It’s that time of year again – when sugary treats abound and temptations loom. Maybe you’re trying to eat healthier, or you’re cutting back on processed foods…but it’s surely difficult during all these holiday dinners and parties. Perhaps the temptations will be a bit easier to control if you know a little bit about how processed sugar works in your body and why you crave it.
In short, sugar is a carbohydrate. When you eat sugars, your body either converts it into energy or into fat, which is then stored in your fat cells. How your body processes sugar partially determines your body’s go-to processing method. As sugar enters your blood stream it goes to your pancreas, which then releases a hormone called insulin – your body’s sugar regulator. The sugar is then stored in your liver, muscles and fat cells.
However, our bodies are not perfect machines (and neither are the foods we eat, by a long stretch). Because of high refined sugar content in foods, our body gets a rush of sugar we are not necessarily prepared to process. When we consume too much sugar at once there can be too much insulin released, which then causes our blood sugar level to drop. At this point our body calls out for more sugar (cravings), which we often give it. Thus, the process continues and eventually your body responds to sugar not by using it for energy, but by storing it in fat cells for use later.
Though this process of insulin spike and fat cell storage may not be noticeable, your body’s function certainly notices. Overconsumption of processed sugars can lead to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and much more.
So, why is it bad to eat refined sugar, but we are encouraged to eat fruit sugars? Though you should limit your intake of fruit sugars, they are a very beneficial, nutrient-dense food. And that’s the main difference between fruit sugars and refined sugars. During its processing, what becomes refined sugar is stripped of its nutrients, leaving only the sweetness and calories. Refined sugar contains no proteins, no water and no fats, but white sugar does contain 16 calories per teaspoon, and brown sugar about 11 calories per teaspoon.
The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than about 6 teaspoons (20 grams) and men no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) of sugar per day. When you consider how much processed sugar is in a typical batch of cookies (1.5 cups, or 72 teaspoons) vs. how many cookies are made (about 40 cookies), that’s just a bit less than 2 teaspoons per cookie. And boy, is it easy to eat one…two…three…even four cookies at once.
The trick is moderation. In the realm of sugar, less really is more. If you regulate your sugar consumption, your body will begin to understand how to utilize it. Unless there is an underlying issue, your body will learn how to use the sugars you give it for energy rather than storing it in fat cells.
Everybody knows how difficult it is to say “no” to some of our favorite desserts, sweet drinks or sugary glazes. But before you go for that second serving, consider how much sugar you’ve consumed already. If it’s very little, indulge some but not too much. If it’s nearing the daily allowance, consider avoiding consuming more. In our jobs or workload, when there’s too much to do at once we change our process to manage the work. Our body does the same thing, but it does not understand that the sudden rush isn’t the new norm. Help your body help you, and choose a healthier holiday season.