What Too Much Sugar Does to Your Body
Cancer has been deemed a global epidemic. In a Swiss study on the incidence of cancer around the world, the over-consumption of sugar in industrialized countries was found to be 1 of the primary culprits. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that 30-40% of healthcare expenditures go toward treating sugar-related illness and disease.
A 2014 study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation was the first to look into how malignant and benign cancer cells respond to increased glucose.
All cells consume glucose for fuel. What researchers found is that not only do cancerous cells (both malignant and benign) consume sugar but excess sugar disrupts normal cell expression and causes “upregulated canonical oncogenic signaling” (development of tumors). (14) This is caused by complex metabolic reactions of cells to sugar.
Interestingly and encouragingly, when sugar intake is reduced, cells go back to normal function over time.
Sugar = Body Fat
Simply put: eating too much sugar will make you fat. That’s because sugar promotes weight gain in several ways, some of which are mentioned above. Clinical studies have proven unequivocally that increased intake of sugar causes weight gain. In fact, a meta-analysis of the consequences of excessive dietary sugar showed that after an observation period of 1 year, the propensity for weight gain and obesity in people who regularly consumed sugary foods was on average 55% higher than for those who reduced sugar intake.
“In trials of adults with ad libitum diets (that is, with no strict control of food intake), reduced intake of dietary sugars was associated with a decrease in body weight (0.80 kg, 95% confidence interval 0.39 to 1.21; P<0.001); increased sugars intake was associated with a comparable weight increase,” according to a 2013 study. (15)
The Dangers of Soda
The amount of soda and soft drink consumption especially correlates to significant weight gain, directly leading to obesity and diabetes. Diet soda is just as bad as its non-diet counterpart in that artificial sweeteners aren’t metabolized by the body and are therefore stored in fat cells, causing inflammation and weight gain. Billions of gallons of soda are consumed every year in the United States.
In fact, a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states:
“Findings from large cross-sectional studies, in conjunction with those from well-powered prospective cohort studies with long periods of follow-up, show a positive association between greater intakes of SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] and weight gain and obesity in both children and adults… a 12-oz serving [12 oz = 1 can of soda (or 1 soda) = 1 serving] of soda provides 150 kcal and 40–50 g sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup [(HFCS) ≈45% glucose and 55% fructose], which is equivalent to 10 teaspoons of table sugar. If these calories are added to the typical US diet without reducing intake from other sources, 1 soda/d could lead to a weight gain of 15 lb or 6.75 kg in 1 y.” (16)
This means that if you drink even 1 can/bottle of soda or sweetened beverage per day with no other change to your diet or exercise, you can gain 15 pounds in a year due purely to the extra sugar content.
How Much Sugar is Too Much?
Naturally-occurring sugars like those found in fruits also come with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that facilitate their metabolism and allow cells to effectively use their nourishment.
The daily recommended amounts of carbohydrates are dependent upon age, size, and activity level. However, on average, the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars (not naturally-occurring) to 6 teaspoons/30 grams a day (about 100 calories) for women and 9 teaspoons/45 grams (about 150 calories) for men. (17)
Nutrition labels list the total carbohydrates in a packaged food and break that number into fiber and sugars. As a rule of thumb, more than 22.5g of sugar is considered too much sugar and 5g or less is low. (18) Total carbohydrate intake should make up roughly 45-65% of your daily calorie intake.
With a typical 2000-calorie/day diet, 900-1300 calories or 225-325 grams should come from carbohydrates. (19) You can use labels to figure out how much added sugar and total carbohydrates you’re getting from packaged food in a day. You can also find the carbohydrate content of produce by using resources like Nutrition Facts.
To give you an idea of the carbohydrate content of typical foods:
- 1 slice of white bread contains 15g (1.5g added sugar)
- 100g of pasta contains 25g (8% of total recommended daily allowance)
- 100g of rice contains 28g (.1g sugar)
- 1 medium-sized apple: 19g (including fiber)
- 100g of typical breakfast cereal: 68g (1g added sugar)
- 1 12-ounce can of cola: 39g (all sugar)
- 1 medium-sized carrot: 6g (including fiber)
Artificial Sweeteners – Better than Sugar?
Artificial sweeteners are not a great alternative to refined sugar. Overwhelming evidence points to their contribution to obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease, metabolic syndrome, depression, chronic headaches, and cancer.
These sweeteners include:
- Aspartame (Equal®, NutraSweet®)
- Splenda (sucralose)
- High fructose corn syrup
- Sweet ‘n’ Low (saccharin)
Natural sugar sources like honey, maple syrup, fruits, and molasses add nutrients as well as sweetness. Relatively low on the glycemic index as compared with refined sugars, they are not only safe to use but promote wellness.
Additionally, because of their nutrition, they are more satisfying than refined sugars to fulfill the desire for a sweet taste, preventing over-consumption:
- Honey (raw and unpasteurized) – a superfood that is anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial, and packed with nutrients and antioxidants.
- Maple syrup – kills cancer cells; rich in minerals, anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, and unique phytochemicals that benefit human health.
- Molasses – mineral-rich, including calcium, iron, potassium, selenium, and magnesium.
- Fruit juice (real juice from fruit without added sugar) – high in natural sugars but contains lots of vitamins and minerals.
Click here for a short guide on sweeteners, natural and otherwise.
How to Recover from Sugar Addiction
If you’re addicted to sugar, there are ways to wean yourself from it. You’ll notice the difference in how you feel pretty quickly.
Depending on how much added/artificial sugar you’re used to consuming in a day and how long you’ve done so, you may actually experience withdrawal symptoms. (20) Like any other addiction, your body will respond to the absence of sugar:
- Changes in appetite/food cravings
- Impulsive behaviors
- Weight loss
You can end your over-consumption of sugar cold turkey or more slowly, making conscious dietary choices to cut out the bad stuff. Stopping abruptly is more likely to result in noticeable symptoms of withdrawal. It can take anywhere from a few days to a month to pass through the withdrawal period. (21)
To ease the discomfort of withdrawal, you can try:
- Increasing your activity level will burn sugar before it has a chance to forever store on your hips.
- Eat a handful of nuts or other protein sources (e.g., beans) with anything sweet to slow digestion and the body’s sugar absorption rate.
- Drinking green tea with lemon will help you to eliminate sugar from your bloodstream faster and keep it from sticking around in your kidneys and liver.
- Eating a protein-rich, low carbohydrate breakfast will kick-start your metabolism for the day. Protein in the first meal of the day promotes the burning of sugars to get you going before the protein kicks in to provide the morning’s energy.
- Drink a smoothie that’s primarily made of vegetables (low in sugar) with a little fruit to provide the sweetness you crave. It’s filling, satisfying, and nutritious without a crash later. (22)
Eating too much sugar? Help yourself kick the habit:
- Remove sugary snacks and artificial sweeteners from your pantry.
- Be kind to yourself. Understand the root of your addiction and the chemistry of it. Don’t feel guilt: instead, make conscious choices to make yourself feel better in the long run.
- With a decrease in sugar intake, your brain won’t produce as much dopamine. (23) Do other things that will lift your mood and don’t involve food, liek spending time with friends.
- Replace sweet treats with foods that make you feel good without the sugar. For instance, raw cocoa contains phytochemicals that increase feel-good hormones. Eggs, cultured dairy, cruciferous and green leafy vegetables, beans, spinach, corn, fish, and poultry contain nutrients that stimulate neurotransmitters, including dopamine.
- Drink plenty of filtered water. Not only will it help flush out excess sugar but dehydration can lead to sugar cravings. (24)
- Keep blood sugar levels stable by grazing on healthy foods throughout the day. Sugar spikes and crashes make you crave more sugar.
- Green and sea vegetables provide minerals that often become depleted with excess sugar and give you the energy boost you crave, without sugar.
- Probiotics will help your digestive system to process sugar and rebalance intestinal flora: kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and miso are all super sources.
- Use peppermint oil to ease withdrawal symptoms, either in a diffuser or by applying topically to your temples and insides of your wrists.
- Chromium helps maintain stable blood sugar levels. Eat more chromium-rich foods: shellfish, brewer’s yeast, broccoli, garlic, grapes, beef, and turkey.
- Click here for tips on how to do a 3-day sugar detox.
Remember: the less sugar you eat, the sweeter real food will taste. Reducing the amount of sugar you eat will make you feel better and live longer, now isn’t that sweet?