Are Sugar Rushes Real?

You’ve probably been to a birthday party and heard parents commenting on their kids’ sugar rush. Or sighed yourself at the hyperactive energy on display after a round of trick-or-treating or Valentine’s Day candies. But are sugar highs fact or fiction?

It turns out sugar rushes are a myth. Scientists have looked at what happens to your body after you eat a lot of sugar. You don’t get a sugar “high” or a rush of energy; you crash, actually! After about an hour, you feel more tired and worse than you did before eating sugar. While sugar highs aren’t real, cutting down on sugar is still a good idea. Let’s look at why.

What Is Added Sugar?

There are many types of sugar: white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, honey, corn syrup, palm sugar, molasses, maple syrup, agave nectar, date syrup, maltose, etc. Nutritionally, sugars are fairly similar. They are simple carbohydrates consisting of glucose, fructose, and/or sucrose. You don’t need any added sugar in a healthy diet.

Why Is Sugar Bad for Us?

Sugar rushes may be fake, but sugar crashes, tooth decay, and the risk of serious medical conditions when we eat too many sweets is real. Why is excess sugar unhealthy?

Our livers turn excess sugar into fat. Too much sugar can cause fat to be deposited on our waist. This type of fat, known as visceral fat, is particularly harmful to our health. It increases the risk of serious health issues, heart disease and type 2 diabetes among them.

How Much Sugar Can I Eat?

The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily sugar intake to less than 6 teaspoons for women and children, and less than 9 teaspoons for men. Babies and toddlers under the age of two should have no added sugars. The average American adult eats a whooping 77 grams (or 18 teaspoons) of sugar per day. And the numbers for American children are even worse.

To live longer, healthier lives, we need to consume less added sugars.

Where Does Added Sugar Come From?

We don’t need added sugars, and we’re getting too many. Where is it all coming from?

Sugary drinks are a big culprit, especially soft drinks. In America, this accounts for more than 47% of all added sugars we eat. Look at what foods you’re eating, read food labels, and try to cut back on these common sources of added sugar:

  • Soda
  • Candy and gum
  • Baked goods (brownies, cakes, pies, doughnuts, pastries, etc.)
  • Frozen treats (ice cream, frozen yogurt, popsicles)
  • Sports and energy drinks
  • Juice
  • Processed, store-bought foods like cereals, breads, energy bars, yogurt, jelly and jams, salad dressings, ketchup, tomato sauce, and BBQ sauce
  • Large amounts of dried fruit
  • Flavored milk
  • Coffee and tea

What About “Healthy” Sugars?

We can compare sugars by looking at where they come from and how much they are processed. White or table sugar and corn syrup, for example, are highly processed, and both are shown to have poor effects on human health. If you substitute date sugar or molasses, which are less processed, you’ll get more minerals and antioxidants. That’s not to say these substitute sugars are good for you—they’re still added sugar—but they are less bad for you.

Another way to consider sugar is by looking at the glycemic index (GI), or the rate at which your blood sugar level is raised. The higher the GI value, the more blood sugar levels are raised. Raised blood sugar levels can lead to disease. White sugar and corn syrup have a high glycemic index. Lower GI values can be had in sugars like agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup. Unfortunately, many of these so-called healthier sugars are also more expensive.

Fruit naturally contains some sugar. But unlike most foods with added sugar, fruit has a lot of other nutrients that we need for a balanced diet. Fruit is an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, folate, and antioxidants. The fiber helps your body absorb the fruit’s sugar more slowly. Aim to eat two cups of whole fruit per day.

How to Reduce Sugar in Your Diet

It’s tempting to think you can simply substitute “bad” sugar for “healthy” sugar. The reality is that while healthier sugars like agave syrup may be a little better for you, they aren’t good for you either. Too much sugar is still too much sugar!

If you’re baking from scratch, replace sugar in a recipe with spices, unsweetened applesauce, and/or or mashed banana, or sub a plant-based sweetener such as stevia or monk fruit. You can usually reduce the amount of sugar called for by about one-third and often not notice the difference.

If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth or enjoy a quick snack or easy dessert, try a piece of fruit! Fresh, frozen, or canned fruit are all healthy choices.

And if you do indulge in a highly sugared food, take a smaller portion and eat it slowly.

Learn more about a heart-healthy diet here.

To sum up, some types of sugar are better for you than others, but sugar is still sugar. Our advice is to cut down on your sugar intake. Choose foods with little or no sugar listed in the ingredient list, eat whole fruits when you crave something sweet, and pick water instead of sugary beverages. Less sugar, more fruit, please!

Nutrition: 101

Nutrition—what does it actually mean? Yes, nutrition is the biological process of providing your body with proper foods for growth and function, but it’s also more than that. Nutrition is about making informed decisions to better your physical, mental and emotional health. Let’s discuss some manageable ways to focus on nutrition for you and your family.

 

Healthy Eating

While there are many different resources out there, the USDA recommends that your meals consist of:

  • half vegetables and whole fruits
  • one quarter whole grains
  • one quarter protein
  • some healthy fats (such as nuts, seeds, olive and coconut oils)

Food choices will be different for everyone and dependent on food access, affordability, traditions and cultures, and food preferences (including vegetarianism, veganism, etc.).

With this new way of approaching food, your main focuses will be to eat more nutritious foods, trying a variety of nutritious foods and being careful not to restrict certain foods or go on fad diets.

When you start to eat more fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats, you’ll start to see that:

  • your digestive system works more efficiently
  • you feel less hungry between meals (preventing junk food snacking)
  • your energy increases

As your body grows accustomed to new and nutritious foods, you’ll see that you start eating less refined carbohydrates and refined sugars which contribute to poor diet, weight gain, and illnesses.

Try this: Include at least one new nutrient-dense food into every meal.

 

Physical Activity

Keeping your body active lowers your risk of many illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression. When you eat and drink, you’re taking in calories that your body uses for normal functioning. However, Americans tend to eat larger portions than needed—and usually more refined carbohydrates and sugars—leaving an excess of calories just waiting to be burned!

Remember, you can’t exercise your way from a bad diet. This means that if you’re looking to lose weight, exercise alone will not work. The harmony of eating healthier foods and moving your body will help you maintain a healthy weight. Try to keep the following in mind:

  • Walking helps your body to digest its food
  • Muscles need carbohydrates and protein for energy and muscle repair
  • The more intense the exercise, the more calories you burn

When adopting healthier lifestyle habits, it’s also important to learn to listen to your body. For instance, if you’re recovering from the flu, your body needs rest and fluids more than it needs intense exercise.

Try this: Incorporate 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine. This could mean taking the stairs, parking at the far end of parking lots, and walking around your office building during lunch—any movement is better than no movement.

 

Emotional Health

Emotional health is another important aspect of your nutrition. Emotions can greatly affect food and exercise choices. There are many different reasons for this including stress, family celebrations and obligations, and “emotional eating.”

A quick note on emotional eating: everyone has experienced eating while bored, stressed or otherwise emotional. If you have trouble controlling emotional eating, please speak with your health care provider right away.

Eating healthy meals and snacks will help fuel your body appropriately making exercise easier and better for your body. Exercise can:

  • increase your overall energy and boosts your mood
  • help you sleep better at night
  • reduce stress, anxiety, depression symptoms
  • increase self-esteem and confidence

Consider your emotions when you crave “junk food,” or when you don’t feel like exercising. Is there something going on in your life? Will you feel better after exercise, a healthy meal, or rest?

Try this: Keep a record or journal of how exercise and healthy foods make you feel. This information can serve as motivation if you need a boost.

 

Adopting a nutritious lifestyle will be different for everyone. Take it one step at a time, be patient with yourself, and enlist the help of a friend for extra accountability. If you need support and guidance to get started, speak with your primary care provider.