Is Sugar Bad for You? The Sticky Details on Sugar and Health

Posted by Seraine Page on Thu, Oct, 17, 2019


Even though the word is short, the list of problems this ingredient can cause is long.

Too much sugar in your diet can cause a laundry list of issues including diabetes and obesity. Studies even show potential links to excessive added sugar consumption and Alzheimer’s disease.

But, there are also a few good things about sugar.

Confusing, right?

Here we break down all the sugary details you need to make healthier lifestyle choices when it comes to sugar, including how to pick the right sugars to fuel your body instead of fattening it.

Sugar and Health: What You Need to Know

Who doesn’t love a little sugar? While it’s delicious, it’s also highly addictive — almost as addictive as street drugs like cocaine. It can be hard to quit, but if you know the impact of sugar on your health and the right kind to eat, it makes it easier to pick healthier options.

Here we share the details on the good and bad sugars to eat.

What is Sugar?

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that’s sweet. It’s readily used by the body and turned into energy. Types of sugar include lactose, glucose, fructose, and sucrose.

There are two kinds of sugars — natural and processed. Healthy foods have more of the “good” sugar that our bodies need, like a banana. Processed foods like cakes, however, have processed sugars that aren’t healthy for the body.

A snapshot of sugar:

  • Sugar is a simple carbohydrate
  • It can occur naturally in healthy foods
  • Added (processed) sugar is an empty calorie
  • Too much sugar causes major health issues

It’s important to know the difference between the two and how to read food labels to avoid sneaky sugars from getting into your meals. Here we break down the difference:

Natural Sugars

The body needs sugar to thrive, but it must come from the right sources like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and grains. Natural sugar processes slower and your body digests it in a way that offers sustainable energy.

Where is natural sugar found?

  • Dairy products
  • Honey
  • Fruits

Eating these foods is necessary for a well-balanced diet. Along with the natural sugars that provide energy, these foods also give the body necessary nutrients, too.

Processed Sugars

If you’ve ever had a sugary coffee drink in hopes of boosting your energy, you probably felt temporarily energized. A few hours later, your body likely crashed due to the processed sugar.

This happens with any type of sugar that is added to processed foods — like sugary coffee drinks — which quickly moves through your body causing the energy crash. Even “natural” energy drinks can have this effect.

Unfortunately, just because a label says “natural” doesn’t mean it’s not processed. Read food nutrition labels carefully for hidden sugars.

You might find added sugar under the following names:

  • Agave nectar or syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Galactose
  • Glucose
  • Sucrose
  • High-Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose

These are just a few of the names of added sugar. There are up to 56 different names, which can sometimes make it difficult to spot. Processed sugar has no nutritional value and makes blood sugar levels spike, leading to the inevitable exhausted feeling.

Good Things About Sugar

While added sugar is bad, there are some good things about sugar that can’t be ignored like:

  • Enhances flavor in drinks (fresh fruit slices)
  • Gives the body energy
  • Can increase exercise times

As with most items in our diet, sugar is one that must be taken in moderation. Getting fructose in its natural state is generally safe and healthy for most people. It’s when people skip the real orange and instead opt for sugary orange juice, for example, that causes excessive sugar intake to happen.

The Problem With Processed Sugar

When your blood sugar spikes and drops, it can lead to mood problems, headaches, shakiness, and fatigue. Processed sugars are “hidden” in many of the foods we eat and some studies claim they can be addictive, too.

So, what does too much sugar do to your body? Excessive added sugar can cause:

  • Obesity
  • Heart problems
  • Diabetes
  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease

Being mindful of sugar ingestion and eating only natural sugars can help you avoid health issues like liver damage, according to University of California San Francisco research.

How Much is Too Much Sugar?

Since sugar is in a variety of foods, it’s nearly impossible to avoid.

It’s the added sugars in items like soda, cakes, and cookies that tend to be the problem. Different people may have different sensitivities to processed sugar, so it’s important to note how your body feels after ingesting it.

The American Heart Association (AHA) website states that individuals should limit their sugar to “no more than half of your daily discretionary calories allowance.”

What does that look like for males and females?

  • Men should limit their sugar intake to no more than 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar per day.
  • Women should ingest no more than 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of sugar per day. That’s roughly 100 calories.

Additionally, U.S. dietary guidelines are based on calorie intake, so added sugars should be less than 10% of your daily calories. It’s important to note that medical conditions like diabetes will have different limits when it comes to sugar consumption.

Limit Sugar Options Around Your Office

While there are some good things about sugar, it’s important to note this pertains only to healthful foods like fruits that contain natural sugars. In the workplace, consider the following options to minimize sugar intake:

  • Makeover break room snacks — Put fresh fruit and sparkling water out for employees to enjoy throughout the day.

  • Host a sugar-free potluck — Have employees try their hand at healthy recipes that don’t include added sugar.

  • Bring in “healthy treats” — For baked goods, considering making healthy sugar swaps like applesauce for recipes that call for sugar.

It doesn’t take long to notice what too much sugar does to your body. If you’ve gone on vacation and eaten poorly for too long, you’ve probably noticed tighter clothing, added pounds, and sluggish energy levels.

Treat your employees to better health by promoting healthier eating options in the workplace and encouraging diets full of natural foods. Your wellness committee can even start a “no sugar” campaign to encourage participation for those who want to axe excessive sugar habits. 

Need to eat healthier? Check out our post 13 Tips for Eating Healthier Every Day!

Sugar Challenge

Background photo created by Freepik

Topics: Healthy Workplaces


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