We Americans love our sugar and the more we eat, the more we crave,
An average, we consume 19.5 teaspoons a day or about a 152 lbs. a year. That’s way too much. And no wonder. Studies indicate that sugar lights up the pleasure signals of the brain like cocaine – and is just as addictive. How much sugar is acceptable? The American Heart Association recommends we limit our intake to 9 teaspoons for men, 6 teaspoons for women and 3 – 6 teaspoons for children. Another way to look at this is sugar accounts for 15 percent of the average American diet. Although we may be dumping teaspoons of sugar into our coffee or cereal, making it possible to keep track of our intake, most sugar is hidden in our processed food.
The most obvious processed foods that contain added sugar are baked goods like cookies and cakes. But added sugar also appears in bread, peanut butter, soups, bacon, salad dressings, yogurt and many others, including one of the worst offenders, soft drinks. A 12 oz. regular cola contains over 9 teaspoons of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup.
Added sugars are sugars that don’t occur naturally in foods. According to researchers, 74 percent of all packaged foods contain some added sugar. Sugar can come with 61 different names so you can’t always know what you are eating. The most common sugar found in processed foods is fructose or high fructose corn syrup. Here are some other names: invert sugar, cane sugar abstract, dextrose, galactose, sorghum syrup, barley malt, fruit juice concentrate, lactose, maltose, maltodextrin, and so on.
Why is sugar bad for your brain? Here’s a simple explanation for a complex process. When we consume too much sugar, the pancreas releases a spike of insulin into the blood. Insulin spikes are damaging to the brain and other organs, causing inflammation, a major cause of preventable diseases. Too much insulin in the blood also leads to diabetes. According the Center for Disease Control 25.8 million people or 8.3 percent of the population have diabetes. If that trend continues, a third of the U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2051.
People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia than those who have normal blood sugar. Diabetics may also experience brain shrinkage. Even in people who do not have diabetes but have above normal blood sugar, there is an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia and brain shrinkage. And if that isn’t enough, sugar consumption increases the risk of heart disease and cancer, two major killers.
If you want to lower your risk for preventable diseases, including diabetes, reduce your sugar intake.
For more information see Chapter, 10, “Beware: Sugar and Sugar Substitutes” in Brain Health for Life, Beyond Pills, Politics and Popular Diets available on this website and Amazon and other major distributors.