The consequences of a sugar-heavy diet far outweigh the common stereotype that it is simply a contributor to obesity. In fact, it’s the culprit behind many of today’s most pressing health issues. It’s no surprise that it has earned that designation when you realize how added sugar is in almost everything we consume. From bread to pasta sauce, cereal to soup, added sugar is a staple in many American’s diets. And we’re seeing the consequences.
Heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and obesity are the top chronic conditions in the US. In fact, about half of all US adults, (roughly 117 million!) have one or more of these chronic conditions. Sugar has a uniquely adverse effect on our bodies’ chemical and biological functions like causing inflammation or impairing insulin regulation. But it’s important to distinguish the types of sugars that cause these impairments. Sugars that are naturally found in fruits are not the culprit, it’s the added sugars like white table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and even healthy sounding alternatives like agave and fruit juice concentrate that can wreck havoc on our bodies.
As of June 1, 2016, the FDA has set a limit on the recommended amount of sugar intake per day – 50 grams, and for good reason. Take a look at the toll sugar can take on your body. Did you know it has even been linked to certain cancers?
We’re all familiar with the obesity epidemic that is affecting everyone from kids to adults. The affordability and availability of foods and drinks with high levels of added sugars in stores, malls, parks and so on makes it easier for the average American to integrate them into their everyday diet. By doing so, and in combination with a lack of exercise, we are subjecting ourselves to a diet that is weak in nutritional value.
Insulin is a hormone vital to the proper digestion of glucose and fatty acids (sugar and fats). After a meal is ingested, insulin is secreted by the pancreas to balance out blood glucose levels. This is done by helping cells in the body absorb the glucose from the bloodstream and, in excess, to be stored in the form of glycogen in tissue. The greater the amount of glucose and fats in the meal, the more insulin the pancreas’s beta cells have to secrete to even out the blood sugar levels. At some point, the body won’t be able to keep up with the high demands for insulin. This will result in chronically high levels of blood glucose, leading to prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, or type 2 diabetes.
High Cholesterol and Atherosclerosis:
If an individual has diabetes (because of consuming high levels of sugars and fats), it could be that they also have higher levels of LDL cholesterol, the “bad cholesterol”. If consumed in high amounts, cholesterol and triglycerides can begin to deposit on the inner walls of the arteries, forming a hard layer called plaque. Atherosclerosis is the condition that results from this, where the plaque is continually growing and blocking off greater surface area of the artery. Consequences of this condition include, but are not limited to:
- Hypertension: Now that the blood has a narrower pathway through which to travel, it will require more pressure to get through.
- Strokes: When the plaque forms and blood is traveling at a slower rate through the blood vessels, this will make it easier for blood clots to form. As such, blood flow to certain parts of the brain may be limited or blocked, causing a stroke.
- Heart attack: Similar to strokes, if the blood is blocked off from the coronary artery – the artery that supplies blood to the heart – then the heart itself will stop functioning.
Although the link between type 2 diabetes and cancer is not entirely clear, it has been observed that – more often than not – patients diagnosed with diabetes will also be at a higher risk of developing certain kinds of cancers, like breast cancer. It’s also been suggested that sugar can actually fuel the cancer cells. In fact, cancer cells have insulin receptors on their surface. When insulin binds to them, it sends a message for them to start consuming glucose. In the same ways that typical body cells need glucose to function and develop, so do cancerous cells. The tumor therefore utilizes glucose to spread and grow. This may further explain the relation between diabetic patients and the fact that they are more prone to developing cancer.
Sugars may add calories to one’s diet, but they are “empty” – containing little to no nutritional value. The sugar content in American foods makes for an unhealthy diet, causing us to be more susceptible to chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. The jury’s still out on the exercise vs diet debate, but the quality of the calories you’re taking in and their contribution to illnesses or lack thereof is important. Moral of the story: If your ancestors didn’t eat it, neither should you.