4 Min Read
Sugar; A Brief Guide to the World’s Most Popular Drug
Happy Halloween! How many M&M's, Reese's, Snickers, Butterfingers, or whatever do you think you'll take down this week? If you're like most Americans, the answer is "too many."
The holiday season of sugar starts this week and runs through the end of the year. We begin with candy at Halloween, move to Carbapalooza at Thanksgiving, and then wrap the whole thing up with a month of cookies and booze. The upcoming two months are a sugar addict's dream.
Think you're not addicted to sugar? Think again. While not technically considered a drug like heroin or cocaine, sugar has the same effects on our brains and is by far the worldwide drug of choice.
Many of us addicts live in denial because we equate sugar with the granular version we carefully control in our coffee or on our cereal. In reality, sugar comes in many variations, often referred to as the "oses." Anytime you see a word ending in 'ose on an ingredients label, it's sugar.
Sucrose, lactose, maltose, glucose, and fructose are all types of sugar, and contrary to popular belief, no one sugar is better for you than another. Sugar is sugar in any form.
Signs of addiction
So, are you addicted to sugar? Here's a little test, and you can judge the results for yourself. These are some of the symptoms associated with sugar addiction:
- Do you feel sluggish or tired after eating certain foods?
- Have you tried to cut down or stop eating certain foods unsuccessfully?
- Do you sometimes eat to the point of physical discomfort?
- Are you distracted by food while performing routine activities like driving?
- Do you have strong urges to eat certain foods?
- Have you experienced emotional problems (hangry), and eating certain foods helps you feel better?
If one or more of these symptoms describes you, it might be a good time to cut back on your sugar consumption. Keep in mind that our bodies don't like it when we kick our addictions, and the result may be unpleasant for a few days. Withdrawal symptoms like headaches, shakiness, and irritability are sure signs of an addiction, but don't let them stop you.
The sugar effect
Too many people believe sugar to be harmless, but it has serious health consequences and links to almost every chronic disease. Sugar isn't a bunch of empty calories that you work off in the gym. The potential health effects of sugar consumption include:
- Elevated blood sugar - one study found that honey, sucrose, and high-fructose corn syrup affected blood sugar similarly.
- Increased inflammation - Research shows a direct correlation to a rise in inflammatory markers with even moderate sugar consumption.
- Gut problems - High-sugar diets are known risk factors for developing and progressing irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Insulin resistance - The pancreas produces more insulin as a result of excess fructose consumption. Eventually, the overwhelming amount of insulin causes the liver to become resistant and unable to regulate blood sugar.
- Cardiovascular disease - One study reports that people who get 25% or more of their calories from sugar are almost three times more likely to die of heart disease.
Other possible health effects of sugar are Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, and a potential link to ADHD.
How much is too much?
Let's make something perfectly clear before we get into the weeds and tell you the daily recommended sugar intake. Our bodies create the sugar we need from the foods we eat. Sugar is not a nutrient, and we don't need to add it to our food in any form.
Incredibly, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends up to 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day for a person consuming 2000 calories. To put this into perspective, go to your kitchen and place 12 teaspoons of table sugar into a glass. That's a lot of sugar!
The American Heart Association recommends six teaspoons for women and nine for men, while the World Health Organization proposes a maximum of six teaspoons for everyone. Still a lot of sugar!
Without being conspiratorial and thinking that there are some big food lobbyists behind the scenes, let's give these organizations the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they realize that instructing people to remove sugar from their diet would be too much for us to accept. After all, any reduction to the average American's sugar consumption of a whopping 17 teaspoons per day is progress.
Not so fun fact: In 2016 alone, the total reported contributions of sugar companies to American politicians on both sides of the aisle was nearly $8 million, according to opensecrets.org.
To help kick the sugar habit, we need a plan. Saying you're going to cut back on sugar and not eat sweets is simply a recipe for failure. Here's a plan of action to reduce the effects of sugar on our lives.
Eat whole foods
Choose whole foods that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Avoid processed foods whenever possible.
Read the ingredients
Look for any of the 'oses on our food labels. For a comprehensive list of common sugars found in our foods, click here. Remember that there's no such thing as healthy sugar.
The easiest place to demonstrate willpower is in the grocery store. Don't shop hungry and avoid keeping sweets at your home or office.
Avoid juice and soda
Don't drink your empty calories. Marketers lead us to believe that fruit juice is healthy, but it's loaded with sugar. Even when juicing at home, what you're actually doing is squeezing the sugar from fruit and eliminating the fiber. We shouldn't need to say anything about soda's health benefits because they are absolutely zero, and diet sodas are worse for you than regular.
Now put down that candy bar you liberated from your kid's trick-or-treat bag. It's time to take control of our sugar addiction.
Kicking the sugar habit won't be easy, but it will change your life.
Anther. Male wellness where you need it most.