Americans Run on Sugar and Caffeine and it Shows
March 2023 Issue — Pink Prescriptions
Americans Run on Sugar and Caffeine and it Shows
Increased work hours and waistlines, less home cooked meals and even less sleep, all result in an increased intake of caffeine and sugar. It’s a vicious cycle. The average American consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar and about 135 mg of caffeine every day. While most are doing pretty good staying under the daily maximum limit for caffeine (read below for details), we are killing ourselves with sugar. However, if you’ve developed a daily habit of energy drinks, you’re not doing yourself any favors with caffeine, either. We wanted to find out the toll caffeine and sugar are taking on our health, so we went to the experts, and here’s what they had to say:
LuAnn Aquino, MD, PHD | Medical Associates of the Lowcountry, an affiliate of Hilton Head Regional Physician Network
Help, I’m totally addicted to sugar! I almost feel like a drug addict. How can I break the habit?
Breaking any habit is no easy task, but with hard work and dedication, it is possible. When we consume sugar, its sweetness triggers the reward center in the brain. This system, called the mesolimbic dopamine system, releases dopamine, which signals to the body that what we just experienced was positive. As this is the same system that garners addiction, we are often left wanting more and more of that positive trigger. Sugar is not just found in things like candy, cookies and soda; sugar is everywhere. When you are ready to combat a sugar addiction, start by paying attention to the nutrition labels on the foods you eat to get a sense of just how much sugar you are regularly consuming. Then set a reasonable goal for how much sugar you want to consume daily, and begin managing it from there. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 36 grams of sugar per day for men and 25 grams per day for women. When it comes to battling sugar cravings, there are several tips and tricks that can help with this:
• Drink more water! Sometimes we think we’re hungry
when we’re really just thirsty.
• Take a walk, or do something active! This will help to distract
from the craving.
• Get to the root of the problem! Identify the reasons you are craving sugar. Discovering the root-cause can help to manage the temptation.
• Quit cold-turkey! Cutting out all sugar over the span of a few
weeks can help you manage, and possibly eliminate, your
sugar dependency. You will lose your taste for it.
Is it true sugar “feeds” cancer cells.
What are the perils of sugar in today’s diet?
Sugar is a carbohydrate, which our bodies break down into glucose. Glucose is released quickly into the blood stream and provides energy for all cells in the body, including bad cells such as cancer. While the process of providing energy is essential for all cells in the body to function properly, there is no significant evidence to support the idea that supplying energy to cancer cells would cause them to grow or develop more rapidly. Overconsumption of sugar and complex carbohydrates can, however, lead to weight gain and obesity, as well as chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes.
What role does sugar play in the Type 2 Diabetic crisis that America is experiencing?
Type 2 Diabetes is a complex condition that stems from a range of various circumstances. While there is no direct link between sugar consumption and diabetes, consuming too much sugar can lead to conditions such as obesity, which can increase your risk for Type 2 Diabetes. If you do acquire Type 2 Diabetes, consuming too much sugar can become a problem. In someone with diabetes, the body‘s ability to regulate blood sugar levels is impaired. If blood sugar levels remain too high for a consistent period of time, this can lead to chronic conditions such as heart disease, neuropathy, kidney disease, foot disorders, and many others. When it comes to sugar consumption, moderation is key!
Dr. LuAnn Aquino is a board certified Internal Medicine physician practicing with Medical Associates of the Lowcountry in Bluffton, SC. She has been practicing Internal Medicine in the Lowcountry since 2004.
Kim Edwards, RD, CDE
Beaufort Memorial LifeFit Wellness Services
Word on the Internet is that coffee, in moderation,
is good for you. Is this true?
Coffee consumption has been found to have some health benefits. Coffee contains caffeine, which is a natural stimulant. Caffeine intake has been linked with enhanced alertness, mood elevation and increased metabolism. Some studies have shown caffeine’s positive benefits with physical fitness, as well. Coffee beans are rich in antioxidants, which can protect against cell damage. There is more research showing it’s the phenolic compound found in the bean. These phenols can act as a protective agent against inflammation. Multiple studies have shown coffee also lowering your risk for Parkinson’s disease, liver cirrhosis, and colorectal cancer.
Keep in mind these benefits are shown with low to moderate doses of caffeine (50-300 mg). One 8-oz cup of coffee has 80-100 mg of caffeine. Like most of the food and drinks we consume, it comes down to moderation. Excessive caffeine intake can lead to dehydration, impact blood pressure, and interfere with a good night’s sleep if consumed later in the day. From a weight management perspective, coffee drinks can negatively impact our total calorie consumption. Some coffee drinks are often notorious for empty calories. So choose wisely when adding in sweeteners and flavorings.
I have a terrible soda habit.
Is switching to diet soda any better for me?
For regular soda drinkers, switching to diet soda can have some benefits. There is immediate calorie reduction, which can help with weight loss. It can also drastically cut the amount of sugar in one’s diet, which can improve blood glucose levels. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a limit of sugar to less than 50 grams a day (about 12 teaspoons) for a 2,000 calorie diet. In comparison, one 12-ounce can of non-diet soda contains 10-11 teaspoons of sugar.
Even though switching to diet soda will save you calories, these drinks contain non-nutritive sweeteners. Evidence has supported the safety of consuming sugar substitutes, however, caution should still be issued when consuming them on a regular basis:
1) The perception that consuming a non-calorie item would allow for other high calorie items in your diet, therefore, resulting in weight gain
2) Diet sodas contain no nutritional benefit
3) Some of the artificial sweeteners can be difficult for the body to metabolize or cause gastrointestinal issues.
If you are looking for a soda alternative, consider carbonated waters, enhanced with natural flavors, or add fresh fruit into soda water. On the other hand, if you’re craving caffeine, you are better off with unsweetened tea or coffee.
Tell us like it is: How do energy drinks and energy shots affect my body and heart health?
For those looking for a pick-me-up, energy drinks are a popular alternative to coffee and sodas. Along with a large amount of caffeine, these drinks may also include added sugars, vitamins and amino acid supplementation. Most energy drinks contain 100-300 milligrams caffeine per serving, and up to 400 mg daily is considered safe for most adults.
While in the short-term these drinks may give us a boost in energy, long term they can be harmful, especially for those with underlying health issues. Excessive caffeine intake can cause heart palpitations, tremors, agitation and gastrointestinal issues. For those with atrial fibrillation or high blood pressure, awareness of these dangers is key if consuming these products. In addition, these drinks can contain significant amounts of sugar and other chemicals, which can react with the brain in different ways, resulting in addictions in some users. Some healthier alternatives to energy drinks include unsweetened green teas, green juices/smoothies and water.
Kim Edwards, RD, CDE, is a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator with Beaufort Memorial LifeFit Wellness Services in Beaufort and Okatie.