Sugar intake among Americans has increased significantly, and the Cleveland Clinic warns that most people do not realize just how much they are eating. Health experts consider naturally occurring sugars, such as fructose in fruit and lactose in milk, important in a balanced diet. However, sugars added to foods during processing or preparation can lead to several health issues if consumed in excess.
The recommended daily sugar intake pertains to the amount of added sugars you consume. The American Heart Association suggests limiting added sugars to 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men. Keep in mind that added sugar takes many forms on ingredient lists, including high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, molasses, honey and fruit concentrate. You must take all of these into account because, despite the different names, your body metabolizes them all in the same manner.
Sugar typically has three fates after digestion. The hormone insulin facilitates the transport of blood sugar, called blood glucose, into cells. Your cells then metabolize glucose into energy for immediate use. Glucose molecules not needed for energy are connected into long chains called glycogen; your liver and muscles store glycogen chains and break them down for energy as needed, typically between meals when blood glucose begins to drop. Your body has a limited capacity for glycogen storage, so any glucose that exists beyond this goes through a process called lipogenesis, which converts excess glucose to fat.
Consequences of Too Much Sugar
In addition to fat conversion, excess sugar tricks the brain into thinking you are still hungry, according to Dr. Robest Lustig, an obesity expert at the University of California San Francisco. Added sugars usually come in energy-dense foods or beverages that offer little nutrition or satiety, driving you to eat excess calories. Too much sugar also stimulates your pancreas to secrete more insulin. Over time, your body can grow resistant to the extra insulin in your blood, which leads to inefficient blood glucose control and increased lipogenesis.
Decreasing Your Intake
Health experts recognize that completely avoiding added sugars is nearly impossible in today’s society, but you can still benefit from decreasing your intake. Pay attention to ingredient lists and look for the different forms of added sugar; many foods have multiple sources. Instead of pouring syrup on your pancakes or adding sugar to your cereal, use fresh fruit. Cut the sugar you add to your coffee in half. Drink 100 percent juice instead of juice blends and cocktails. Artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose and aspartame, can provide sweetness without the calories, but MayoClinic.com warns that you should use sugar substitutes in moderation.
- Cleveland Clinic: Eating Too Much Sugar? Tame Your Sweet Tooth
- American Heart Association: Sugar and Carbohydrates
- Elmhurst College: Sucrose
- Elmhurst College: Acetyl CoA: Cross Roads Compound
- University of California San Francisco: Sugar Is a Poison, Says UCSF Obesity Expert
- MayoClinic.com: Artificial Sweeteners: Understanding These and Other Sugar Substitutes
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