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Risks of a sweet tooth

by Nurse Jill

Part 3 in a series about the factors that negatively impact your health the most: information to help you stay on the path to small health successes in 2024.

If you were asked to name the biggest risk to your overall health you probably wouldn’t name

what we’re about to talk about.

This insidious agent is in almost everything we consume, sometimes overtly and sometimes

covertly. It has even been purported by some to be just as (if not more) addictive and harmful

than smoking. But the general public considers it fairly harmless and innocent - so much so that children receive it in seemingly unmitigated amounts. We use it to bribe friends and to reward ourselves. But this addictive ingredient is constantly wearing away at our health.

Have you guessed it? It’s sugar.

Sugar is necessary for our cells to function at the microscopic level. But our bodies are skilled in extracting sugar from grains, fruits, and vegetables. The trouble is not sugar in and of itself. The trouble comes when we start increasing, adding, and isolating sugar in our diets.

In 2014 a study was done that found sugar not only impacted weight and diabetes risk but heart health risks as well. The 15-year study published in JAMA Internal Medicine by Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that the more added sugar that was ingested by an individual the higher their risks of dying from heart disease.

Added is the key term. When sugar is ingested in its natural form within grains, fruits,

vegetables, and other whole food sources it is metabolized slowly along with the protein and

fiber also contained in those whole foods. However when sugar is added to the foods and drinks we consume we disrupt the natural balance of slow sugar metabolism and the body has to the cope with a sudden increase of sugar. These sudden spikes in blood sugar levels is what contributes to the increase risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, and even stroke.

The first step is awareness. Start looking at labels. You will be amazed at how much sugar is

added to simple ingredients. There is no official recommendation for sugar intake as added sugar is not essential to our diets. Entities such as Heart and Stroke Foundation as well as the American Heart Association recommend that we consume no more than 24 grams of sugar a day. That’s about 6 teaspoons per day. Seems like a lot of sugar! But there are more than 10 teaspoons in one small 12 ounce can of soda. Suddenly our daily intake begins to add up fast.

Here are some ways to cut down on sugar intake:

Keep track. Take note of what you’re taking in. Keep a little tab in your phone notes with your

daily total. You may help yourself realize a change may be needed. Make sure that you pay

attention to serving size. Many snacks and meals list a sugar content per serving and there may be more than just 1 serving in the package.

Drink water. We all like a little flavor in our day but sugar in pop, juices, sports drinks, and other store bought beverages are the number one culprit of a high sugar intake. If you can’t bear giving up your favorite beverage then strive to limit yourself to just one or even better find a substitute such as sparkling water. Pro tip: don’t switch to artificial sweeteners, they have their own risks and can actually trick your mind into craving even more sweets.

Buy (and eat) whole foods. There are a lot of resources out there to help you identify and utilize whole foods in your daily diet. The basic concept is that the less that is added to the original food or the less it is processed the better it is for you. For example: an apple whole is better for you than applesauce but applesauce is better than apple fritters. The produce section, the freezer section, and even the canned food section have good options for less-processed foods.

Make simple recipes. Find a few good simple recipes that you can make instead of relying on

prefab meals that have added sugar. Did you know that you can make an amazing marinara sauce with just canned tomatoes, garlic powder, dried basil, dried oregano, and a little salt? No added sugar and it tastes super fresh. There are many simple items you can easily make with whole, or nearly whole, foods that cut down on the sugar intake.

Avoid high fructose corn syrup. The uber concentrated sweetener is added to a lot of grocery

items. If you even just avoid buying the things that list it as an ingredient you will find yourself

steered toward healthier options and less sugar intake.

Limit the treats. Everyone loves a sweet cap to end a meal but limit yourself. Find a friend to

share dessert or do only one dessert on certain days of the week. Even small decreases will help build a habit of healthier eating. The less sugar you eat the more alive your taste buds will become to enjoy less sweet foods.

The biggest tip is to make a plan. Sugar is addictive. It will be hard to cut down, let alone quit.

Have quality snacks full of protein and fiber at the ready for when those cravings hit. With your

plan in place, being more aware, ditching the high added sugar foods and drinks you may find

that your healthier habits may just soothe your sweet tooth a bit which will make your heart



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