Hooked on sugar? You aren’t alone. The majority of Americans cannot get enough of the sweet white powder. For many people added sugar lights up the reward/addiction region of the brain that drives sugar addiction. Food manufacturers use the addictive nature to their advantage–pouring added sugar into the food supply. Added sugar is like a drug and very little is being done to protect us from the risks associated with consumption. You need to be your own advocate–find out exactly how a diet high in added sugar hijacks your health in every way possible.

Let’s be clear on what is meant by added sugar. I’m referring to any source of sugar that is not naturally occurring and contributes calories to the diet. The truth is that “unrefined” and “unprocessed” sugars are not much better than regular sugar. At the end of the day cane sugar is going to have a similar impact on your blood sugar levels as maple syrup. The same is true for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and table sugar. When broken down in the body HFCS and table sugar are both essentially 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Common sources of added sugar include cane sugar, powdered sugar, everything that ends in “ose”, honey, brown sugar, molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup, brown rice syrup and anything else that ends in “syrup”.

The national nutrition recommendations (aka the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs)) are updated and released every five years by the United States Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services. The 2015 guidelines included added sugar as a stand-alone category for the first time in history. Why you ask? Likely because of companies and lobbyists that have a lot of money and power and have been able to hide the damaging effects of sugar.

Hundreds of different forms of sugar are hidden in foods such as dressings, tomato sauces, nut butters, sauces, yogurts, applesauces, chips, cereals, and granolas. As a result, we are consuming 20% more added sugar than we did in 1970! And not even by choice! According to the new guidelines, 70% of Americans exceed their daily limit of added sugar. The daily limit should be less than 10% of total calorie intake. And it’s no wonder that our rates of chronic disease and medical costs continue to skyrocket!   

What’s the major culprit? Soft drinks and other beverages. Approximately 47% of people’s total added sugar intake comes directly from beverages, with 25% from soft drinks alone. Other sugar sweetened beverages include fruit drinks (11%), sports and energy drinks (3%), coffee and tea drinks (7%) and alcoholic beverages (1%). Drinking sugar is even worse than eating it because there is no fiber or protein to slow down the spike in blood sugar levels. While we know that eating and drinking sugary foods will cause your waistline to expand, that is only the beginning of the story. Here are five ways sugar hijacks your health beyond making you fat:

1. Sugar Can Cause Metabolic Problems Passed Down from Mother to Future Generations.

It turns out breast feeding is not the only thing that sets a child up for optimal health. For all the women out there who plan to eventually become moms, it’s important to reduce your sugar intake. High sugar foods can lead to metabolic problems that get passed down for multiple generations. Researchers also found that being obese is likely to lead to genetic abnormalities that increase risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease and they can last for at least three generations. No matter how much you weigh, cut back on the sugar to help set your baby up for a healthy life.

2. Sugar Can Increase Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease

Butter and eggs are not the cause of heart disease. It turns out sugar has been playing a pretty significant role without taking any credit. Several risk factors for Cardiovascular Disease are associated with calories from sugar and refined grains. These risk factors include high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and insulin resistance. Do your heart a favor and pass on the sugary drinks and cakes and snacks.

3. Sugar Significantly Increases Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

My boss, Dr. Mark Hyman, often refers to this as Diabesity since diabetes and obesity go hand in hand. Sugar is one of the number one culprits of Diabesity. Regular consumption of soda was associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes in a large 2011 study. Those that consumed one can of soda per day had a 24% increased risk of diabetes. Other studies have reported an even higher risk.

4. Sugar Increases the Risk of Cognitive Decline

In Functional Medicine we often refer to Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia as Type 3 Diabetes. Structural changes in certain areas of the brain that are associated with memory decline can occur as a result of higher blood sugar levels. Preserve your brain health and mental capacity as you age by keeping sugar consumption at a minimum.

5. Sugar Can Decrease Nutrient Status

Consuming foods or beverages that are high in sugar can cause a crowd out effect for nutritious foods and nutrients. A 2013 CDC article found that eating added sugar leads to lower vitamin and mineral levels plus weight gain! My tip would be to save your calories for unlimited vegetables and crowd out the sugar!