Why Sugar Is Bad For You, The Damaging Effects of Sugar

damaging effects of sugarThink about this ...

You wouldn’t put the wrong gas in your car. So why would you consume the wrong sugars in your regular diet?  And why so much?

The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar per day – twice the recommended amount![i] Millions of us continue with this life-threatening western diet.

Recently, I read a good blog called “Is Sugar Really That Bad for Us?” in which wellness writer Katie Koerner, does a good job of simplifying the damaging effects of sugar on the body.

“Natural or processed, sugar is a simple carbohydrate that the body uses for energy.”[ii] But because refined sugar is one part glucose and one part fructose, the body has to work that much harder to break down this compound carbohydrate, especially the liver.  And because this added sugar hits the body more quickly than other carbs, a good part of it is converted to fat.

At the end of the blog, Koerner enlists other experts to weigh in. Dr. John Mandrola does one better by defining "the real bad guy" that comes from excess sugar – insulin.  

Insulin, as many of us know, is the hormone that is released by the pancreas to help process or break down carbohydrates entering the body. When consuming natural sugar in moderation, this process burns carbs into fuel to energize us. 

When consuming excess sugar, as many of us do in a given day (not to mention all the other bad carbs we eat), excess amounts of insulin are released. This culminates in the development of at least two dysfunctional processes in the body.

  1. First, the insulin converts all that sugar into excess fat.
  2. Second, all of that excess fat hardens the arteries, causing atherosclerosis (which then leads to heart attacks and strokes)!

Furthermore, the higher amounts of insulin released, the more resistant the cells become and so we have exorbitant levels of insulin circulating throughout the body. This ultimately causes the cluster of conditions that occur together: increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels – conveniently known as metabolic syndrome. 

Metabolic Syndrome increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

As I was reading this, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great to find a less scientific analogy so that it would be simpler for people to understand the harmful effects of added sugars in our western diet?

Initially, I thought about that leftover pot roast that gets put in the refrigerator after a big meal and then becomes gelatinous by the next day when you are looking to make a sandwich for lunch.  It’s a good visual for imagining what the inside of your body looks like with all the unprocessed fat that has nowhere to go. 

But then when I was driving to refill the tank in my car, I came up with an even better, perhaps more fitting comparison.

You would never intentionally put the wrong gas in your car, would you?

pumping gasIt’s been known to happen when somebody grabs the wrong pump and starts filling the gas-powered car with diesel. The car may drive for a little bit but then it would shut down because gas engines cannot function properly with diesel fuel.

Diesel and gasoline have different combustion properties, meaning that gas would detonate much earlier in a diesel engine, causing misfires and knocking that will require certain parts of the engine to be repaired, replaced or even rebuilt – all very expensive propositions! The same holds for putting processed sugars into your body; an “engine” that was built to run on natural sugars.

So why do we consume so much of the wrong sugars?  

Putting the right gas in your car’s tank is an easy choice to make. Most of us would not be so naive or daring to put the wrong fuel in our car just to see what would happen.

  • I concede that sourcing the right foods at the supermarket is not as simple of a choice given the need to read labels and negotiate the effectively deceitful marketing from the vast "low-fat" food and beverage segment.
  • Additionally, I understand that a major cultural paradigm shift would be required to sway Americans from home meal replacement and processed food options (including fast food and other dining out choices) towards cooking from scratch and eating only natural foods given the “busy-ness” of our current lives. With both parents working and single adults working more hours (including a second job) per week, there is a time limitation factor that may not allow for healthier meal planning and preparation.

But what if we could compare the same expensive price tags for car repair with our personal health care? We cringe when we know we have to take the car in for repair because we know it will be a big bill, even to fix a scratch. We also gasp when we know that medical procedures are required because out-of-pocket costs are huge even with the best insurance.

buying healthy food In this spirit, wouldn’t it be great if we could use the same “gas pump” approach when organizing our shopping list and home pantry? We could separate the healthy food options from the packaged, processed added sugar and bad carb selections!

It would be a worthwhile exercise to start with the snack shelf. Really discover what you are paying for foods with added sugars, and then work to wean yourself and your family off all the unhealthy choices.

Granted, we don't suffer the immediate health effects as a car does when you put the wrong gas in the tank, but the principle remains the same. We are eating the wrong foods (with added sugars) that our bodies are not designed to process. 

While our "human engine" won’t shut down right away, we do know that the longer-term, life-threatening effects are bad enough. Why roll the dice with metabolic syndrome or diabetes?

From now on, that trip to the kitchen or to the grocery store should have that same focus as your trip to the gas station. Which fuel will you put in your tank?

Tips to Be a Smart Food Shopper 

[i] http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/circulationaha/120/11/1011.full.pdf

[ii] https://greatist.com/health/sugar-really-bad-us

Sean Browne

Sean Browne

Former Chief Revenue Officer, CCS Medical

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