Trick or Treat- Why Sugar is Bad

If your firehouse (or house) is anything like the one I work in its full of leftover Halloween candy and sweets. Now I must admit, I like a good treat now and then but often I have a very difficult time stopping with just one.  Why?  Sugar.  Its everywhere in almost everything and too much of it can cause some serious health issues. Some foods, such as fruits and carrots, naturally contain sugar, but watch out for foods with added sugars, such as baked goods, cereals, crackers, even sauces and many other processed foods (many of which are around the firehouse).

A typical American can consume between two to three pounds of sugar every week. As mentioned earlier, sugar is everywhere and is being processed in  many foods we eat. These foods are not just sweets. Sugar in large quantities can be found in peanut butter, mayonnaise, bread, ketchup and many other categorically “non-sweets” products.

Now let’s get to the real question: Why is this refined sugar bad for you?

Refined Sugar is bad for you because it raises the insulin level in your blood.  Raised blood insulin levels depress the immune system which decreases your ability to fight disease (not good for anyone that deals with EMS). Raised blood insulin levels can also cause rapid weight gain. Insulin promotes the storage of fat; so, when you eat foods high in refined sugar, you increase fat storage. Obviously, the result is rapid weight gain.

Refined sugar contains no vitamins or minerals so in order for sugar to be metabolized it must draw on the body’s reserve of vitamins and minerals. When these reserves are depleted, metabolization of cholesterol and fatty acid is impeded, contributing to higher blood serum triglycerides, cholesterol, promoting obesity due to higher fatty acid storage around organs.

In short high sugar intake has been linked these health issues:

  • Tooth decay
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression
  • Rise in triglycerides
  • Reduction in helpful high density cholesterol (HDLs)
  • Promotion of harmful cholesterol (LDLs)
  • Weakened defense against bacterial infection
  • Increase the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Headaches, including migraines
  • and many, many, many more
So now that we know sugar can be bad for us, how do we reduce it in our diets (and around the firehouse)?

Tip #1: Break the Soda Habit

With up to more than 4 tablespoons of sugar in a can of soda, a low sugar diet plan should contain no soda at all. By giving up a single can of soda a week, you can lose a pound a month, without making any other dietary changes.  Substitute seltzer, water or club soda for your sugary, calorie-laden soda. And if you think diet soda is the way to go, read this (click here to see my diet soda post).

Tip #2: Reduce Sugar Cravings
If you eat healthy meals with protein, fiber, whole grains, and complex carbohydrates instead of lots of sugar, you will feel satisfied longer, and eventually reduce your craving for sugar.  The more you eat sugar, the more you crave it.

Tip #3: Read labels
Look for sugar in the ingredients and not just the nutrition facts. Sugar occurs naturally in many foods and is healthy for the body. The goal of reading the label is to make sure sugar is not an added ingredient. If it is not added then do not worry about the natural sugar on the fact list.  As far as how much sugar can you have in a day?  The World Health Organization suggests that no more than 10 percent of your daily calories come from added sugar, so that’s a good dietary goal.  By reading labels you can figure out the number of calories you eat each day and how much sugar.

Tip #4: Eat your fruits and vegetables 
Your parents did not tell you “no desserts until you eat your fruits and vegetables” for their health, but yours. While fructose, a natural fruit sugar, is found in your fruits this is okay for you to eat. This is a type of sugar that your body does need and offers your taste palette a sweet treat which is actually healthy.

Tip #5.  Set a goal to reduce sugar
Now that you know how to reduce sugar, make it a reality by setting a weekly goal.  If you are drinking  1 soda a day try to reduce it to one every other day.  If you add sugar to your coffee, try to go without.

The main purpose of this post is to get you thinking about your diet and the foods you put into your body.  We are athletes, in order to do our job efficiently we need to fuel our bodies effectively.

Stay Safe and Healthy,
A. Zamzow

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