Some people crave salty foods like chips, pretzels or some well-seasoned french fries, while others have a sweet tooth and crave sugar. I, personally, am a very nonpartisan snacker and enjoy both, but what am I doing to my body with my choices? My blood pressure is on the low side so salt is not a big issue for me, but years ago I stopped seasoning all foods with salt for my mom and husband. So now, the smallest amount of salt is enough for my taste buds. Sugar, on the other hand, is an issue, since I’ve never met a piece of dark chocolate I didn’t like.
There is a history of diabetes in my family, so I’m fully aware of the issues with too much sugar. According to my doctor, the maximum amount of sugar grams per day should be 20 or less. The hard part is trying to count grams of sugar when so many foods have what I call “hidden sweets.” From marinara sauce to peanut butter, added sugar can be found in even the most unexpected products. According to healthline.com, in the U.S., added sugars account for up to 17 percent of adults’ total calorie intake, while dietary guidelines suggest limiting calories from added sugar to less than 10 percent per day. There goes that chocolate Easter bunny!
Experts believe that sugar consumption is a major cause of obesity and many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, and should be monitored, along with calorie intake and too much salt. In addition to weight-gain, too much sugar is not good for heart health. Sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas, juices and sweet teas are loaded with fructose, a type of simple sugar that can increase your appetite and desire for starchy foods by causing a resistance to leptin, a hormone that tells your body to stop eating. And starchy foods like pasta, bread, potatoes and rice have glucose, another type of sugar. Sometimes, after I have something sweet, I do get a craving for carbohydrates, which are those starches. Drinking a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked to an increased amount of visceral fat, a kind of deep-belly fat associated with conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Evidence also suggests that high-sugar diets can lead to inflammation and high triglyceride, blood sugar and blood pressure levels — all risk factors for heart disease.
According to healthline.com, a study of over 30,000 people found that those who consumed 17-21 percent of their calories from added sugar had a 38 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease, compared to those consuming only eight percent of calories from added sugar. Just one 16-ounce can of soda contains 52 grams of sugar, which equates to more than 10 percent of your daily calorie consumption based on a 2,000-calorie diet. This means that one sugary drink a day can put you over the recommended daily limit.
Too many sweets can also increase insulin resistance, causing blood-sugar levels to rise, strongly increasing your risk of diabetes. A population study comprised of over 175 countries found that the risk of developing diabetes grew by 1.1 percent for every 150 calories of sugar, or about one can of soda consumed per day.
Eating excessive amounts of sugar have been linked to increased risk of certain cancers, including esophageal and cancer of the small intestines. It has also been shown that women who consumed too much sugar were more likely to develop endometrial cancer than women who consumed these foods less often. These studies are ongoing so doctors and scientists can fully understand the complexity of these findings.
Further, a diet rich in added sugar and processed foods may increase the risk of depression in both men and women. Poor food choices can even worsen wrinkles and accelerate the skin-aging process. Have I got your attention, now?
So how do we eat a healthier diet and still enjoy life? A sugar spike increases energy, but quickly crashes. Having a fresh, juicy, sweet apple and a handful of walnuts or almonds makes a great snack and will cause a prolonged energy level increase. Drink a lot of water. After a short period of time, I found anything else was too sweet and I craved more water. Start with club soda and a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon if you prefer bubbly drinks.
Add protein to your diet. Sweeten plain yogurt with fresh or frozen berries instead of buying flavored, sugar-loaded yogurt. If, like me, dark chocolate is your thing, add a few pieces to a homemade trail mix along with nuts or a small number of raisins.
Use olive oil and vinegar in place of sweet salad dressings like honey mustard. Look for low-sugar and carb-smart ice cream. But when reading labels, be aware that the listed sugar content isn’t everything. The carbohydrates are sugar disguised in a Halloween costume!
Remember, everything in moderation. Totally depriving yourself of anything isn’t fun, so a little treat now and then is fine. Keep a notepad for a week and count the number of sugar grams you consume per day. Talk to your doctor and get bloodwork to determine your glucose level. Under 100 is what you want to see. Above that may be pre-diabetic and should be monitored.
Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with senior care and advocacy groups. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.