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Sugar doesn’t have the best reputation. It’s the bad guy behind surprise cavities, late night dessert binges, inevitable sugar crashes, and those extra pounds that we just can’t seem to lose. Yet, somehow, we can’t get enough. Some sources estimate the average American consumes about 22 teaspoons of sugar per day—more than twice the recommended amount! And some researchers even believe it should be considered a controlled substance. So why exactly is sugar so bad? From adding unnecessary calories to many foods to being a potential cause of weight gain, the reasons go on and on…

Sugar Babies—The Need-to-Know

But not all sugar is automatically bad for us: sugars naturally found in fruits, veggies, and whole grains make up a crucial part of a healthy diet. Where the problems lie (and the risk of cardiovascular diseases and obesity come into play) is with the amount of added sugar in our diets.

Sugar can go by many names, especially when it comes to food labels; high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, raw sugar, and glucose are just a few of its many disguises. Natural or processed, sugar is a simple carbohydrate that the body uses for energy.

Here’s how it all works once that sugar goes down the hatch: Refined sugar is made up of two parts—one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. Breaking down this compound requires more work from the liver, which is responsible for breaking down most of the glucose in the body. Because many types of cells in the body can process glucose, it’s much easier for the body to process foods containing only this starch, like bread or potatoes. Putting refined sugars in liquid form like, say, soda or juice, means it hits the liver even quicker than eating something with the equivalent dose of sugar (like whole fruit), and requires the liver to metabolize the fructose and glucose more quickly.

What this means for our bodies isn’t so great: Studies have foundthat when a significant dose of fructose hits the liver of some animals very quickly, a good part of it is converted to fat.  In humans, this conversion of fat causes insulin resistance (or metabolic syndrome), which often contributes to the development of diabetes. This is not awesome news, since Americans consume 19 percent more added sugar (or any sugar not found in a food’s natural state) now than we did in the 1970s! Maybe it’s time to put down the Sour Patch Kids and pick up that apple we mentioned?

Besides promoting weight gain and obesity, recent research suggests overdoing it on sugar (and especially fructose) can lead to many other medical conditions associated with metabolic syndrome, including liver toxicity and cardiovascular disease.     Changes in metabolism may also have an effect on hormonal signals, resulting in damaging effects to the liver (similar to the effects alcohol has). And one study suggests there may even be a potential for sugar abuse when, like alcohol and tobacco, sugar affects hormone levels in the brain, leading to decreased feelings of fullness and increased consumption.

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