Serious sweet tooth

Hey Alice,

I am a 19-year-old male and I am on the worst end of sugar intake. On normal days, I have found myself to consume upwards of 500 grams of sugar, and I have no idea how much I eat on special occasions where candy and other sweets are bountiful.

I am a lanky kid with a family history of excessively high metabolisms. When I reach for a snack, I grab an entire box of cookies — mostly vanilla wafers or graham crackers — and a large cup of milk because I don't want to have to get up again. I always reach for easy to eat and high calorie food choices because they take less effort to consume and last me longer.

To go along with this large quantity food consumed, I exercise a lot and am fairly hyper at all times. I enjoy the way I live and love playing sports all the time and I don't want to change it. I am merely wondering what other high calorie, easy access foods are out there that would be even a little bit healthier for me to eat. My father is also a borderline diabetic.

Thanks Alice,

Sugar Destroyer

Dear Sugar Destroyer,

Cookies and candy and cake, oh my! While sugar isn’t the enemy, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. You’re certainly not the only one out there with a sweet tooth: an average American consumes over 60 pounds of added sugar each year! Although sugar occurs naturally in many foods — like fruits and dairy — it’s also added to A LOT of products, such as those boxes of cookies you mentioned. Added sugars may appear in an ingredient list as anything that ends in "-ose" (e.g., fructose, glucose, lactose), corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, invert corn syrup, corn sweetener, malt syrup, maple syrup, fruit juice concentrates, honey, brown sugar, or molasses. The problem with added sugar — or sugar that’s put into products above and beyond what occurs naturally — is that it can rack up your caloric intake pretty fast without adding any nutritious “good stuff” that your body actually needs (like vitamins and minerals). Most health organizations and researchers suggest that added sugar make up no more than 25 percent of your daily calories, and, if possible, it's recommended that it be less than ten percent of your daily calories. That translates to about 25 grams of added sugar per day for women and 38 grams for men.

So, what are some possible alternatives to sugar-laden treats to help keep you full and fit? Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can be your first line of defense when you find your hand making its way toward the cookie jar. These foods are high in fiber, which will make you feel fuller longer. Fiber is a complex carbohydrate (as opposed to the simple carbohydrates in processed, sugary snacks), so the sugars will take longer to break down and enter your blood stream. As for whole grains — look for brown rice, 100 percent whole wheat breads, and whole grain cereals and pastas. Healthy fats can also be good to have in your snacking arsenal, including avocados, nuts and nut butters, seeds, flax, or olive oil. They have what’s known as “high energy density”: a little bit will go a long way, which is perfect for someone with an active, athletic lifestyle.

And while you’re seeking out information on healthier alternatives, it could also be a good time to brush up on the health risks of eating too much added sugar. Even if you’re the long and lanky type, your body can still undergo wear and tear from trying to process all that sugar. People who consume lots of added sugar may end up with something known as metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by a large waist, high triglycerides, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Together, these things can stress and damage your organs. Some other health issues related to consuming excess sugar include:

  • Type 2 diabetes: Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be overweight to get diabetes. It develops when the pancreas — the organ in charge of producing insulin, which is the hormone that’s supposed to absorb sugar in the bloodstream — is damaged or overworked from having to deal with all the excess sugar over time. This can happen to anyone with a serious sweet tooth — even the lankiest and most athletic folks.
  • Cardiovascular disease: Although the relationship between heart disease and excess sugar intake hasn’t been totally figured out, there is definitely an association between the two. Excess sugar is turned into fat. In turn, this can translate to weight gain and additional strain on the heart. In fact, in one study, people who consumed added sugars as more than 25 percent of their daily calories had a risk of cardiovascular disease that was triple that of people who kept their added sugar consumption under ten percent of their daily calories.
  • Liver disease: The liver’s job is to process all the “stuff” that comes through your body, including everything from medications to sugar. Unfortunately, the liver can become overworked and stressed from having to constantly be on sugar processing overload. Over time, this can damage the liver (similar to the effects of excessive alcohol use) and result in liver disease.
  • Dental cavities: Your dentist wasn’t making it up: eating lots of sugar can lead to increased cavities.
  • Brain health: Diets high in added sugar have been associated with increases in memory impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Aging: Excess sugar consumption has also been associated with accelerated skin aging and wrinkles.

It’s perfectly okay to indulge in some sweet treats in moderation. Desserts and sugary snacks can definitely bring you enjoyment. However, sugar can make it hard for your brain to realize it’s getting full and lead you to want to keep eating, so setting limits on how much you consume may be helpful. You might consider rationing out a few cookies into separate plastic baggies or only buying single candy bars instead of a box. The healthiest sugar choices are those foods which are naturally sweetened and contain no added sugar. The good news is that once you start cutting back on the amount of sugar you consume, you may find that you crave it less. If you’re interested in even more info, SugarScience is a nifty site that has the latest sugar research and recommendations.

Lastly, your insatiable sugar appetite may be worth a trip to your health care provider. Sometimes, such an appetite and high metabolism may be indicators of another health issue, such as hyperthyroidism, an autoimmune condition.

Sugar Destroyer, hopefully this information destroyed your sugary questions!

Last updated May 22, 2015
Originally published Aug 12, 2011

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