Written by Elise Theriault
Late October is a time that comes with noticeable change. The leaves change their colors and fall to the ground. The days shorten and nights lengthen as the temperatures drop. And a little compound called sugar makes itself known in more ways than one. From candy to hot chocolate, sugar will be doing everything it can to get your attention this month. Which is why we wanted to bring some simple facts about sugar to your attention so you can make better and more informed decisions. As we embark deeper into this season, you can protect yourself from its dangers.
There are many books, articles, documentaries and videos out there warning of the dangers of sugar. It is a topic that could be written and expanded on for days on end because of the staggering amount of clinical studies indicating that added sugars do more harm than good to us. We highly encourage that you browse these books and documentaries for more information on the topic, but right now, we are keeping it short and sweet. Pun intended.
Imagine a teaspoon filled to the top with cane sugar. Now imagine 17 of those side by side. Now imagine every day, you have to swallow the contents of all 17 teaspoons and start all over again the next day. That is how much sugar the average American is consuming daily. It’s an easier pill to swallow when it’s hidden in our foods and we cannot see it or even pronounce it (food companies are getting tricky with how they label their ingredients. All tricks and no treat!). Over 70% of all foods in grocery stores contain sugar. We can’t escape it, but we can learn some facts.
We are just going to rip off the band aid here with scientifically backed facts as to why you should reconsider your excess intake of sugar. These facts are not as pretty as that colorful sprinkle-covered donut you might want for breakfast tomorrow, but that’s the point.
1. Sugar contains zero nutritional value – Every teaspoon of sugar (we take down around 17 teaspoons, remember!) contains 20 calories, but provides our bodies with absolutely nothing we need. The only thing it gives us is excess calories. Excess sugars are converted into fat and deposited into adipose tissue. That’s 340 calories a day of nothingness (on average)!
2. Increased Risk for Type 2 Diabetes – This is probably not news to you, but it’s an important fact to drive home. In a nutshell, when your pancreas cannot produce enough insulin (a hormone for regulating glucose in your blood) you can develop type 2 diabetes. Too much sugar causes your body to stop responding to its regular insulin, leading your pancreas to pump out too much insulin and it overtaxes the poor thing. Diabetes not only sets you up for a multitude of other diseases, but it is a lifestyle change. You will want to avoid this if you can.
3. Pancreatic Problems in General – From pancreatitis to pancreatic cancer, sugar increases the risk of these serious diseases. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas (located in the upper left abdomen, behind the stomach) which can not only be incredibly painful but also drastically increases your risk for pancreatic cancer by 2 to 3 times that of someone without pancreatitis.
4. It’s the #1 Cause of Tooth Decay – Listen, we love seeing our patients and treating any form tooth ailments in our dental clinics, but more so, we love helping our patients prevent tooth decay. While sugar is not the only culprit (please floss) it certainly is the number one cause.
5. Sugar Ages You Faster Through Glycation – Through a process called glycation, sugar produces harmful free radicals called AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Products) that accumulate in your body to damage proteins and age you faster. Sugar dries out your skin and damages your vision. Drinking from the fountain of youth can be as simple as saying no to excess sugars.
6. Facts 1-5 Increase Cancer & Heart Disease Risk – If the previous facts were not enough to make you take a second look at your sugar intake, consider that every single one of them leads down a road towards heart disease and other types of cancers. This is sobering, but an important thought to ponder next time you are in a grocery store.
You might be feeling a little sad after reading those cold hard facts, but we are not saying to cut out every gram of sugar from your life. You might say “But I still have a sweet tooth! I can’t help or control myself!” The good news for you is that there are plenty of ways to satisfy your sweet tooth and pack in multitudes of nutrition and vitamins. There are ways to improve your nutrition and prevent diabetes by looking for nutrient dense foods.
These are foods that have a high nutritive value in comparison with their calorie content (generally low). Soda, for example, is not a nutrient dense food with its high calorie content and zero nutritional value. Blueberries are an example of a nutrient dense food with its low calorie count and abundance of antioxidants, nutrients, and fiber. And bonus, they are anti-inflammatory unlike cane sugar! Changing your mind about how you get your sweet fix can change the course of your life.
It is healthy to incorporate treats into your life with moderation. Here are a couple measures you can take to avoid falling into the sugar trap; Check your local community for Diabetes Prevention classes or Diabetes Management education. Look for cookbooks or recipes online that offer alternative baking recipies and healthy nutrient dense smoothies and bowls. Speak with your doctor, a nutritionist or a registered dietitian. Try safe, natural sugar substitutes such as stevia or monk fruit. Eat healthy full-fat and whole foods, such as avocado or natural peanut butter, to cut down sugar cravings. The bottom line is; there are many solutions to help prevent disease from sugar and we highly encourage you read more about this topic for your own health. The CDC is a great place to start.
So the next time you see a cute gingerbread man, remember that he is suffering from too much sugar inside of him, too. There is no helping the gingerbread man at this point, but you can help you. Best to avoid this guy at all costs to give you both a chance at a long and happy life.