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Sugar 101: What it Does to Your Body (and How to Kick It!)
Confused about all of the opinions surrounding sugar? Let’s clear the air and take a good look at what sugar does to your body, and what you can do to reduce it.

There’s maybe no substance more highly discussed than sugar. Many health professionals warn we consume far too much sugar, but it naturally exists in so many foods and still plays a huge role in our daily lives. It’s not going away, so we may as well learn to live with it. 


Instead of going cold turkey on sugar, let’s have a good conversation about it. There’s plenty of noise out there, but Vejo has a team of doctors and nutritionists who have research-backed advice to share. This article can serve as your first step towards understanding sugar, the role it plays in your nutrition, and what you should do about it. 

 


What is Sugar?


Sugars are sweet-tasting, simple carbohydrates. They break down quickly in the gastrointestinal tract and get rapidly released into the bloodstream. Alternatively, whole grains and vegetables contain complex carbohydrates, which break down more slowly. Both simple and complex carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is used by every cell in the body to generate energy and act as a fuel source for the brain. 


“Refined sugar” most commonly refers to sucrose, or basic white table sugar, which is processed from sugar beets or sugar cane. Overall, though, there are numerous forms of sugar:


  • Fructose: found in fruits and honey
  • Galactose: found in milk and dairy products
  • Glucose: found in honey, fruits, and vegetables
  • Lactose: found in milk, made from glucose and galactose
  • Maltose: found in barley
  • Sucrose: made up of glucose and fructose and found in plants
  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): a man-made sugar, derived from corn 
  • Fruit-based sugars (e.g. date and coconut sugars)
  • Syrups (e.g. rice, maple, sorghum, and molasses)

Other common names for added sugars include(27, 28)

  • Cane juice
  • Evaporated cane sugar
  • Beet sugar
  • Palm sugar
  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Brown sugar
  • Confectioners powdered sugar
  • Corn syrup 
  • Dextrose
  • Invert sugar
  • Malt syrup
  • Nectars (e.g. peach or pear nectar)
  • Raw sugar
  • White granulated sugar
  • Coarse sugar
  • Pearl sugar

 

How Much Sugar Should I Eat?


Less. Much less. In general, Americans are large consumers of sugar. Data has shown that children, adolescents, and adults in the United States all consume more added sugar than the recommended amount(17). The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that women should consume no more than 100 calories a day (about 6 teaspoons) and men should consume no more than 150 calories a day (about 9 teaspoons) from added sugars(8).


How Does Sugar Affect My Health?


There are countless effects of increased sugar in our diets. Here are a few of the more common, well-researched, outcomes:


  • Brain health: Research has found that sugar intake produces neurochemical and behavioral effects similar to those seen with addictive drugs(4). Research has also found that sugar impacts brain volume and memory function. There is also an association between sugar-sweetened beverages and indicators of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease(5,12,22).

  • Diabetes and insulin resistance: High sugar intake has been found to reduce insulin sensitivity, increasing the risk for developing type 2 diabetes(2,16,19,26). Diabetes prevalence appears to be greater in populations where sugar sources are more readily available, as when frequently included in processed and prepared foods(6).

  • Obesity and weight gain: Sugary soft drinks are thought to increase hunger or decrease satiety, thus increasing the risk of overeating. Rising insulin levels or insulin resistance, often associated with high sugar intake, impair fat-burning pathways, and increase the risk of weight gain and obesity(20,29).

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: Increased intake of fructose, particularly high-fructose corn syrup, has been shown to increase the risk for developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)(21).

  • Cardiovascular health: Recent research has found associations between added sugar intake and cardiovascular disease risk factors including increased patterns of blood pressure, increased heart rate, and increased myocardial oxygen demand(7,9,31).

  • Other Considerations: Sugar is implicated in numerous other biological processes and conditions, such as dental decay, acne, mood disorders, yeast infections, cellular aging, and inflammation(18).

  • Tips for Reducing Sugar in Your Diet


    Now that we’ve established that a high intake of sugar can be detrimental to your health, let’s talk about what you can do about it. 

     

  • Focus on foods that are beneficial to your health, instead of what not to eat. A “bad versus good” mindset may lead to confusion, disordered eating patterns, or social isolation.
  • Eat complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and more nutrient-dense sweeteners (e.g. grade B maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, or sorghum) in place of refined sugars or processed foods.
  • Drink more water! Adequate hydration helps promote satiety and reduce cravings for certain foods while being vital to the function of all organ systems.
  • Choose unsweetened beverages: water, seltzer, and teas are all great options. For variety, try adding fresh mint, cucumber slices, berries, or citrus fruits to beverages.
  • Boost flavor with herbs and spices instead of adding sugar.
  • All things in moderation, even moderation. Strict avoidance of sugary foods can create a sense of deprivation that leads to even greater cravings. You’re more likely to adhere to a sustainable, healthy eating plan if you can enjoy something sweet on occasion, rather than feeling deprived and distracted.
  •  

    Just because a food is sweet, doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy. The trick is to avoid eating foods that exist only to be sweet. 


    Vejo blends are a doctor- and nutritionist-formulated way to get a naturally sweet flavor (with no added sugars) and essential nutrients and vitamins. They taste great, while also providing the benefits of nutrient-dense foods. For example, our Tropical blend is delicious with organic banana, mango, orange, and passion fruit—and also is a good source of vitamin C. Our Tart Berry Blend is packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber—and tastes great as well. 


    There’s no black or white answer to your health and nutrition. But, it all starts with knowledge. Once you’re aware of what you’re putting in your body (and what it can do to your body), you’ll naturally start to take a hard look at the role sugar plays in your life.

     

    References 

    1. Additional information about high-intensity sweeteners permitted for use in food in the United States. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm397725.htm. Published 2019. Accessed January 22, 2019.
    2. Aeberli I, Hochuli M, Gerber PA, Sze L, Murer SB, Tappy L, Spinas GA, Berneis K. Moderate amounts of fructose consumption impair insulin sensitivity in healthy young men. Diabetes Care. 2013;36:150–156. doi: 10.2337/dc12-0540. 
    3. Association between intake of non-sugar sweeteners and health outcomes: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised and non-randomised controlled trials and observational studies. BMJ. 2019:l156. doi:10.1136/bmj.l156
    4. Avena N, Rada P, Hoebel B. Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2008;32(1), pp.20-39.
    5. Barnes J, Joyner M. Sugar highs and lows: the impact of diet on cognitive function. J Physiol (Lond). 2012;590(12):2831-2831. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2012.234328
    6. Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N., and Lustig R. (2013). The relationship of sugar to population-level diabetes prevalence: an econometric analysis of repeated cross-sectional data. PLoS ONE, 8(2), p.e57873.
    7. Cohen L, Curhan G, Forman J. Association of sweetened beverage Intake with incident hypertension. J Gen Intern Med. 2012;27(9):1127-1134. doi:10.1007/s11606-012-2069-6
    8. Corliss J. Eating too much added sugar increases the risk of dying with heart disease. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-too-much-added-sugar-increases-the-risk-of-dying-with-heart-disease-201402067021. Published 2019. Accessed January 22, 2019.
    9. DiNicolantonio J, Lucan S. The wrong white crystals: not salt but sugar as aetiological in hypertension and cardiometabolic disease. Open Heart. 2014;1(1):e000167. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2014-000167
    10. Galeone C, Pelucchi C, Vecchia C. Added sugar, glycemic index and load in colon cancer risk. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2012;15(4):368-373. doi:10.1097/mco.0b013e3283539f81
    11. Gardner C, Wylie-Rosett J, Gidding SS, Steffen LM, Johnson RK, Reader D, Lichtenstein AH; American Heart Association Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism et al. Nonnutritive sweeteners: current use and health perspectives a scientific statement from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2012; 35:1798-808; PMID:22778165; http://dx.doi.org/10.2337/dc12-9002
    12. Gu Y, Manly J, Schupf N, Mayeux R. Sugary beverage consumption and risk of Alzheimer’s disease in a community-based multiethnic population. Alzheimer's & Dementia. 2018;14(7), p.P645.
    13. Hartman, E. High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Not So Sweet For The Planet. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/06/AR2008030603294.html?noredirect=on. Published 2019. Accessed January 22, 2019.
    14. High Fructose Corn Syrup Questions and Answers. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm324856. Published 2019. Accessed January 22, 2019.
    15. Jiang Y, Pan Y, Rhea P et al. A sucrose-enriched diet promotes tumorigenesis in mammary gland in part through the 12-lipoxygenase pathway. Cancer Res. 2016;76(1):24-29. doi:10.1158/0008-5472.can-14-3432
    16. Klurfeld DM, Foreyt J, Angelopoulos TJ, Rippe JM. Lack of evidence for high fructose corn syrup as the cause of the obesity epidemic. Int J Obes. 2013;37:771–773. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.157.
    17. Know Your Limit for Added Sugars. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/know-your-limit-for-added-sugars.html. Published 2019. Accessed January 22, 2019.
    18. Leung C, Laraia B, Needham B et al. Soda and cell aging: associations between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and leukocyte telomere length in healthy adults from the national health and nutrition examination surveys. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(12):2425-2431. doi:10.2105/ajph.2014.302151
    19. Macdonald, I. A review of recent evidence relating to sugars, insulin resistance and diabetes. European Journal of Nutrition. 2016;55(S2), pp.17-23.
    20. Nissinen K, Mikkila V, Mannisto S, Lahti-Koski M, Rasanen L, Viikari J, Raitakari O. Sweets and sugar-sweetened soft drink intake in childhood in relation to adult BMI and overweight. The cardiovascular risk in young finns study. Public Health Nutr. 2009;12:2018–2020. doi: 10.1017/S1368980009005849.
    21. Ouyang X, Cirillo P, Sautin Y, McCall S, Bruchette J, Diehl A, Johnson R, Abdelmalek M. Fructose consumption as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Journal of Hepatology. 2008;48(6), pp.993-999.
    22. Pase M, Himali J, Jacques P, DeCarli C, Satizabal C, Aparicio H, Vasan R, Beiser A, Seshadri S. Sugary beverage intake and preclinical Alzheimer's disease in the community. Alzheimer's & Dementia. 2017;13(9), pp.955-964.
    23. Pepino MY, Tiemann CD, Patterson B W, Wice BM, Klein S. Sucralose affects glycemic and hormonal responses to an oral glucose load. Diabetes Care. 2013; 36:2530-5; PMID:23633524; http://dx.doi.org/10.2337/dc12-2221
    24. Suez J, Korem T, Zilberman-Schapira G, Segal E, Elinav E. Non-caloric artificial sweeteners and the microbiome: findings and challenges. Gut Microbes. 2015;6(2):149-155. doi:10.1080/19490976.2015.1017700
    25. Swithers SE, Laboy AF, Clark K, Cooper S, Davidson T. Experience with the high-intensity sweetener saccharin impairs glucose homeostasis and GLP-1 release in rats. Behav Brain Res. 2012; 233:1-14; PMID:22561130; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2012.04.024
    26. Tappy L, Mittendorfer B. Fructose toxicity: is the science ready for public health actions? Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2012;15:357–361. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328354727e.
    27. Tasevska N, Jiao L, Cross A et al. Sugars in diet and risk of cancer in the NIH-AARP diet and health study. Int J Cancer. 2011;130(1):159-169. doi:10.1002/ijc.25990
    28. The Canadian Sugar Institute. Sugar.ca. https://sugar.ca/Sugar-Basics/Carbohydrate-and-Sugars-Terminology.aspx. Published 2019. Accessed January 22, 2019.
    29. Vartanian L, Schwartz M, Brownell K. Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Public Health. 2007;97(4), pp.667-675.
    30. Visnic, N. Sugar intake nutritional recommendations. 2019. 
    31. Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg E, Flanders W, Merritt R, Hu F. Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):516. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563.

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