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Sugar and the Body: What Happens?

Sugar is often hidden in foods when we don’t even realize it, even if they’re not necessarily “sweet”. Foods like flavored yogurts, cereal, crackers, smoothies, instant oatmeal, sauces, bread, salad dressing, and sports drinks can have large amounts of sugar. These foods, even the ones that aren’t desserts, can cause people to have a sort of “addiction” that results in sugar cravings. These high-glycemic foods create a “reward” response in the brain and can often promote additional feelings of hunger. The higher the blood glucose level, the stronger the addiction may be. This can lead to overeating, especially when consuming foods that are low in nutrients.

As soon as sugar enters the body, your pancreas may sense that there are elevated levels of blood sugar. It then releases insulin, which helps the body turn the sugar into energy. In the case that you take in more sugar than you need, the body is forced to store the extra sugar for later. The sugar is stored as fat, sometimes in places where we don’t necessarily want it. This leftover sugar can lead to obesity, type II diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. Excess fructose also alters the normal processes of our cells, which can damage tissues and organs and increase risk of liver disease, kidney failure, or cataracts.

People may also notice that they start to feel a lack of energy after eating a lot of sugar. Too much sugar too quickly means too much insulin too quickly, and the body immediately starts to use glucose for energy. This leads to a drop in glucose levels, which causes a drop in energy. This sugar crash may also come with hunger, irritability, headache, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.

There are a couple of ways to combat the negative side effects of sugar consumption. Sugar alone isn’t necessarily bad for you, but it can be easy to have too much.

Avoid Fructose

Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver and is difficult for the body to break down. It is often found in processed foods and drinks like sodas. Up to 74% of sugar in processed foods is under different names, which can make it tricky to detect. It’s best to keep fructose consumption under 25g per day.

Combine Sugar with Fiber

Fiber works to keep the body feeling full when sugar does the opposite. Good fibrous foods include wheat, bread, fruits, and vegetables.

Limit Processed Foods

Avoiding processed foods entirely might not work with your busy lifestyle, but it’s best to limit them wherever possible. Even reading the labels for sugar content helps you know what is actually in the foods that you eat. A few tips are to buy whole wheat bread, avoid pre-packaged meals, and buy foods with increased fiber content.

Eat a Protein-Rich Breakfast

People often turn to sugary breakfast foods like granola bars or cereal when they’re busy or in a hurry. However, taking the time to have a balanced breakfast is a great step to reduce additional sugar cravings throughout the day.

Avoid Sugar Substitutes

Unfortunately, substituting sugar with artificial sweeteners won’t lessen your sugar cravings.

Taking a few steps to be conscious of your sugar intake can make a big difference in the way you look and feel. Always consult with a doctor before making any dramatic dietary changes.

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