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Most physicians, dentists, and nutritionists discourage their patients from consuming excess amounts of sugar. Sugar can wreak havoc on our bodies. The average American consumes approximately 152 lbs. of sugar every year. While sugar may taste good, it can have detrimental impacts on your health. Weight gain, poor blood sugar regulation, and heart disease are just a few of the risks associated with eating excess sugar.
Harmful Effects of Sugar on Health
Sugar Converts into Fat
Learning how the body metabolizes processed sugar is the best way to grasp its correlation to weight gain. After consumption, the soluble sugar molecule is converted to glucose and utilized for the energy needs of the body. Excess glucose is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen.
However, human organs have a limited capacity to store glycogen. Research has shown that the liver can store roughly 100 grams of glycogen, whereas muscles may store somewhere between 350 and 700 grams.
When more sugar is consumed than the liver and muscles can store as glycogen, the excess is transformed into fat and stored in adipose tissue. This is known as lipogenesis. In other words, when sugar is ingested in high quantities, it converts to fat.
Suppose a dish of spaghetti is eaten then accompanied by ice cream for dessert. If glycogen stores are not depleted, any remaining sugar will be stored as fat. That being said, if glycogen stores are depleted (if you are fasting or performing high-intensity exercises for example), the body will convert sugar into glucose and use it for energy. This means that a portion of it will be stored as glycogen rather than fat.
The Insulin Effect
Sugar goes directly into the bloodstream, triggering the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin sends sugar into cells, including muscle cells and liver cells, to be used as a source of energy. Extra sugar is then sent into fat and liver cells for storage. Overconsumption causes weight gain and a condition known as fatty liver disease.
Sugar Consists of Empty Calories
The body needs fuel from food and nourishment to get through the day. Processed sugar is an empty-calorie food that provides energy, but no nutritional value. It is also high in calories, so not much needs to be eaten before the metabolic system becomes overburdened. Foods containing high amounts of processed sugar can quickly overwhelm the body with more energy than it can expend.
However, foods that naturally contain sugar are different. When whole, healthy foods are consumed, the calories are accompanied by essential vitamins and other nutrients. For example, fruits and dairy products contain naturally-occurring sugars, but are digested more slowly and provide a more sustainable energy supply because of the accompanying nutrients.
Consuming empty calories diminishes the health benefits of other foods and beverages that have high-nutritional content. Your energy needs are met and exceeded, but your nutritional needs are neglected. This can lead to nutritional imbalances and deficiencies that result in further health problems.
Sugar is Addictive
Have you ever noticed that as you consume more sugar, you begin to desire it more? Research has shown that sugar bingeing causes a surge in dopamine—a neurotransmitter involved in the brain's reward system—comparable to that released when abusing harmful substances such as opioids.
Like many dangerous and illicit substances, sugar is rapidly absorbed into the body. As a result, it is commonly used in addiction-like eating practices. Further, much like with substance abuse, people can develop a tolerance to sugar, requiring more and more of it to achieve the same “high.” As a result, when people reduce or quit their consumption of sugar, they may experience withdrawal symptoms.
How Much Sugar Needs to be Consumed?
Unlike sugar, complex carbohydrates take a longer period of time to be broken down by the body into glucose that fuels the body and brain. Long-distance runners, for example, may prefer fuel in the form of simple carbohydrates since it is immediately available for use as energy in their body. However, this is only the case for athletes and individuals that actively and rapidly expend energy throughout their day. Complex carbohydrates that digest slowly are usually much better for the average person.
Ideally, processed sugar should be eliminated from our diets. Although this is highly recommended, it can be very difficult to achieve. As such, sugar should only be consumed in moderation. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommends limiting daily sugar intake to less than 10% of total calories. That's only 200 calories on a 2,000-calorie daily diet.
Artificial vs. Natural Sugars
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that is readily broken down and absorbed by the body. Some sugars exist naturally in foods, while others are added to make them taste sweeter. For example, milk, fruit, starchy vegetables, winter squash, peas, maize, and potatoes contain naturally occurring sugar. But they provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Examining the nutritional label on foods, to identify items that have added sugar, is a good practice. Added sugars are often identified as sucrose, corn syrup, and raw sugar. All sugar, both synthetic and processed sugar contribute to spikes in blood sugar levels and must be measured in overall consumption.
Alternatives to Sugar
Protein leads to the growth of new muscles and tissues, and aids in the recovery from damage done during intense exercise. Whether ingested as a food or as a powder, it helps to slow the absorption of sugars and carbs, allowing blood sugar levels to remain stable.
Just like sugar and other carbohydrates, protein eventually breaks down into glucose, but not nearly as fast. As such, eating protein provides sustained energy over a much longer period of time. Because of its slow absorption and digestion, there's no such thing as a protein surge, lik that you can experience with sugar. Protein doesn’t prompt the same crash and burn cycle. When you’re hungry, one of the best solutions are protein powder shakes that provide a steady source of energy.
If muscles are like a home, protein should be thought of as the bricks. Smoothies with protein powder are ideal for efficient, time-released energy, both before and after a workout.
Protein Snack Bar
If protein shakes are inconvenient, protein snack bars are the next best thing. Following a workout, a quick go-to meal replacement protein bar helps build and repair muscles. They are also great snacks to keep as an alternative to many sugar-laden, empty-calorie snacks.
Gaining muscle mass and losing fat requires a disciplined diet. Sticking to healthy food alternatives will help you get the maximum benefits from exercise and weight training. Appropriate amounts of protein, vitamins, and supplements are vital.
At Allmax, we provide an extensive collection of professional-grade workout and recovery supplements, including whey and whey Isolate proteins, essential vitamins, weight loss and weight gain supplements, and much more.
 Glimcher, L. H., & Lee, A. H. (2009). From sugar to fat: How the transcription factor XBP1 regulates hepatic lipogenesis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1173 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), E2–E9. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04956.x
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