Halloween and Thanksgiving are in the rear view, and Christmas is quickly approaching. And a theme that is consistent for all three holidays is foods with lots of sugar.
John Clore, MD, is one of our endocrinologists who directs our Program for Diabetes Health. Check out this Q&A with him where he provides education and insight on what sugar does to our bodies in both the short- and long-term.
Q: What happens to our bodies when we consume sugar?
A: Sugar, or sucrose, is made up of equal parts glucose and fructose, which the body rapidly digests to its individual components. Most of the fructose is taken up by the liver. The glucose is partly stored as glycogen in the liver, partly stored in muscle and the rest metabolized as a primary energy source throughout the body.
Q: What is the difference between sugar in fruit compared to sugar in candy and sweets?
A: Most sweets are predominantly made of sucrose, although fruit has a bit more fructose. Some candy and sweets are of course are made from high fructose corn syrup, where the ratio of fructose to glucose is higher. There is some concern that diets higher in fructose can lead to increased synthesis of fat, which is stored in liver and muscle and may adversely impact metabolism.
Q: How much sugar is too much sugar for a person?
A: Generally, the recommendations are no more than 30 grams per day of pure sugar. Please note that a regular 12 oz soda contains about 40 grams.
Q: What happens to our bodies when we consume sugar consistently for days, weeks or months?
A: Increased sugar intake often leads to excess calorie intake because it is so energy dense. This can then lead to weight gain and obesity, increased new fat synthesis and increased abdominal fat. All of this can then lead to insulin resistance that can increase risk for type 2 diabetes.
Q: What are the signs or warnings that we are consuming too much sugar?
A: If you don’t have diabetes, weight gain is most prominent. If you have diabetes, then increased sugar intake leads to increased glucose levels.
Q: Why do we crave sugar?
A: It’s a mental thing! Sugar stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. There are some studies that show increased activity in the pleasure centers of the brain after ingestion of sugar.
Q: What are some healthier alternatives to sugar?
A: Instead of thinking about healthier alternatives, the issue is really how much sugar you are consuming.
That being said, non-sugar sweeteners are also safe, even for individuals living with diabetes. However, be careful. There are also sugar alcohols (the label name ends in -OL) that are advertised as sugar-free, but the body converts them back to glucose so they are not free. Again, it is ideal to just enjoy consuming sugar in moderation.
Q: Does our age effect how our bodies metabolize sugar?
A: As folks get older, metabolism in general may decrease, but that is most often because of decreased physical activity. Staying active keeps nutrient metabolism at higher levels. If one stays active, the glucose is burned as a fuel instead of being stored as fat.
Learn more about endocrinology and the diabetes care services we offer at Bon Secours.