Is it Time to Break Up with Sugar?

Is it Time to Break up with Sugar?

I’ve been thinking I may need to break up with sugar.

“But, you and sugar have been together for decades,” friends say. “You love sugar! Wasn’t sugar there for you at every holiday? Isn’t it sugar you turn to when you’re tired or stressed out? I can’t believe you’re thinking of abandoning the very partner that sweetened every calamity and triumph in your life!”

Yeah, but I’m feeling like sugar fatally attracts me. Even when I’m not seeking it out, there it is, lurking in my ‘healthy choices’ like low-fat yogurt, granola, and protein bars. The other day, I found sugar hiding in my vitamin water–after I’d just worked out! And yet, the more I try to break away from sugar, the more I crave its sweet charms.

It’s Time to Reassess our Relationship with Sugar

Any healthy relationship has balance. Some sugar in the diet is not a problem. But Americans now consume on average 57 pounds of added sugar per person annually. That translates to 17 teaspoons every day. That’s nearly triple the American Heart Association (AHA) recommendation of 6 teaspoons for women and nearly double the 9 teaspoons for men. And when your teen power slams a 12-ounce can of Coke, which contains about 9 1/3 teaspoons of sugar (39 g), your child has not only exceeded the AHA recommended daily limit (less than 6 teaspoons per day), but also the no more than 8 fluid ounces of sugary beverages per week recommendation. The sad truth is that toddlers now consumer more sugar than the recommended amount for adults.

Added sugars. Processed foods and beverages have sugars and syrups added to them. These added sugars do not include sugars that occur naturally, like those in milk (lactose) and fruits (fructose).

Sugar is Sneaky

We eat sugar when we don’t know we’re eating it.

Sugar in cookies and ice cream comes at us in honest garb. Unwrap a Reese’s 2-pack of Peanut Butter Cups, and you’re fully prepared for that 5 ½ teaspoons (22 g) of sugar. But a lot of our daily sugar comes disguised as highly processed foods. Worse yet, sugar goes by different names like glucose, sucrose, or the hip HFCS for high-fructose corn syrup. Busy people drop their guard when grabbing quick a jar of Ragu Chunky Tomato, Garlic, & Onion pasta sauce, which packs a whopping 3 teaspoons (12 g) of sugar per ½ cup serving. Sugar even sneaks into your canned soups. If you lovingly complement your kids’ grilled cheese sandwiches with Campbell’s Slow Kettle Style Tomato & Sweet Basil Bisque, you’ve just offered up 10 ¾ teaspoons (43 g) of sugar in just the soup alone! And sugar hides in healthy organic soups, too. A one-cup serving of Amy’s Organic Black Bean Vegetable Soup contains 1 ¾ teaspoon of sugar (7 g).

Condiments are a sweet cover.

Although you’d never sprinkle sugar onto your hotdog, when you squeeze Heinz Ketchup onto that dog, you’re adding 1 teaspoon of sugar (4 g) for every tablespoon serving. Prefer barbeque sauce? Kraft’s Bulls-Eye Barbeque Sauce will add 3 teaspoons of sugar for every 2-tablespoon serving.

Sugar hides in even the healthiest sounding salad dressings.

Who would suspect you’d find 3 teaspoons (12 g) of sugar (high fructose corn syrup) per serving in the benign-sounding Ken’s Fat-Free Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette? Or Ken’s Steak House Fat-Free Raspberry Pecan that courts you with its fat-free promise, but delivers you 2 ½ teaspoons (10 g) of sugar per serving?

After surveying these covert ways sugar hides in our foods, it should be no surprise that the United States is top among nations in daily sugar consumption. And it’s damaging our health.

Sugar and Your Teeth

With all the foods we eat throughout the day that contain sugar, it’s no wonder that 92% of adults in the U.S. have experienced tooth decay. Here’s how it works. You eat sugar. The bacteria in your mouth like sugar, too, and they gobble up sugars or carbohydrates. Within about 20 seconds, the bacteria have digested those sugars, discarding acid onto your teeth. That acid not only attacks your tooth enamel, it lowers the pH level in your mouth. The lower the pH, the better the acid can work to weaken the enamel.

It takes about 20 minutes for our saliva to recalibrate and neutralize this sugar-caused pH drop. So, with every sip of soda, every snack, every bite of sugary processed food or even salad dressing, your hard-working saliva has to start all over. Meanwhile, while the pH is low, the acids are wearing away at your enamel. Your teeth are under attack the entire time you’re grazing on high-carb sweets or drinking sweet drinks.

Sugar and Your Health

Sugar may be breaking your heart.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found a “significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD [cardio-vascular disease] mortality.” Even among children, a diet full of added sugar increases a child’s risk of “developing obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity-related cancers, and dental caries.”

Sugar may be sabotaging your attempts at maintaining a healthy weight.

Why? Because sugar spikes your blood sugar and then tells your body to store all that excess energy as fat. In fact, in a recent review of 68 studies published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found the more sugar a person consumed, the more they weighed. Plus, these studies evidenced a “consistent association” between a high intake of sugar-sweetened drinks and the development of obesity.

As bad as it is, sugar doesn’t cause diabetes.

If you’re consuming a lot of calories (including those from sugar), you’re likely to gain weight, and weight gain increases your risk for type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is caused by a number of factors including genetics and lifestyle factors. Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetics and factors that are still being researched.

How to Limit Sugar’s Power Over You

Whether you guzzle Coke when barbequing or a binge queen who straightens pie edges until they’re gone, you’ve probably developed some specific behaviors with sugar that you may wish to reconsider. Here are recommendations by the American Heart Association that will help you reduce your sugar intake:

  1. Drink water instead of soda. Keep an insulated water bottle handy wherever you go, so you’ll always have the option of a cold drink when a soda tempts you.
  2. Eat fresh or frozen fruits instead of fruit juices. Fruit juices are acidic and often have added sugar, which lower the pH of your mouth, making your teeth vulnerable to damage.
  3. Read food labels! Look for healthy fats and lower amounts of added sugars.
  4. Add fresh fruit instead of sugar to your oatmeal.
  5. Try spices like fresh ginger to enhance food flavor.
  6. Use unsweetened applesauce instead of sugar in recipes.
  7. Toss the table sugar. Cut back on the amount of sugar you add to coffee, tea, or cereal. Start by using half as much as you usually do, and then wean down from there.
  8. Beware of relying on artificial sweeteners. These create a host of other problems.

Your oral health is integral to your overall physical and mental health.

If sugar is negatively affecting one part of your health, it’s time to rethink your options. Small changes can lead to big improvements.

At Davis Gribble Hollowwa, we can help you jump-start your new take-charge lifestyle with a dental cleaning and/or fluoride treatment. We are here to support you as you strive toward optimal health! Call today for an appointment.

Author Info

Dr. Connor Hollowwa

Dr. Connor Hollowwa is an Albuquerque native. He graduated from the Albuquerque Academy and went on to receive a BA from Rice University. His Doctorate of Dental Surgery is from Creighton University School of Dentistry. Since 2014 Dr. Hollowwa has practiced at the state-of-the-art Isleta Health Center’s Dental Clinic, providing modern dental care for the members of the Pueblo of Isleta. In his free time he enjoys playing the piano, fly-fishing, golfing, and skiing.

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