Does sugar cause inflammation? There are lots of good reasons to cut back on added sugar. Too much added sweet stuff can mess with your weight, turn your mood into an episode of “Jersey Shore,” and trigger a never-ending cycle of junk food cravings.
But even more important is the fact that eating too much added sugar can actually damage your body on a cellular level by causing low levels of harmful inflammation.
It sounds concerning, but what exactly does it mean? Here’s a look at the link between sugar and inflammation, how much added sugar is OK, and which sugars are better than others.
What exactly is inflammation, anyway?
Before diving into the connection between inflammation and sugar, let’s do a quick recap. In general, inflammation is your immune system’s response to a stimulus. And though it’s usually talked about in a negative light, it can sometimes be helpful.
Acute inflammation develops rapidly in response to an injury or infection. This type of inflammation tends to be good: It’s your body’s way of trying to fight off further damage while jump-starting healing. It usually lasts a few days to a few weeks.
Chronic inflammation is long-term inflammation that occurs over months or years. It has several causes, including lifestyle factors like diet. Over time, chronic inflammation can increase your risk for serious diseases. (More on those later.)
Does sugar cause inflammation?
It can. Diets high in added sugar are thought to signal the production of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body. Over time, that can create an environment of chronic, low-grade inflammation and lead to trouble in the future.
How much sugar does it take to cause problems, exactly?
Studies have found that people who consume around 40 grams of added sugar per day — roughly the amount in a 12-ounce can of cola or 6 fun-size candy bars — show an increase in inflammatory markers both immediately after consuming it and over time.
Does that mean you’re doomed if you occasionally eat something sweet? Probably not. Experts agree that a healthy diet can include some added sugar. The key is not overdoing it.
The American Heart Association recommends that men limit added sugar to 36 grams — which translates to 150 calories or 9 teaspoons — per day. For women, they recommend no more than 25 grams per day, which equals 100 calories or 6 teaspoons.
Are there any sugars that don’t cause inflammation?
One important thing to keep in mind: When we talk about sugar causing inflammation, we’re talking about added sugar. Like, the sugar added to cookies or soda to make them taste sweet. (It goes by many different names, FYI, so read ingredient lists carefully!)
It’s a different story for natural sugars — the kinds that fruits, vegetables, or unsweetened dairy products naturally contain. Unlike added sugars, natural sugars don’t cause inflammation.
That’s because your body processes them differently: You consume natural sugars as part of whole foods that deliver beneficial nutrients like protein and fiber, which encourage the sugars to be absorbed by your bloodstream at a slow, steady rate.
That staves off blood sugar spikes and the inflammation that can come with them.
What foods should I avoid with added sugar?
As mentioned, naturally-occurring sugars in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and dairy are not what we’re worried about. It’s the added sugars in processed foods that tend to be the inflammation trigger. Here are some popular foods you may want to limit:
sugar code names
Added sugar isn’t always just labeled as “sugar.” Sugar has lots of names that vary from chemical-sounding words to fancy-sounding words. Here are some of the most popular types of sugars you might find on a label:
• high-fructose corn syrup
• cane sugar or juice
• rice syrup
• invert sugar
What can sugar-induced inflammation do to the body?
Diets high in added sugars trigger chronic inflammation, which can wreak havoc on your body. Over time, inflammation leads to high levels of oxidative stress, which can cause damage to your tissues and DNA.
Research suggests that chronic inflammation from eating too much sugar could:
• make you more prone to body pain
• zap your energy or make it harder to fall asleep
• up your risk for depression or anxiety
• make you more prone to infections
• make you more prone to digestive problems like constipation, diarrhea, or acid reflux
Chronic inflammation is also tied to a greater likelihood for many medical conditions, including:
• type 2 diabetes
• heart disease
• Alzheimer’s disease
• arthritis and joint diseases like rheumatoid arthritis
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