Foods taste sweet because they contain sugars which can be naturally occurring or added. What’s the main difference between the two?
Naturally occurring sugars are the sugars found in whole foods, for instance, fruit, milk, vegetables, and some grains. Fructose and lactose in fruit and milk products, respectively, are naturally occurring sugars. On the other hand, sugars and syrups added to foods during preparation or processing, or added at the table are known as added sugars.
Added sugars function to enhance the flavor and texture of foods, to increase shelf life, and to make the foods palatable.
Americans consume at the average of 22 teaspoons of added sugars every day which is equivalent to 88 g of sugar or nearly 352 calories. The major sources of added sugars are regular sodas, cakes, candy, pies, cookies, energy drinks, and fruit drinks (fruit ade and fruit punch); dairy desserts and milk products (ice cream, sweetened milk and yogurt); and other grains (cinnamon toast, granola bar, and honey-nut waffles).
No matter what types of sugars are used, whether they are the natural sweetener like honey or raw sugar, a refined product like table sugar, or manufactured sugar like high-fructose corn syrup, all added sugars can pose health risks. Added sugar, especially taken in excess, can have harmful effects on metabolism and contribute to the development of many diseases.
The followings are 10 disturbing reasons why added sugars are considered detrimental to health.
Empty Calories and Tooth Decay
As you have probably heard many times before, added sugars like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) only provide you calories without the essential nutrients, for which they are called empty calories. They are purely energy source and lacking proteins, essential fats, vitamin or minerals.
Eating sugars that make up 10-20 percent of calories or more can pose health issues besides contributing to nutrient deficiencies.
Acting as digestible energy sources that help to feed harmful bacteria in the mouth, sugars cause tooth decay.
Overloads You Liver
In order to understand why excessive added sugar intakes are harmful, it would be better for you to understand what they are made of.
Sugars are composed of equal parts of glucose and fructose. In the digestive tract, sugars are broken down into two simple sugars, glucose and fructose, before entering the bloodstream.
Glucose is found in and metabolized by every cell in your body. Conversely, fructose is only available for the body from your diet and solely metabolized by the liver.
Eating moderate amounts of fructose such as from fruit in a healthy person or you just finished an exercise won’t pose harmful effects as it will be turned into glycogen and subsequently stored in your liver. By contrast, eating a lot of fructose will overload the liver if the liver is full of glycogen, forcing the organ to turn the fructose into fat.
When large amounts of sugar taken repeatedly, this process will eventually lead to fatty liver and metabolic syndrome.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Taking excess fructose can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which in the end can lodge in the liver. After turned into fat in the liver, fructose is shipped out as VLDL cholesterol particles. However, some of the fats stay behind and can lodge in the liver.
This eventually leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is strongly associated with metabolic diseases. Studies have found that people with fatty liver consume up to 2-3 times as much fructose as the average person.
Insulin, a very important hormone in the body, through a cascade of reactions that allows glucose (blood sugar) to enter cells from the bloodstream by the help of GLUT4 transporters and tells the cells to start burning glucose instead of fat.
However, taking too much sugar may overload the blood with glucose over time which is highly toxic and can cause complications in diabetes, including neuropathy and blindness.
The higher glucose in the blood the higher insulin are produced and secreted by the pancreas. As cells only allow the entrance certain amount of glucose for its optimal energy generating activities, too much insulin will eventually make the cells resist the docking of extra insulin to their receptors. This leads to, insulin resistance, meaning cells (insulin receptors) repel insulin.
Many studies have found that high sugar consumption is associated with insulin resistance which is thought to be a leading cause of many diseases, including metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type II diabetes.
Type II Diabetes
Chronically high blood glucose (hyperglycemia) and insulin resistance cause the pancreas to produce higher levels of insulin that result in high insulin levels in your blood (hyperinsulinemia).
As insulin resistance becomes progressively worse, the pancreas that produces insulin at high capacity eventually becomes exhausted which cause the pancreas to produce less insulin, thus make the blood glucose levels remains high. This condition is diagnosed with type II diabetes.
Given that excess sugar intake can cause insulin resistant, it is no big wonder to see that people who excessively drink sugar-sweetened beverages have a higher risk of Type II diabetes.
Scientists believe that insulin and IGF-1 play some roles as important growth factors, via a cascade of reactions that enhance tumor cell proliferation. By that, they also believe that hyperinsulinemia (constantly elevated insulin levels, a consequent of excess sugar consumption) can contribute to cancer.
Moreover, the metabolic issues associated with excess sugar consumption are a known factor of inflammation which is due to elevated free radical levels, another potential cause of cancer. Many studies have shown that people who consume a lot of sugar are at a much higher risk of cancer.
Although fructose and glucose have the same calorific value, in the body, the two sugars are metabolized differently. Fructose is thought to cause seven times as much cell damage as does glucose because it binds to cellular proteins seven times faster. In addition, it releases 100 times the number of reactive oxygen species such as hydrogen peroxide, which kills everything in sight.
Not all foods are created equal as different foods can have different effects on our brains and the hormones that control food intake.
Studies show that fructose doesn’t have the similar satiety effect as glucose. In one study, participants were asked to drink either a fructose-sweetened drink or a glucose-sweetened drink. Afterward, the fructose drinkers were found to have much less activity in the satiety centers of the brain and felt hungrier.
Another study has shown that fructose didn’t lower the hunger hormone ghrelin nearly as much as glucose did. As the calories from fructose in HFCS aren’t as fulfilling, this can translate into an increased sugar intake, thus increased calorie intake.
Similar to street drugs, sugar causes a release of dopamine in the reward center of the brain. Therefore, many people are susceptible to its addictive potential.
Exposures to sugar and many junk foods can cause massive dopamine release, much more than we compared to that of foods found in nature, thereby people who are susceptible to addiction can become strongly addicted to sugar and other junk foods.
The best advice for those addicted to sugary foods is not ‘take them in moderation’, as the workable solution to addiction is abstinence.
The way sugar affects hormones and the brain is a recipe for disastrous fat gain that leads to decreased satiety and can get people addicted that results in you losing control over food consumption.
Many studies have shown a strong statistical association between sugar consumption and obesity. This applies to all age groups.
Raises Cholesterol (Oxysterol)
There is mounting evidence that sugar, not fat, can be one of the leading causes of heart disease via the harmful effects of fructose that lead to metabolic problems.
Excessive fructose intake (consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages) is associated with all major risk factors for heart disease, including raised triglycerides, small, dense LDL and oxidized LDL (due to oxidized cholesterol, also known as oxysterol, which is caused by elevated free radical levels), raise blood glucose and insulin levels and increased abdominal obesity that can happen as little as 10 weeks.
Furthermore, many observational studies have shown a strong statistical association between sugar consumption and the risk of heart disease.