There’s a reason why sugar is killing people, slowly and sweetly. According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, added sugar intake that exceeds recommended amounts is related to cardiovascular diseases and mortality among adults in the United States. What qualifies as added sugar? The study concluded that a diet with more than 10 percent of calories coming from added sugar could be harmful.
However, this study is clearly referring to added sugar, which means high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and molasses. These are also known as the hidden ingredients that may put you at risk for heart problems. This is not to say that all sugar will negatively affect your body. Carbohydrates do break down into sugar after we eat, but they serve as the body’s main source of energy. In other words, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains are important for a healthy diet. I spoke with Lori Zanini, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, about why the body needs sugar to survive and what happens if you eliminate sugar all together.
Unless it is necessary for health reason, eliminating anything from your diet can cause emotional stress. Not to mention that putting foods off limits usually makes you want them more. However, you can limit the amount of added sugars you eat and switch to natural sugar sources. “The simplest way to reduce added sugars from the diet is to focus on consuming whole foods containing natural sugars,” Zanini says. “Emphasis should be put on choosing fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains over processed foods that can have a lot of added sugars.”
If you really want to mess with your brain, start by depleting the main source of energy: sugar.
“When we don’t have an adequate carbohydrate source readily available, our body breaks down fat, which produces ketones,” Zanini says. “Ketones are then a secondary source of energy for our brain. This ketone production can disturb our body’s acid-base balance, creating an acidic environment that may cause us to feel low on energy and can make it difficult to focus or concentrate.”
Stress on the Mind and the Body
After carbohydrate depletion affects the brain, it also starts to affect the rest of the body. Over a longer period of time, health problems can occur.
“The ketones produced from our fat breakdown for energy can start to build up in our blood,” Zanini says. “High levels of ketones in our blood can put added stress on our kidneys, increasing the risk for unwanted side effects and complications.”
If you are trying to reduce carbohydrates in your diet, Zanini suggests checking package labels and avoiding processed foods. She also says that it is safe to eliminate added sugars such as syrups, table sugar, honey, and agave because they are not required in a healthy eating plan.