chronic inflammation, blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and weight gain.
When you consume sugar in large amounts, especially added sugar, there is an increased risk of developing liver disease.
This is because a part of the sugar consumed is broken down into energy or glycogen and stored in the liver.
If not used, it turns into fat, overloading the liver and increasing the risk of certain liver disorders, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
It may sound contradictory, since sugar is responsible for providing energy to the body. However, when it comes from ultra-processed products or is added, it lacks the antioxidants, fibers and proteins that natural sugar in food provides.
This causes a brief surge in energy followed by a rapid, sharp drop in blood sugar. These constant fluctuations can cause drops in energy levels.
Consuming large amounts of added sugar has been linked to:
- Mouth damage: a lot of added sugar favors the appearance of caires, since the bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar, releasing acidic substances that demineralize the teeth.
- Cognitive damage: There is evidence that links a high intake of added sugar with the development of memory problems, depression and increased risk of dementia.
- Kidney damage– Constantly having high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys.
- Premature aging: Telomeres are structures found at the end of chromosomes, molecules that contain part or all of the genetic information. As cells age and malfunction, telomeres shorten. This process seems to be accentuated when the intake of added sugar is high.
How to control sugar intake
The best way to reduce the impact of sugars on health is to limit or avoid those mainly responsible for their intake: sugary drinks or soft drinks, industrial juices, cookies, sweets, cakes and other ultra-processed products.
- Recommendations to reduce sugar in the diet
Many times we can believe that we consume sugar-free foods, when in reality these are hidden or camouflaged.
Remember to read the labels to verify their presence. Be aware of the “ose” endings, which can indicate the presence of sugar: such as dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, or sucrose.
If you have trouble limiting or avoiding ultra-processed products, reading labels will also allow you to better control the amount of sugar you consume.
The American Heart Association suggests not to exceed 150 calories (about 9 teaspoons or 36 g) of added sugar per day. This represents approximately one can of soda.
Try to include foods such as fruits and vegetables (especially seasonal ones), seeds, cereals, lean meats, and plenty of fluids (mainly water) in your diet.
This type of diet favors the proper functioning of the body, and with it, the degradation and distribution of sugars to be used as energy.
If you can’t avoid adding sugar to your drinks or preparations, opt for healthier alternatives, such as erythritol, stevia, lucuma, honey, or xylitol.
Exercising frequently is another essential measure, as it will allow you to consume excess energy and prevent it from accumulating.
Sources consulted: American Heart Association, Comprehensive Natural Medicines Database, US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, US Department of Agriculture, Harvard Medical School, National Institute of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.