You know sugar isn’t good for you, but it can be hard to break the habit. If you’re having trouble cutting back on the sweet stuff, this might provide a little extra motivation: New research found that people who reduced their sugar intake had better markers of health in just two weeks.
For the scientific review, which was published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, scientists analyzed previous research on sugar intake, weight, and health, and found a link between eating a lot of sugar (especially fructose) and an increased risk of weight gain. They also discovered that having overweight patients lower their intake of fructose — high-fructose corn syrup in particular— helped lower a person’s risk of developing obesity, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Fructose accelerates the conversion of sugar to fat, the researchers pointed out, and that can lead to these health complications. As a result, they recommend that doctors talk to overweight patients about cutting back on their sugar intake, rather than just focusing on the number on the scale.
The review particularly zeroed in on high fructose corn syrup because it converts to fat up to 18.9 times faster than glucose. High fructose corn syrup — which is found in 75 percent of packaged foods and drinks — flips on the metabolic pathways that converts it to fat, where it’s stored in the body, causing weight gain, the researchers said. It also tricks the brain into thinking that the body is starving and makes people less inclined to exercise.
On the positive side, people in the review who cut out high fructose corn syrup became healthier without dieting or counting calories.
When people eat too much sugar, it causes a spike in insulin levels, Gina Keatley, a certified dietitian nutritionist practicing in New York City, tells Yahoo Beauty. “Insulin helps the body to process and store energy for current and future use,” she explains. “But after decades of these spikes, cells all over the body become nonreactive to the insulin, which can cause high blood sugar, kidney failure, and diabetes.”
A high sugar intake also promotes chronic inflammation inside the body, which is linked to many diseases, including heart disease and cancer, Beth Warren — a registered dietitian, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition, and author of Living a Real Life With Real Food — tells Yahoo Beauty. It can even impact your central nervous system — specifically your brain’s ability to control your appetite — Deena Adimoolam, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, endocrinology, diabetes, and bone disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells Yahoo Beauty.
Unfortunately, you probably already eat too much sugar. Julie Upton, registered dietitian and co-founder of the nutrition website Appetite for Health, tells Yahoo Beauty that most Americans eat two to three times as much added sugar than the American Heart Association recommends, which is no more than six teaspoons a day for women and nine teaspoons a day for men.
While high fructose corn syrup in particular was flagged, Keatley says your body can’t really tell the difference between fructose, table sugar, and even honey. “If you’re looking to cut back, it can be from all sources,” she says.
If you know you eat too much sugar, there are a few things you can do to scale back. Adimoolam recommends avoiding processed foods whenever possible (they tend to be sugar traps) and choosing foods with natural forms of sugar, such as fruit, whenever you can.
Mashed bananas, dates, prunes, or applesauce can also be used as sweeteners in baked goods, Upton says. It also might help to slowly cut back on the amount of sugar you add to things like coffee to give your taste buds time to catch up, Warren suggests. Keatley agrees. “Slow and steady looks to be best for people,” she says.
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