According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 70% of Americans consume at least 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. The American Heart Association says that women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons per day of added sugar, and men only 9 teaspoons.
That’s 25 and 36 grams of added sugar, respectively. So, 22 teaspoons, which is a whopping 91 grams, is clearly high. Even though this number is alarming, many people have no idea exactly why eating too much sugar is detrimental to a person’s health.
Since the late 60’s, sugar consumption has been on the rise, with more and more companies adding sugar to foods. Why? because quite frankly, the sweet stuff sells.
Also in the 60’s, little was known about empty calories, or the effects of high blood sugar on the body.
What Kind Of Sugar Are You Eating?
Here, it’s important to make the distinction between added sugar and fruit sugar. Added sugar, known chemically as sucrose, consisting of glucose and fructose,is found in candy, cakes, cookies, and increasingly in pre-packaged commercially available foods that you would otherwise think were healthy.
The sugar that is contained in fruit is different because unlike added sugar, which is considered empty calories, fruit contains vitamins, minerals, and fiber that help maintain a more normal blood sugar level.
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The problem with consuming too much added sugar on a consistent basis is that a person’s bodily mechanisms for lowering blood sugar may eventually stop working. When this happens,excess sugar remains in the blood stream longer causing a number of health issues that can become quite serious and even deadly.
One health issue in particular is called Diabetes Mellitus Type 2. Type 2 Diabetes is a complex progressive disease in which “insulin resistance” and pancreatic dysfunction can occur.
There are a number of reasons why Diabetes develops including family history of the disease, obesity, damage to the pancreas, sedentary lifestyle, and a diet consisting of excess added sugar coupled with poor health.
Sugar consumption alone does not dictate the development of Diabetes, but with all the evidence pointing to the effects of high blood sugar levels relative to the develop of Diabetes, and other diseases, it’s important to limit sugar intake.
So How Does Sugar Cause Disease?
To truly understand how blood sugar works, and why it needs to be lowered in the first place, we need to cover a little anatomy and physiology.
When a person eats sugar, it eventually makes its way into the blood stream. Your body tries to maintain a homeostatic (balanced) blood sugar state. Some sugar remains in the blood while the rest is moved into cells and used as energy for cellular function or stored in fat cells as energy to be used at a later date. The way the sugar, or let’s just say it now, glucose is moved from the blood and into the cells is by way of a hormone known as insulin. Insulin is made in an organ called the pancreas.
The pancreas releases insulin into the blood stream to maintain homeostasis. This homeostasis is threatened when the pancreas is worn out or the cells that recognize insulin when it arrives with glucose no longer work properly.
Let’s break down these two malfunctions …
First, the pancreas can become overworked and therefore unable to make and release adequate insulin in response to high blood sugar levels. Sometimes genetics is responsible for the pancreas giving out, and sometimes its damage to the pancreas, other times it’s due to adiet of excess sugar and overall poor health.
Secondly, when the cells that utilize glucose no longer recognize insulin when it arrives with glucose, it’s called insulin resistance.
Think of insulin resistance this way. You are throwing a party and you have a doorman. But so many people are arriving, your doorman becomes overwhelmed and can no longer answer the door on time or doesn’t even hear the doorbell, leaving many guest waiting outside. As more guest show up, they begin to crowd your yard. Now think of the sugar molecules as the guests and insulin as the guys who ring the doorbell. All are left outside in the blood stream.
So What Effect Does This Have On Your Body?
Well the biggest effect is damage to the blood vessel walls. Certain molecules are great for vessel walls and actually help with its integrity. Other molecules disrupt its integrity, and sugar can be one of them.
Yes sugar is already circulating in the blood stream, but when sugar can’t be utilized a build-up of sugar occurs and crowds the vessel. The lining of the vessel known as the endothelium is then ulcerated by the sugar allowing cholesterol in behind the lining where it forms plagues (basically a layer of gunk.)
The damaged vessels and plagues cause a number of problems in tissue and organs including susceptibility to infection.
For example, eye sight is affected because of damage to the tiny vessels located near the retina. Thus blindness is a concern for Diabetics; so is kidney damage, and damage to nerves that rely on tiny blood vessels.
Diabetics often end up on dialysis to help eliminate the molecules from the blood that the kidneys can no longer remove. Diabetics also experience decreased feelings in their feet and reduced blood circulation. When they get a cut, the healing process, which relies on tiny vessels, is inhibited leading to higher risk of infection.
Larger scale vessel damage can lead to cardiovascular disease and a hardening of the arties known as atherosclerosis. Plague build up can also cause blood clots leading to stroke.
High blood sugar levels can also cause a condition known as hyperglycemia which includes symptoms such as:
- Increased thirst
- Trouble concentrating
- Blurred Vision
- Frequent peeing
Hyperglycemia typically occurs when the blood sugar is above 180 mg/dl.
Is It Important For You To Check Your Blood Sugar?
Well that depends on several factors. One is age. If you are over 45, then checking your blood sugar is a good idea even if you are not obese or experiencing symptoms of hyperglycemia. If your family has a history of diabetes, then it is also wise to check blood sugar periodically.
Also of concern is condition known as Prediabetes which can lead to Diabetes Type 2. This condition is less symptomatic, so many people aren’t aware they have it. Hence, another good reason to check your blood sugar. Luckily both Prediabetes and Diabetes Type 2 typically respond to diet and exercise. Some cases do not, but it never hurts to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Use this helpful chart to check your blood sugar. You can go to the doctor to have it checked or you can use a glucometer (blood sugar reading device) at home.
In general, the magic numbers to remember as normal are less than 100 on empty and 140 after eating.
In summary, sugar consumption is on the rise and it seems to be a run-away train affecting millions of people globally, deteriorating their health and costing billions in health care expenses. This is not to say that sugar is all bad. Your body does need some for energy purposes.
The key here is to eat less added sugar, stay within the guidelines, and when possible use nutrient dense sugar sources to fuel your body. Excess sugar can wear out your pancreas, diminish your cells ability to recognize insulin, and damage your blood vessels which can lead to tissue and organ damage.
Lastly, it’s important to check your blood sugar, and follow a healthy lifestyle plan, so you live longer and have a better quality of life.
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