News flash: We're all dipped in honey and rolled in sprinkles. The average person shovels in 300 calories from added sugar every day, according to a report from the University of North Carolina. Roughly 20 per cent of us exceed 700 calories of added sugar on a daily basis. That's an entire cup of sugar. Whoa.
"Not only are we getting added sugar from obvious places like cakes, candy, and soda, but it's also coming from healthier-sounding packaged products like salad dressing, pasta sauce, and yogurt," says Elyse Powell, one of the report's coauthors and a doctoral researcher at UNC. (To be clear, by "added sugar" we're talking about the super-processed sweet stuff you'd add to a batch of cookies, not the natural sugars found in whole fruit, veggies, and plain milk.) The big takeaway from that UNC report: Most of us could stand to cut back on sugar.
Exactly what you'll experience when you ditch the sweet stuff will depend on the size of your sugar habit; people on the high end of the sugar-consumption spectrum show addict-like withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, restlessness, and even depression, research has shown. But assuming you're like the average American, you can expect a few things to happen once you wrestle your sugar habit back into its cage.
Your risk of dying from ticker-related trouble will plummet threefold, according to research from James J. DiNicolantonio, a cardiovascular research scientist at St. Luke's Mid-Atlantic Heart Institute. Why? "Added sugar chronically raises insulin levels, which activates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing blood pressure and heart rate," DiNicolantonio explains. "Within a few weeks' time, you might expect to see a 10 per cent decrease in LDL cholesterol and a 20 to 30 per cent decrease in triglycerides." Your BP would head in the right direction, too, he says.
Forget zits. Systemic inflammation is a known acne trigger. And sugar - wouldn't you know it? - is inflammatory. One study
in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
found that when non-soda-drinkers consumed one can a day for 3 weeks, their inflammation levels increased by 87 per cent. Give up the soda and other sweetened drinks and you might be waking up to smoother skin, the research suggests.
Eating added sugar promotes the buildup of fatty deposits around your liver. These deposits contribute to insulin resistance and undermine the work done by your pancreas, which normally stalls the production of insulin, says Dr Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease
. In a study
of sugar consumption in 175 nations, Dr. Lustig found that eating 150 calories of added sugar is 11 times more likely to contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, compared with 150 calories from protein or fat. So swap that sugary granola for a handful of nuts, pronto.
The crash from a sugar high leaves you with mid-day sluggishness and an itching need for a nap. Also, added sugar triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which interferes with slumber, Dr. Lustig says. Give up added sugar, and you should be more awake and alert during the day, and also better prepared to catch some serious shuteye at bedtime.