Columns, Opinion

Highway to Health: It’s time to break up with sugar

Sugar — our late-night lover and the addictive substance we all consume, often with little knowledge or care about what it does to our bodies. 

Sure, it’s satisfying to go all out on that pint of ice cream filled with bits of cookie dough, chocolate and caramel sauce, but in the end, the sneaky sugars in the dessert lead to more harm than good for your health. The long-term effects of periodic added sugar consumption are not worth the temporary delight from a sweet flavor.

While there are many types of sugars — the most common dietary sugars are glucose, fructose, sucrose, lactose and maltose — none should be overconsumed. Here, I will use the term “sugar” in reference to the added substance we crave and overeat. This includes less familiar sugars, such as corn syrup, coconut sugar, honey and evaporated cane juice.

The average person in the United States consumes around 80 grams of sugar per day. In contrast, the American Heart Association recommends women and kids over the age of two should consume less than 25 grams of sugar per day. Men should consume less than 36 grams of sugar per day. For children under the age of two, it is recommended they consume no added sugar at all. 

Evidently, the less time spent with sugar, the better. But what about naturally occurring sugars in fruits?

Most people do not experience negative health effects from consuming fruits because they are packed with other nutrients, like fiber and vitamins. But it is important to keep in mind that we should monitor how much fruit we eat, as overindulgence can occur here as well. 

It is safe to say you should make time for natural sugar dates with your strawberries, frozen mangos and pineapple. Harvard Medical School recommends the average person consume two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables per day, so start there. Maybe even take your banana to the movies instead of sneaking in your Mr. Goodbar.

Smaran Ramidi / DFP Staff

Although our individual bodies differ greatly in metabolism, genetics and growth, sugar does not adapt itself to be more or less healthy for different people. Sugar can be dangerous for everyone. 

Some people have medical conditions where they must monitor their sugar levels and act accordingly, but most of us should be consuming as little added sugar as possible. No person absolutely needs added sugar. It is something we could, and should, live without.

Consuming excess glucose — a common sugar in most of our foods — raises blood sugar levels, making us more prone to midday crashes when meals and snacks are not spread out wisely. Sugar will constantly interrupt your work schedule with these blood sugar level highs and lows. And chronic elevated blood sugar can lead to increased risk of infection, damage to nerves and organs and a heart attack or stroke.

Sugar, including natural sugars, can also cause inflammation. Just because they’re labeled as “natural” doesn’t mean they’re always better for you. Inflammation can negatively impact behavior, memory and sleep quality, as well as lead to long-term weight gain, mood disorders, body pain and gut problems.

Consuming sugar makes us want more — just like any other temporarily-rewarding drug — and we have avoided acknowledging just how terrible this substance is, even in small doses. Even people who are aware of the negative effects of sugar don’t really know how to break free from its deadly grasp on the brain’s reward system.

With weight gain comes an increased chance of developing obesity, which contributes to more health problems, including high blood pressure, several types of cancer and more. Several of these obesity-related health outcomes can also occur if sugar intake is not regulated.

If an increase in sugar intake can lead to heart problems, pain and excess weight gain over time, and obesity can amplify these effects, then people in the U.S. are setting themselves up for a lifetime of chronic health issues. In letting go of sugar, you are reducing your chances of meeting obesity later on in life and potentially saving yourself from a myriad of physical and mental health troubles. 

Take some time to reflect on your relationship with sugar. Maybe you depend on sugar to get through the day. Perhaps your sugar intake negatively affects your relationships with other foods, like vegetables and whole grains. If sugar has already caused your health to decline and you want a way out, the road is challenging but simple — ditch the sugars, date the life-sustaining foods.

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