We all need blood sugar. But when we consume too much sugar, we put ourselves at risk for lethargy and disease. Here's how sugar affects our bodies.
We all need blood sugar. Commonly called blood glucose, it’s the source of energy for our bodies’ cells, muscles, and other organs including our brains. We need it to survive.
When we eat, our bodies digest the food to break it down into glucose. The glucose enters our bloodstream and is delivered to each of our bodies’ cells by insulin. Normal glucose levels change throughout the day from between 70 to 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) in the morning before eating to up to between 135 to 140 one to two hours after eating.
When our circulatory and metabolic systems are working well, we have energy, stamina and health.
When we consume too much sugar or too many simple carbohydrates, we overload our bodies and put ourselves at risk for lethargy and disease.
Even if we just ate whole, natural foods without adding any sugar, our bodies could make all the glucose needed for optimal health and well-being.
But, as a society, we, Americans love our sugar.
The average American eats 156 pounds of sugar a year. That’s well over the American Heart Association’s daily recommendation of 6 teaspoons or 20 grams of added sugar for women; 9 teaspoons or 36 grams for men; and 3 teaspoons or 12 grams for children.
If all those sugar calories consumed in a year were turned to body weight, the average American would gain and extra 78 pounds each year.
But it’s not just added weight. All that extra sugar has a damaging impact on our bodies.
- Sugar affects our brains. Our brains cannot store glucose and without a continuous supply, brain cells can die. As a matter of fact, our brain cells require two times the glucose needed by the other cells in our body. Glucose in the right amount is good for the brain – it’s the added sugar that is deadly. Too much glucose in the bloodstream can compromise brain cells’ ability to communicate. It can affect memory, idea processing and mood.
- Increased sugars may feed some cancer. Research from the University of Copenhagen shows increased sugar may feed some cancers. It may also have an impact on the development of breast and colon cancers. Some of the tumors may have insulin receptors that need glucose to survive.
- Sugar can cause tooth decay. Sugar has a major impact on your overall oral health, but consuming sugar laden drinks like soda or juices, allows it to get into every nook and cranny of your teeth. The longer sugar remains in your mouth, the easier it is for bacteria to grow and cause cavities.
- Sugar can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This condition was virtually unheard of before 1980. A fat liver does not perform as well as a healthy liver. This forces the pancreas to make extra insulin – and you won’t always notice this effect. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating more than 1,000 calories of sugar a day increased the body weight of 16 subjects by just 2 percent, but increased liver fat 27 percent in just three weeks.
- Sugar increases bad cholesterol. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that normal weight and healthy people who ate the highest levels of added sugars recorded the highest increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglyceride blood fats, and the lowest increase in HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
- Sugar creates a voracious appetite. Most of us realize that eating too much sugar, especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup, will make us gain weight, but we may not realize that those sweet treats may also cause us to eat too much. Fructose interferes with the production of leptin, a hormone that tells the brain we have eaten enough. Without this critical communication component working properly, we will have a tendency to eat not only the first portion, but a second and maybe even a third helping before we feel satiated. Sugar in all of its forms will inhibit leptin production.