You have heard that our diets have too much sugar. What does this mean? How does sugar affect our health, short-term and long-term? A large body of research shows the detrimental effects of excessive sugar, from tooth decay to diabetes. High-fructose corn syrup is especially villainized. And sugar is even blamed for hurting immunity.
Humans have the teeth of frugivores — fruit eaters. We have a natural “sweet tooth.” However, we have succeeded in maintaining a consistent and varied food supply. And we do not exert ourselves as much as our ancestors. Therefore, modern humans need a modern diet.
Unfortunately, we tend to take shortcuts. Processed foods are often high in sugar. Sugar increases shelf life and improves the flavor. While fresh apples rot after a time, applesauce with added sucrose will last months or years on the shelf.
Research shows that sugar:
- Reduces white blood cell effectiveness, suppressing immunity1
- Hurts cholesterol numbers2
- Increases age-related macular degeneration risk3
- Contributes to cardiovascular disease even more than saturated fats4
Soda and High Fructose Corn Syrup
The first place to start look is sweetened beverages. Soda is very high in sugar. Most soda is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HVCS). HFCS is a highly processed product that caused rodents to gain weight and show signs of metabolic syndrome.5 Read the labels on drinks that you consume regularly. Reduce and eliminate high fructose corn syrup and added sugars.
Fruit juice is natural, but high in fructose. Only 2 to 4 ounces per day is plenty for most people. Eat whole, fresh fruit for the fiber and extra vitamins.
Read the nutrition facts for fancy coffees and tea. Note the grande sizes. These expensive beverages contain many hidden grams of added sugar and saturated fat.
Sugar in Processed Foods
Become an obsessive label reader. Look for foods with 0 grams of added sugar. This guideline alone will eliminate most processed foods from your diet. Instead, shop the edges of the grocery store – fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, beans, peas, whole grains – and cook at home.
Your brain will send you a signal when you have had enough whole foods such as grapes or oranges. However, refined sugar does not trigger the “brakes” and you keep eating! Avoid processed foods when possible. When baking, favor natural sweeteners such as fruit and moderate amounts of honey and molasses.
Safe sweetness guidelines:6
- Avoid all artificial sweeteners: sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame. Some have short-term health effects (headaches) and/or long-term consequences including cancer, and is toxic to brain cells.
- Agave, made from cactus, is touted as a health food. However, it is highly processed and not much better than table sugar.
- Sugar alcohols include sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol. They contain fewer carbohydrates than sugar, but excess amounts can raise blood sugar. Half the carbs are not digested, which can cause diarrhea and bloating.
- Stevia is an herb that stimulates the sugar receptor cells on the tongue, is safe, has no calories, and even has some positive health properties. It comes in powder and liquid form, ans can be added to beverages (great in teas or make your own soda by combining 3/4 seltzer and 1/4 juice then add a small amount of stevia. It can also be used in baking. Excess stevia tastes bitter, so add in small amount or follow recipe direction.
Note that intake of refined carbohydrates is quickly converted to sugar in the body so should be avoided as well.
Up Next: Try the Vision Diet for less sugar and vision-boosting nutrients.
- “Immune System Busters”. Cold, Flu, and Cough Health Center. WebMD, 2012 ↩
- Emily Sonestedt, et al, on, High disaccharide intake associates with atherogenic lipoprotein profile, British Journal of Nutrition, 2011 ↩
- Laurie Barclay, et al, Diet High in Refined Carbohydrates May Increase Risk for Age-Related Macular Degeneration. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007 ↩
- F. B. Hu, Are refined carbohydrates worse than saturated fat? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010 ↩
- Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2010 Nov; 97(1): 101–106. Published online 2010 Feb 26. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2010.02.012 PMCID: PMC3522469. High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels Miriam E. Bocarsly, Elyse S. Powell, Nicole M. Avena, and Bartley G. Hoebel. ↩
- Sweetener information from “10 Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes” By Mara Betsch March 02, 2015 Health.com accessed 4/5/2020 ↩