A spoonful of sugar

Sugar consumption is a major issue in the United States. Between the soda, candy, ice cream, oversized breakfast pastries, and sugar-laden desserts we all love and hold dearly, Americans are consuming much more sugar than they actually need. In fact, the FDA is even proposing new recommendations that no more than 10% of your daily calories come from added sugars. In addition, to help you make better food choices, the FDA also wants to give added sugars a percent daily value on the nutritional facts labels.

Of course, in order for us to truly understand why overconsumption of sugar is harmful, we must first understand how the body reacts to sugar.

Upon consumption of sugar (and it’s subsequent passage into the stomach), the first major thing to happen is that it enters into the small intestine, where enzymes immediately break the sugar down into glucose and fructose, the two chemical components that it’s made from. Glucose and fructose are then rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. This increase of glucose in the bloodstream causes your body to secrete the hormone insulin. Essentially, insulin instructs the body to remove glucose from the bloodstream, either for use in energy production or energy storage (a.k.a fat).

So what’s so bad about consuming too much sugar? While our bodies are designed to deal with periodic spikes of glucose into the bloodstream, they’re not well-equipped for dealing with such drastic changes on a daily basis. At some point along the way, continuous overconsumption of sugars eventually causes the body to stop responding to insulin, a condition known as insulin resistance. This causes glucose and insulin levels in the blood to stay constantly elevated, which is dangerous on many levels. Furthermore, insulin resistance is also associated with obesity, type II diabetes, and an overall dysfunction in metabolism. Now unfortunately, the precise molecular events that link high sugar consumption to these diseases remains unknown. While there are a few hypotheses floating around, almost all of these are based on animal studies, not human ones.

All that being said though, we shouldn’t outright demonize sugar. We absolutely need sugar in our diet! What’s important is that we should be getting our sugar from the right sources. Take fruits for example. Fruits are full of sugar, but they’re also full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In fact, the fiber in fruit can help slow down our metabolism of glucose a bit, preventing a rapid spike of it into the bloodstream. So instead of grabbing that tray of cookies at the grocery store for a snack here and there, try some fruit instead.

Now that you’ve been informed, the big question is should the FDA really require that food manufacturers include a percent daily value for added sugars on the nutritional facts labels? Well, it’s truly up to them to decide, but for the next few months, it’s up to us to offer comments that support or denounce the proposed changes. As Captain Planet once said, “The power is yours!”.

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