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15 Reasons to Kick Sugar

by
author image Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D.
Julie Upton is co-founder of Appetite for Health and is a certified sports dietitian who has been writing since 1994. She is a nationally recognized journalist who has contributed to "The New York Times," "Shape" and "Men's Health." Upton is also the coauthor of "The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health's 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions." She holds a Master of Science in nutrition communications.

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15 Reasons to Kick Sugar
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There’s nothing sweet about what too much sugar does to your diet and your health. Sugar has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, acne, wrinkles and other signs of accelerated aging. But did you know that sugar is as addictive as cocaine, and it’s also damaging to your liver and your brain? What’s more, cancers use sugar to fuel their growth. National surveys show that sugar intake has drastically increased over the past few decades. The average American now consumes 100 pounds of sugar each year. Americans’ daily sugar intake is about 20 teaspoons each -- more than 300 calories from added sugars alone. Read on for 15 important reasons why you should decrease the sugar in your diet starting today.

1. Sugar May Be Addictive
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1 SUGAR MAY BE ADDICTIVE

Have you ever noticed that the more sweets you eat, the more you crave? According to brain scans, sugar is as addictive as cocaine, California-based endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig told CBS News’ “60 Minutes.” Dr. Mehmet Oz recently wrote in the Huffington Post “When you eat sugar, it stimulates the release of dopamine in your brain, which makes you feel pleasure…It may startle you to learn that heroin, morphine and sugar all stimulate the same receptors in your brain.” In his book “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” New York Times reporter Michael Moss takes a detailed look at how the food industry has contributed to America's obesity epidemic by infusing processed foods with sugar, salt and fat to make it more addictive and pleasing.

2. Excessive Sugar Increases Risk of Cancer
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2 EXCESSIVE SUGAR INCREASES RISK OF CANCER

In its “Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention” the American Cancer Society wrote “By promoting obesity and elevating insulin levels, high sugar intake may indirectly increase cancer risk.” Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University found that elevated blood sugar levels were associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer after studying 5,000 women for 12 years. A 2010 study by researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center found that pancreatic cancers use the sugar fructose to activate a key cellular pathway that drives cell division, helping the cancer grow more quickly.

3. Sugar Is Hard on Your Heart
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3 SUGAR IS HARD ON YOUR HEART

You may think that you need to focus on reducing sodium, trans fats and saturated fats for your heart’s sake, but it’s the sweet stuff in your diet that may be just as bad for your heart. Studies suggest that diets rich in sugar or a high glycemic load are associated with increased risk for heart disease. Too much sugar elevates blood triglycerides (a type of fat that stores extra sugar calories) and lowers protective HDL-cholesterol levels. Since all risk factors for heart disease are associated with eating excess added sugars, the American Heart Association (AHA) has recommended that Americans drastically cut back on added sugar, to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease. The AHA’s suggested added sugar threshold is no more than 6 teaspoons per day (100 calories) for women and 9 teaspoons per day (150 calories) for men.

4. Sugar Makes You Fat
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4 SUGAR MAKES YOU FAT

All added sweeteners provide calories but lack important vitamins, minerals and fiber. As diets get higher in sugar content, the nutritional quality of the diet goes down while the calories go up. In addition, research associates high-glycemic (i.e. high sugar) diets with increased waistlines. Carrying extra weight in your belly is one of the riskiest propositions for your health, as it’s linked to heart disease and diabetes.

5. Sugar May Ruin Your Liver
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5 SUGAR MAY RUIN YOUR LIVER

If you haven’t heard of fatty liver, think of human foie gras. Just as force feeding and fattening a duck creates a liver with a buttery rich texture that is a well-known (and now controversial) delicacy in French cuisine, research shows that high sugar diets will change the texture of YOUR liver. The liver is one of our largest and most complex organs and it also happens to be one of the major storage houses for glucose in the form of glycogen. When you eat sugary foods or beverages, blood sugar rises, insulin is secreted and the liver answers to insulin by pulling sugar from the blood to make glycogen. The liver will then process all the glycogen storage into fat. It’s the overconsumption of sugars, risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease increases. Fatty liver may lead to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or other chronic health-related problems.

6. Sugar Increases Your Risk of Kidney Stones
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6 SUGAR INCREASES YOUR RISK OF KIDNEY STONES

Since sugary beverages are a significant source of added sugars, here’s another reason to limit them in your diet: kidney stones. According to research, drinking just one sugary beverage per day increases the risk for kidney stones by nearly 25 percent. What’s more, consuming a sugary non-cola beverage, such as fruit punch, upped the risk to 33 percent. Researchers followed nearly 200,000 nurses for more than eight years and tracked their diet and history of kidney stones. Other beverages such as coffee, tea, orange juice and wine were associated with a reduced risk for developing the mineral stones. While the best advice for the prevention of the development and passing of these mineral stones is to increase fluid intake, focus on drinking water to get most of your daily fluid needs.

7. Sugar Is Bad for Your Smile
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7 SUGAR IS BAD FOR YOUR SMILE

You may recall your parents telling you that too many sweets can harm your teeth. They were right! When sugar mixes with bacteria that are naturally present in the mouth, acid is produced. According to the American Dental Association, this acid can attack teeth for 20 minutes or longer. So unless you are brushing your teeth continually, a high sugar intake can have serious adverse effects on dental health. Sugary soft drinks have come under particular scrutiny when it comes to tooth decay, because not only do they have a lot of sugar (a can of Coke for instance has about 10 teaspoons of sugar!) they’re also full of citric and phosphoric acid. Sugar in any form has been linked to tooth decay – so whether you’re eating it or drinking it – less is better.

8. Sugar Drains Your Brain
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8 SUGAR DRAINS YOUR BRAIN

Although the research is preliminary, some studies indicate that spikes in blood sugar can damage areas of the brain responsible for memory. It’s important to emphasize that in these studies the culprit was poor blood sugar control (not sugar intake directly) that was linked to cognitive decline. However there is a connection to excess sugar intake (particularly of sugary beverages) and Type 2 diabetes,--a disease characterized by the inability to control blood sugar. Maintaining steady blood sugary levels – through exercise as well as a balanced diet – may be one of the keys to keeping a sharp mind as you age. Yes - yet another reason to get to the gym!

9. Sugar Makes Your Diet More “Empty”
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9 SUGAR MAKES YOUR DIET MORE “EMPTY”

A little added sugar can often make healthy foods tastier. For example, think of a teaspoon of honey in a cup of plain Greek yogurt. However too often foods containing a lot of sugar have little or no nutritional value (sodas, cakes, candy, etc.) If your diet is high in sugar, you may be replacing nutrient-rich foods with junk foods which have little to offer you other than a lot of empty calories. Make your calories count. By cutting back on added sugars, you will have more room in your daily “calorie budget” for foods that are rich in in vitamins and minerals such as fruits, vegetables, whole gains, fish, poultry, and healthy oils. These foods give you the energy you need and will help protect your health.

10. Naturally Sweet Foods Won’t Taste Good To You Anymore
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10 NATURALLY SWEET FOODS WON’T TASTE GOOD TO YOU ANYMORE

Humans evolved from a diet that provided some natural sweetness in the form of fresh fruits, when they were available. However, after sweeteners were discovered and poured into our food supply, our taste buds became flooded with sweet foods and beverages. When you consume a lot of sugary foods, such as candies and colas, a strawberry or cherry won’t taste sweet enough to you and may become less satisfying. We’re all hard-wired to like foods that are sweet, but we want to make sure those foods are items that have natural sweetness (as opposed to added sugars) AND decent nutritional content such as fresh fruits, dried fruits, and some of the sweeter vegetables including carrots and beets.

11. Too Much Sugar May Cause Pimples
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11 TOO MUCH SUGAR MAY CAUSE PIMPLES

The link between dietary factors and acne is controversial, but several studies have found links between diets that are considered “high-glycemic” and breakouts. High glycemic diets are generally rich in added sugars and low in fiber. A typical American diet that’s rich in added sugars, refined grains and low in whole grains and fiber is considered a high-glycemic diet. In a recent review paper published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers found that high-glycemic diets were associated with increased inflammatory acne outbreaks. The authors believe that high blood sugar levels may trigger hormones that also cause in increase in oil secretions, thereby making acne worse.

12. Sugar Causes Wrinkles
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12 SUGAR CAUSES WRINKLES

Speaking of your skin, according to Dr. Nicholas Perricone, Dermatologist and healthy aging expert, “Sugar in all of its forms (corn syrup, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) is extremely damaging to the skin.” Sugar breaks down collagen and elastin, the protein fibers that keep skin firm and elastic. Collagen is a protein that's all over your body. When it is damaged, especially in your face, the collagen and elastin turns dry and brittle. Christiane Northrup, M.D. advises eliminating high glycemic index foods that increase insulin levels, such as foods made from or including white flour and white sugar in order to minimize the effects of aging on your skin.

13. Sugar Causes Inflammation
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13 SUGAR CAUSES INFLAMMATION

Inflammation is the body's response to infection or injury as well as certain not-so-good habits including smoking, lack of exercise, consumption of processed foods and high calorie meals. Multiple studies have found that sugar promotes inflammation in the body, potentially triggering a range of disorders from type 2 diabetes to heart disease. In particular, refined carbohydrates including sugars and white flour, white rice, white bread, pastries, cakes, cookies, etc. may increase levels of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Try eating whole foods like vegetables, fish, poultry, olives and nuts to reduce inflammation.

14. Sugar Can Make You Feel Hungry and Eat Even More!
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14 SUGAR CAN MAKE YOU FEEL HUNGRY AND EAT EVEN MORE!

A 2013 study from Yale School of Medicine published in the in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that while glucose suppressed the parts of the brain that make us want to eat; fructose did not. The researchers found that consuming fructose “may promote overeating through its inability to effectively suppress food-seeking behavior.” Fructose is found in high-fructose corn syrup, which is an ingredient in most sodas, soft drinks and processed foods. According to the Yale News, “Fructose consumption has increased over the past few decades, as have rates of obesity.”

15. Be Aware That Sugar Has Many Disguises
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15 BE AWARE THAT SUGAR HAS MANY DISGUISES

Food manufacturers use more than 25 different caloric sweeteners in their products, but no matter what they call them, they all add up to one thing: increased sugar in your diet. Some of the sugars in “disguise,” include: dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, sorghum, invert sugar, evaporated cane juice, corn sweetener, cane sugar, malt syrup, galactose, lactose, polydextrose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, maltodextrin and turbinado sugar. Other added sweeteners that may come with a bit of antioxidants but are still considered sugars include honey, maple syrup, molasses, agave, raw sugar and brown sugar.

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