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 consumption by the average North American has skyrocketed. The estimated annual per capita 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 sweeteners (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? This sweetener 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 seem like much, but it adds up quickly (i.e. multiply that by 40 = an additional 640 Calories a day).
Effects on immune system: excess consumption can have adverse effects on your immune system. In one study, the consumption of 100g (25 teaspoons) 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 suggests that reducing your intake of sweeteners (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.