What Too Much Sugar Does to Your Body
Cancer has been deemed a global epidemic. In a Swiss study on the incidence of cancer around the world, the over-consumption of sugar in industrialized countries was found to be 1 of the primary culprits. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that 30-40% of healthcare expenditures go toward treating sugar-related illness and disease.
A 2014 study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation was the first to look into how malignant and benign cancer cells respond to increased glucose. All cells consume glucose for fuel. What researchers found is that not only do cancerous cells (both malignant and benign) consume sugar but excess sugar disrupts normal cell expression and causes “upregulated canonical oncogenic signaling” (development of tumors). (14) This is caused by complex metabolic reactions of cells to sugar. Interestingly and encouragingly, when sugar intake is reduced, cells go back to normal function over time.
Sugar = Body Fat
Simply put: eating too much sugar will make you fat. That’s because sugar promotes weight gain in several ways, some of which are mentioned above. Clinical studies have proven unequivocally that increased intake of sugar causes weight gain. In fact, a meta-analysis of the consequences of excessive dietary sugar showed that after an observation period of 1 year, the propensity for weight gain and obesity in people who regularly consumed sugary foods was on average 55% higher than for those who reduced sugar intake.
“In trials of adults with ad libitum diets (that is, with no strict control of food intake), reduced intake of dietary sugars was associated with a decrease in body weight (0.80 kg, 95% confidence interval 0.39 to 1.21; P<0.001); increased sugars intake was associated with a comparable weight increase,” according to a 2013 study. (15)
The Dangers of Soda
The amount of soda and soft drink consumption especially correlates to significant weight gain, directly leading to obesity and diabetes. Diet soda is just as bad as its non-diet counterpart in that artificial sweeteners aren’t metabolized by the body and are therefore stored in fat cells, causing inflammation and weight gain. Billions of gallons of soda are consumed every year in the United States.
In fact, a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states:
“Findings from large cross-sectional studies, in conjunction with those from well-powered prospective cohort studies with long periods of follow-up, show a positive association between greater intakes of SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] and weight gain and obesity in both children and adults… a 12-oz serving [12 oz = 1 can of soda (or 1 soda) = 1 serving] of soda provides 150 kcal and 40–50 g sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup [(HFCS) ≈45% glucose and 55% fructose], which is equivalent to 10 teaspoons of table sugar. If these calories are added to the typical US diet without reducing intake from other sources, 1 soda/d could lead to a weight gain of 15 lb or 6.75 kg in 1 y.” (16)
This means that if you drink even 1 can/bottle of soda or sweetened beverage per day with no other change to your diet or exercise, you can gain 15 pounds in a year due purely to the extra sugar content.
How Much Sugar is Too Much?
Naturally-occurring sugars like those found in fruits also come with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that facilitate their metabolism and allow cells to effectively use their nourishment.
The daily recommended amounts of carbohydrates are dependent upon age, size, and activity level. However, on average, the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars (not naturally-occurring) to 6 teaspoons/30 grams a day (about 100 calories) for women and 9 teaspoons/45 grams (about 150 calories) for men. (17)
Nutrition labels list the total carbohydrates in a packaged food and break that number into fiber and sugars. As a rule of thumb, more than 22.5g of sugar is considered too much sugar and 5g or less is low. (18) Total carbohydrate intake should make up roughly 45-65% of your daily calorie intake.
With a typical 2000-calorie/day diet, 900-1300 calories or 225-325 grams should come from carbohydrates. (19) You can use labels to figure out how much added sugar and total carbohydrates you’re getting from packaged food in a day. You can also find the carbohydrate content of produce by using resources like Nutrition Facts.
To give you an idea of the carbohydrate content of typical foods:
- 1 slice of white bread contains 15g (1.5g added sugar)
- 100g of pasta contains 25g (8% of total recommended daily allowance)
- 100g of rice contains 28g (.1g sugar)
- 1 medium-sized apple: 19g (including fiber)
- 100g of typical breakfast cereal: 68g (1g added sugar)
- 1 12-ounce can of cola: 39g (all sugar)
- 1 medium-sized carrot: 6g (including fiber)
Artificial Sweeteners – Better than Sugar?
Artificial sweeteners are not a great alternative to refined sugar. Overwhelming evidence points to their contribution to obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease, metabolic syndrome, depression, chronic headaches, and cancer.
These sweeteners include:
- Aspartame (Equal®, NutraSweet®)
- Splenda (sucralose)
- High fructose corn syrup
- Sweet ‘n’ Low (saccharin)
Natural sugar sources like honey, maple syrup, fruits, and molasses add nutrients as well as sweetness. Relatively low on the glycemic index as compared with refined sugars, they are not only safe to use but promote wellness.
Additionally, because of their nutrition, they are more satisfying than refined sugars to fulfill the desire for a sweet taste, preventing over-consumption:
- Honey (raw and unpasteurized) – a superfood that is anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial, and packed with nutrients and antioxidants.
- Maple syrup – kills cancer cells; rich in minerals, anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, and unique phytochemicals that benefit human health.
- Molasses – mineral-rich, including calcium, iron, potassium, selenium, and magnesium.
- Fruit juice (real juice from fruit without added sugar) – high in natural sugars but contains lots of vitamins and minerals.