- By Rose Kennedy For the AJC
What was known to previous generations as a "sweet tooth" is known to ours as a widespread health threat.
Too much dietary sugar causes or contributes to ailments and diseases from insomnia tonight to kidney failure down the road.
One study from University of California San Francisco found that drinking sugary drinks like soda can age a body as quickly as cigarettes.
"Our high-sugar diets are a big part of why more than one-third of American adults are clinically obese," Self magazine reported. "Obesity can lead to insulin resistance, which ramps up blood sugar levels, which leads to diabetes."
And if that wasn't enough bad news about the sweet stuff, experts say that the brain responds to sugar the same way it would to addictive drugs. Eating sugar creates a wave of dopamine and serotonin, the brain's "feel-good" chemicals, just as certain drugs do, including cocaine, according to Self. Just like an emerging drug habit, a body craves more sugar after the initial high.
"You then become addicted to that feeling, so every time you eat it you want to eat more," Gina Sam, director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Center at The Mount Sinai Hospital, explained to Self.
Mark Hyman, M.D. cited a study from David Ludwig, author of Ending the Food Fight, and his Harvard colleagues and concluded that "foods that spike blood sugar are biologically addictive" and they "trigger a special region in the brain called the nucleus accumbens that is known to be 'ground zero' for conventional addiction, such as gambling or drug abuse."
Think you might be hooked on sugar? Hyman has your answer.
He indicated five clues that a person has become biologically addicted to foods that spike blood sugar:
Other signs that you're eating too much sugar
Even if you're not eating sugar at rates that could be described as an addiction, don't be too quick to breathe a sigh of relief. You can be eating way too much of the sweet stuff without being entirely hooked. Sugar detox expert Brooke Alpert, M.S., R.D. and other medical experts described these red flags that you're consuming too much sugar:
You eat more sugar and then crave more sugar. "It becomes a vicious and addictive cycle," Alpert noted in Self. Part of the cycle is that your taste buds have adapted and you need more sugar to get the same taste, the other component is that the sugar high is followed by a crash. "By eating a high sugar diet, you cause a hormonal response in your body that's like a wave, it brings you up and then you crash down and it triggers your body to want more sugar," Alpert said.
You feel sluggish during the day. "Energy is most stable when blood sugar is stable, so when you're consuming too much sugar, the highs and lows of your blood sugar lead to highs and lows of energy," she added. Too much sugar doesn't leave room in your diet for protein and fiber, which are both important for sustained energy.
Your skin breaks out a lot. "Some people are sensitive to getting a spike in insulin from sugar intake, which can set off a hormonal cascade that can lead to a breakout like acne or rosacea," Rebecca Kazin, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins Department of Dermatology, told SELF. Binging on sugar may show up on your face within a few days.
You look old before your time. Eating too much sugar can cause long-term damage to skin proteins−collagen and elastin − leading to premature wrinkles and aging, nutritional therapist Natalie Lamb told Harper's Bazaar. Less desirable gut bacteria also feed on sugar, which might lead to inflammation of the sort seen in skin conditions like eczema.
You're losing sleep. People who eat sugary foods late at night might experience a rush of energy precisely when the body needs to be preparing for rest, resulting in insomnia. "If you're someone who has trouble sleeping, then it might help to reduce the sugar in your diet and be kinder to your gut," Lamb noted.
Your brain gets foggy, especially after a meal. When you eat a lot of sugar, blood sugar levels rise and fall too quickly. "Poor blood sugar control is a major risk for cognitive issues and impairment," Alpert said.
How low should you go?
If you're determined to reduce your sugar consumption, a reasonable amount might seem like a deprivation. (Why does sugar have to taste so good?)
The World Health Organization recently recommended a sharp drop in sugar intake for just about everyone on the planet. Just 5 percent of calories should ideally come from added sugars, the WHO advised. That translated to about 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day, about the amount in one 8-ounce bottle of sweetened lemon iced tea. The average American takes in almost four times the WHO recommendation, or 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day.