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It feels like the suggestions for a healthy, balanced diet are constantly changing. "Everything should be fat free!" "You should avoid carbs!" "Wait, avoid carbs but eat foods that are high in fat!" Trying to keep up with nutrition trends can be maddening. 

One thing most nutritionists agree on, however, is limiting your sugar intake. We're all pretty aware that consuming excessive amounts of sugar can be detrimental to our health and fitness goals, but the question remains: why? How does sugar intake actually impact our bodies? How should you avoid it, and what should you opt for in its place?

We spoke to Diane Lancaster, Wellness and Sports Dietitian at OrthoCarolina and Transcend Nutrition Counseling, to find out the answers.

 

How Does Excessive Sugar Intake Impact Your Body?

First, let's talk about what "excessive" sugar intake might actually look like. 

"As with any nutrition question, there is varying advice from different viewpoints," Lancaster said. "However, many health professionals agree that individuals should not consume more than 40 grams (or eight teaspoons) of added sugars per day."

Based on our research, Lancaster's suggestion is on the higher end of what most health professionals agree on for those interested in maintaining or losing weight specifically. If you fall in that category, it looks like you should aim to eat no more than 30 grams (or six teaspoons) of added sugars per day.

You know that added sugars can be found in things like sugary drinks, candy, and baked goods. But you may not think about how many are in things like bread and even protein bars. And even if you're looking at the nutrition labels of the foods and drinks you're consuming, added sugar could be hiding under other aliases like corn syrup or sucrose. 

The thing is, having too much added sugar in your diet really does impact you, both physically and mentally.

From a mental perspective, you may know the feeling of a "sugar high" after enjoying a soda or candy bar. This is just a huge release of dopamine, a "pleasure chemical" released in your brain to make you feel good. And this sugar high basically means that you're briefly going to feel great, and then your brain's going to want you to feel that again, causing sugar cravings so you'll indulge again and again. 

From a physical perspective, consuming added sugars in excess could cause your liver to develop a resistance to insulin, which is the hormone that helps your body turn sugar into energy. This makes it tough for your body to control your blood sugar levels. Additionally, that extra insulin can negatively impact your heart, pancreas, and kidneys, increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and kidney failure.

Added sugars can also cause your skin to age faster, since sugar tends to attach to proteins in your bloodstream to create advanced glycation end products that damage collagen and elastin in your skin. 

And we'll go ahead and state the obvious: the more added sugars you consume, the more likely you are to gain weight. 

 

What About Healthier Sugar Alternatives, Like Honey or Agave?

As you've likely read in the past, there are some nutritional benefits to swapping out white sugar for alternative sweeteners. For instance, agave syrup has a lower glycemic index than straight-up sucrose, which means it's less likely to spike your blood sugar. And honey offers trace amounts of vitamin C, magnesium, and antioxidants. 

But Lancaster says that you should still look at them all as added sugars when considering how much to consume (or not to consume). 

"Even healthier sources of added sugar including honey, agave, and 100% maple syrup are still providing added calories without much nutritional bang for the buck," she explained.

What Should We Eat Instead?

If you're craving something sweet, then your best bet is to reach for some natural, whole foods (and we mean actual whole foods, not the grocery store).

"Rather than focusing on exactly how many grams of added sugar we should or shouldn’t eat, the Transcend Nutrition team recommends a focus on getting most of our sugar intake from naturally occurring sources such as fruit and small amounts of dairy products," Lancaster said. 

However, Lancaster recognizes that you're never going to totally eliminate sugars from your diet. Much like our team at Work For Your Beer, she agrees that staying healthy all comes down balance and moderation. 

"So, in a nutshell, save added sugars for your absolute favorite indulgences like your grandma‘s homemade molasses cookie, or maybe that awesome peach cobbler at the ice cream stand on the way to the beach," she said. 

We can get on board with that.

Learn More About Health & Wellness From the Experts at OrthoCarolina

Whether you've recently experienced an injury or you just need help figuring out the best way to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle, OrthoCarolina can help. Make an appointment at a location near you to start getting the treatment you need.