Most people know that “sugar is bad for you” and that reducing its intake is one of the cornerstones to a healthier lifestyle. But what is it exactly about sugar that impacts our health so negatively?
For starters, the sheer
volume of sugar consumption by the average North American has skyrocketed. The estimated annual per capita sugar consumption in the 1850s was about
25 pounds. This increased to about 120 pounds of sugar per capita by the 1950s.
With the introduction of other sugars (such as high fructose corn syrup) to
virtually all refined foods, modern sugar consumption has grown to about 40 teaspoons
of added sugar per person, per day!
In addition to the
staggering quantity consumed, sugar contains many empty calories, is very
energy dense, and has shown to have deleterious effects on our immune system:
Empty calories: what
do we mean by empty calories? Well, sugar contains virtually no minerals,
vitamins, or other micronutrients. It is just a very refined carbohydrate, and
does very little in the ways of nourishing our bodies.
Energy dense: a
little sugar adds up to a lot of extra calories. Only 1 teaspoon (= 5 grams) of
sugar has about 16 Calories. This may not seam like much, but it adds up
quickly (i.e. multiply that by 40 = an additional 640 Calories a day).
Effects on immune system: excess sugar consumption can have adverse effects on
your immune system. In one study, the consumption of 100g (25 teaspoons) of
sugar in the form of either sucrose, glucose, or fructose by healthy volunteers
caused a temporary decrease in the ability of their neutrophils (specialized
immune cells) to engulf bacteria. This suggest that reducing your intake of
sugars (including refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta) can be
helpful in preventing and fighting infections.
The bottom line: cut back
on sugar and other refined carbohydrate consumption (and increase your daily
intake of fruits and vegetables), your body will thank you.