10 Things Everyone Should Know about Sugar

Photo courtesy of Shardayyy under Flickr Creative Commons. License.

Is it natural for children to display behaviors such as irritability, mood swings, low self-esteem, tantrums and excessive talking?

Perhaps to a degree – all of those are natural feelings and experiences associated with childhood and adolescence. However when they become the norm and are negatively impacting you and your child’s life then investigating your child’s sugar and carbohydrate intake is a key place to start.


Well the science is beginning to show us just how profoundly sugar can affect our behavior.

For example, research on ADD, ADHD, Autism and now Alzheimer’s is starting to show that there are connections between those disorders and sugar intake.

Many of the harmful effects of sugar were recently summed up very nicely in a piece by Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D., in the Huffington Post. She highlights 10 things you don’t know about sugar that could hurt you and your children.

Here are her 10 need-to-know items about sugar in sum (Remember, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, it is the processed sources of “added sugar” that we need to reduce or better yet stop consuming):

  1. Sugar can damage your heart
    A 2013 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association provided strong evidence that sugar can affect the pumping mechanism of your heart and could increase the risk for heart failure. Approximately half of the people that are diagnosed with heart failure die within five years.
  2. Sugar specifically promotes belly fat
    Adolescent obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years and childhood obesity rates have doubled. One factor that seems to inflict obese children is fat accumulation in the trunk area of the body. A 2010 study in children found that excess fructose intake (but not glucose intake) actually caused visceral fat cells to mature — setting the stage for a big belly and even bigger future risk for heart disease and diabetes.
  3. Sugar is a silent killer
    A 2008 study found that excess fructose consumption was linked to an increase in a condition called leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that tells you when you’ve had enough food. For some people, leptin simply does not want to work, leaving them with no signal that the body has enough food to function. This in turn can lead to over eating and obesity. This all happens without symptoms or warning bells.
  4. Sugar may be linked to cancer production and may affect cancer survival
    One connection that has been well documented in the scientific literature is the link between insulin resistance and cancer. A 2013 study found that sugars in the intestine triggered the formation of a hormone called GIP (controlled by a protein called β-catenin that is completely defendant on sugar levels) that, in turn, increases insulin. Researchers found that β-catenin may affect the cells’ susceptibility to cancer formation. Further studies have found negative associations between high sugar/starch intake and survival rates in both breast cancer patients and colon cancer patients.
  5. Your sugar “addiction” may be genetic
    A recent study of 579 individuals showed that those who had genetic changes in a hormone called ghrelin ate more sugar than those without the gene variation. Ghrelin is a hormone that tells the brain you’re hungry. Researchers think that the genetic components that affect your ghrelin release may have a lot to do with whether or not you seek to enhance a neurological reward system through your sweet tooth.
  6. Sugar and alcohol have similar toxic liver effects on the body
    A 2012 paper in the journal Nature showed evidence that fructose and glucose in excess can have a toxic effect on the liver similar to the metabolism of ethanol — the alcohol contained in alcoholic beverages had similarities to the metabolic pathways that fructose took. Further, sugar increased the risk for several of the same chronic conditions that alcohol was responsible for. Finally, if you think that your slim stature keeps you immune from fructose causing liver damage, think again. A 2013 study found that liver damage could occur even without excess calories or weight gain.
  7. Sugar may sap your brain power
    Sugar may accelerate the aging process. A 2009 study found a positive relationship between glucose consumption and the aging of our cells. That aging can be the cause of something as simple as wrinkles to susceptibility to much more dire chronic diseases. There is evidence that sugar may affect the aging of your brain as well. A 2012 study found that excess sugar consumption was linked to deficiencies in memory and overall cognitive health.
  8. Sugar hides in many everyday “non-sugar” foods
    Your favorite ‘non-sugary’ foods may contain lots of sugar. Examples include tomato sauce, fat free dressing, tonic water, marinates, crackers and even bread.
  9. An overload of sugar may shorten your life
    A 2013 study estimated that 180,000 deaths worldwide may be attributed to sweetened beverage consumption. The United States alone accounted for 25,000 deaths in 2010. The authors summarize that deaths occurred due to the association with sugar-sweetened beverages and chronic disease risk such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
  10. Sugar is making us fat
    Too many calories from any source will be stored as fat if it isn’t burned. Worse, the lack of other nutrients in sugar actually makes it much easier to eat gobs of it with no physical effects to warn us of the danger that lurks. Foods rich in fibre, fat and protein all have been associated with increased fullness. Sugar will give you the calories, but not the feeling that you’ve had enough.

You can find Kristin’s full article, along with links to the studies on the health effects of sugar here.

A Sweet Alternative

That’s a lot to absorb. But even if you take all of those studies to heart, that doesn’t mean eating has to be bland! Here’s a healthy yummy treat as an alternative to the many empty, high-calorie desserts out there.

Serves 2

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A healthy alternative to processed sugar sweets

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  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • ¼ cup coconut nectar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ fresh vanilla pod or ¼ teaspoon of vanilla powder
  • Toasted coconut flakes and pomegranate to garnish

[/dt_cell][dt_cell width=”1/3″] Directions:

  1. In a small bowl or large jar, stir together the coconut milk, chia seeds, coconut nectar and cinnamon.
  2. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or until the chia seeds puff and expand. Pudding may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  3. Before serving, stir once and spoon into serving dishes.
  4. Garnish with toasted coconut flakes and serve immediately – add pomegranate too when it is in season.


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