ice with cherry on top

How Increased Sugar Affects Your Health

Who doesn’t love a warm brownie right out of the oven or a delicious scoop of ice cream on a warm summer day? Or, a little of both? But what if consuming sugar is happening way too often and you are not sure how to break the habit?

Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not alone. Knowing how much sugar is too much and how it affects your health is a wonderful place to start to tackle cravings!

Many of you have probably tried quitting sugar cold turkey or reducing your carbohydrate consumption to lose weight. This usually results in under-fueling your body, making cravings stronger.

Let’s begin by understanding the role sugar plays in your diet and how it makes you feel both physically and mentally.

How Sugar Affects Your Health

grayscale photo of woman measuring her abdomen to balance blood sugar.

Over time, too much sugar consumption can cause health problems like learning and memory, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay.

  • Learning and memory: The more sugar you consume, the greater the chance you are contributing to the deterioration of the brain’s ability to process and retain information (something many of us can’t afford to happen as we age) due to increased inflammation.
  • Heart disease: Consuming a diet high in sugary foods has been linked to an elevation in blood pressure. Also, too much sugar can promote inflammation in the body, which leads to excess stress on the heart and blood vessels.
  • Obesity: Overconsumption of calories and sugar can lead to obesity. For example, if you are someone who enjoys a can of soda daily without a reduction in calories anywhere else in your diet, you will likely gain 15 pounds in just 3 years. An increase in weight contributes to diabetes and many cancers.
  • Type 2 diabetes: As women age and go through menopause, the drop in hormones makes it harder for your body to use up glucose from your bloodstream after a meal. Essentially, you are less sensitive to insulin, which can lead to insulin resistance. The cells in your muscles, fat, and liver stop responding as they should to insulin meaning they can’t efficiently take up glucose from your blood or store it. Over time, chronic insulin resistance can lead to prediabetes and, eventually, type 2 diabetes if left untreated.
  • Tooth decay: Increased sugar intake feeds the bacteria in your mouth leaving behind acid that wears away your tooth enamel. It helps to rinse your mouth after consuming sugary treats.

Embracing a diet with healthy foods and less sugar, managing stress, staying physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight will help manage many of these conditions.

doughnut with toppings.

How Much Sugar is Too Much?

The American Heart Association recommends you consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar daily for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for men. Most Americans consume about 22 teaspoons daily (88 grams) — the equivalent of two cans of a 12-ounce sugar-sweetened soda or a 6-ounce cup of sugar-sweetened yogurt.

It’s important to read food labels. Recognize that many ‘healthy’ foods have hidden sugar. For example, a typical 6-ounce vanilla yogurt has the same amount of sugar as a regular-size Snickers bar — four grams of sugar. A quick stop to Starbucks for a blueberry muffin? According to the Starbucks website, there are 7 teaspoons or 29 grams of sugar.

Why Do You Crave Sugar?

When you crave sugar, it’s usually because it produces the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine that increase your energy and improve your mood. But, unfortunately, there are a lot of negative effects associated with a high-sugar diet.

Although sugar can give you a quick burst of energy, it doesn’t provide minerals or nutrients. Increased sugar consumption contributes to fatigue, more sugar cravings, depression, and mood swings. If you are a woman dealing with hormonal changes, too much sugar in your diet can make these unbearable symptoms worse.

Personally, when I reduced my sugar intake over time, I lost the menopause weight I had gained, reduced the inflammation I felt in my joints, lessened my hot flashes, and truly improved my mood. I still eat sugar but try to indulge when it’s truly worth it without guilt!

Check out Improving Your Mood in Peri-Menopause and Beyond to understand and manage erratic and unpredictable moods with fluctuating hormones.

Without dieting and choosing to eat intuitively, you can recognize how to nourish your body without deprivation. Learn more at my blog post ‘How to Start Eating Intuitively.’ Make peace with food, eat what pleases your palate as you recognize how different foods affect your body.

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How to Combat Sugar Cravings

  • Exercise: Movement is one of the best ways to balance blood sugar and reduce cravings. Get outside, go to the gym, or walk around your office. I highly recommend this treadmill which is affordable and easy to store and can keep you active even as you work at your desk. You can even take the stairs a few flights after meals to use up some extra sugar floating around in your body. This will also improve your mood!
  • Nutrition: Balancing your blood sugar and reducing sugar cravings can happen with a balanced diet. Aim for a 50-25-25 split with the largest section being non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli and zucchini. Add a portion of protein (eggs, Greek yogurt, fish, chicken, lean meat, nuts, and/or seeds) and the remaining section full of grains and starches (sweet potatoes or brown rice). Eat every 4-5 hours to keep your blood sugar balanced and cravings to a minimum.
  • Stop deprivation: Don’t under-fuel yourself. Sugary foods become more appealing when you reduce your carbohydrate intake and end up feeling hungry all the time. Taking in about half your weight in grams of protein is key to staying full. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, you need about 70 to 90 grams of protein a day depending on your activity level.
  • Sleep: Getting 7-9 hours of good sleep will help balance your blood sugar and mood.
  • Hydrate: Drinking plenty of water helps the kidneys flush out toxins and sugar.
  • Educate yourself: Pay attention to the glycemic index (GI) of foods. It’s a value assigned to foods based on how quickly these foods cause increases in blood glucose levels. Choose foods with a lower glycemic index and learn the foods that contain a lot of hidden sugar.

Cutting down on your sugar consumption has a lot of health benefits. But don’t look to give up all desserts and hidden sugar overnight. Be patient as you take steps towards nourishing your body to feel your best.

As you socialize and attend celebrations and holiday events, there are always opportunities to enjoy some yummy treats! Spring is filled with graduations and celebrations that always include delicious desserts. In the summer, there are a host of barbeques, parties, and opportunities to eat ice cream (my favorite). In the fall and winter, holiday pies and cookies seem to be around every corner. Pick and choose what’s important to you.

Prioritize your health as you tune into what your body truly needs.

Reach out if you want to learn how I can help you thrive in midlife and not just survive!

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