Sugar is blamed for everything from diabetes to dental cavities, and there’s little doubt that most people get too much of it. Would you believe that almost a quarter of the calories in the average American’s diet comes from this sweet substance? Sugar is a readily available source of energy, but it has no nutritional value to speak of. Plus, Americans get a whopping 22 teaspoons of it a day. Surprised? Here are some other interesting facts you may not know about sugar that could affect your health.
Sugar Ages Your Skin
Sugar isn’t just bad for your waistline – it ages your skin too. Sugar that circulates in your bloodstream binds to proteins like collagen and elastin that keep skin firm and youthful. When they attach to these proteins deep in the dermis of the skin, it damages them and changes their structure. The result? Skin becomes less firm and more prone to wrinkling and sagging. To protect your skin from aging, wear sunscreen, eat more antioxidant-rich food and cut back on sugar and processed carbs.
Sugar Promotes Aging in General
Sugar not only binds to proteins in the skin, but it also attaches to other proteins through a process called glycation. Experts believe that sugar glycation of proteins increases the risk of diseases like heart and blood vessel disease, Alzheimer’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, some eye diseases, and cancer. It partially explains why diabetics who have more glycated proteins are at greater risk for these diseases. To protect yourself cut back on sugar and processed carbs. Replace them with more fruits and vegetables.
Sugar Fuels Cancer Growth
Does cancer have a sweet tooth? A number of studies have linked a high-glycemic diet of processed carbs and other foods that raise blood sugar levels rapidly with a greater risk of some types of cancer including colon cancer, uterine cancer, breast cancer, and pancreatic cancer. In addition to the direct effect, sugar has on cancer cells, diets high in sugar and processed carbs stimulate more insulin release. Insulin is a growth factor that fuels the growth of cancer cells. If you’re concerned about your risk for cancer, cut back on processed foods and eliminate refined sugar.
Brown Sugar and Raw Sugar Are Still Sugar
Some people think brown sugar and raw forms of sugar are better for them. Brown sugar looks brown because it contains a little more molasses, but don’t use that as an excuse to eat more. The molasses adds a little calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron but not enough to make a difference. It still causes the same insulin surge as white sugar. Get your calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron from other nutritious sources.
Sugar is Addictive
There is evidence in animals and humans that sugar activates reward centers in the brain and boosts levels of “feel good” neurotransmitters like dopamine. That keeps you coming back for another sugar “fix,” especially if you’re stressed. Sugar addictions can be broken. The best way to kick the habit is to gradually replace processed carbs and refined sugar in your diet with whole foods. You’ll be weaning yourself off of sugar and replacing it with healthy, unprocessed foods. It may take several weeks to months to stop craving sweets, but you’ll gradually lose your taste for them. Don’t be surprised if you feel and look better too.
Women’s Health Magazine. “Curb Your Sweet Tooth”
Natural News. “Ten Studies Showing the Link Between Sugar and Increased Cancer Risk”
Life Extension Magazine. “Prevent Glycation-Induced Skin Aging with Topical Nutrients”
Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008; 32(1): 20-39.