I haven’t written about food in a while on this article, but with Halloween just around the corner, I thought it might be good to talk for a little bit about sugar, and exactly why it’s so bad for you. In this article, I’ll talk about sugar, where it’s found, and why it’s so bad for you.
Why is Sugar so Bad for You Anyway?
If you watch your weight you’ve heard about calories and carbohydrates. Calories are units of energy, and in a dietary sense, it refers to the energy that comes from food, which your body stores if you get too much. In the diet, calories come from Carbohydrates, which are molecules made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. While some carbohydrates don’t break down at all, others break down almost instantly.
Candies are made with sugars that are simple carbohydrates, meaning they begin to break down immediately in the mouth. Furthermore, most candies contain virtually nothing but sugar.
Sugar is found in just about all foods, but other foods also have vitamins and nutrients. Take fruits, for example. Fruits have a fairly high sugar content, but they also contain loads of fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals. That’s compared to a lollipop, which is made of sugar, food coloring, and artificial flavors.
Foods that contain a lot of calories and little else are sometimes called “nutrient-poor” and “energy-dense.” The key to a healthy diet is to eat foods that are “nutrient-dense.” Healthy nutrient-dense foods can also be energy-dense, like fruits, or energy-poor, like vegetables.
What about High Fructose Corn Syrup?
You don’t need to know the chemical difference between glucose and fructose to have heard of “high fructose corn syrup,” which is found in many candies and sodas. While this syrup comes from corn – as well as other fruits and vegetables — it’s certainly not good for you, or at least not in high doses.
I mentioned above that many sugars can be taken straight into the blood from the lining of the mouth. This is true of glucose, but not of fructose, which can only be broken down by special cells in the liver. The main job of the liver is to filter blood, though it also breaks down troublesome compounds like sugar and alcohol.
In fact, too much fructose and too much alcohol can lead the liver to virtually the same fate. Fatty liver syndrome occurs when the liver breaks down carbohydrates, and the resulting fat is stored in or on the liver itself. This system is very bad for the liver, and can even cause the death of its cells, leading to further health problems.
Because the body needs fuel for energy, a certain amount of sugar should be in the blood so that different parts of the body can gain access to it. Too little sugar in the blood and your body won’t work right. Too much sugar in the blood and the tiny crystals can damage sensitive nerve fibers and small blood vessels. This can cause pain and circulation problems in the extremities, as well as blindness.
The pancreas is a small organ that releases hormones that adjust the amount of sugar in the blood. If there’s too much sugar in the body too much of the time, the body can become resistant to some of the hormones that control it. This condition is called Type II Diabetes and can lead to the body’s losing its ability to control blood sugar levels.
People with Type II Diabetes need to follow special diets and take injections of the hormone insulin. Thankfully, Type II Diabetes can be reversed, unlike Type I Diabetes, which comes from biological problems in the pancreas itself.
What about other Ingredients?
Naturally, many sweets – particularly chocolates and snack-cakes – are often made with unhealthy fats. By chemically altering the composition of some naturally occurring fats, fats that aren’t actually that bad for you, food processors can make new trans-fats. These fats change the texture of food, and also take longer to decompose, giving sweets a longer shelf-life. These fats are also more difficult for the body to process and can accumulate in the body in unhealthy ways. These fats are particularly good at collecting in blood vessels to block arteries.
In order to extend the shelf-life of these foods further, other preservatives are often added. While each food item contains only a small amount of these chemicals, some of them can accumulate in the body, causing potential problems. This is doubly true because food additives aren’t only in candies, these days they’re also in just about everything that you don’t make yourself.
A lot of candies – not chocolates, so much – also contain artificial colors. Many of these chemicals haven’t been tested and many of those that have been have gotten results somewhere in the “won’t kill you, but aren’t good for you either” category. Fortunately, artificial colors aren’t as common as preservatives in goods like bread, so you’ll really encounter a whole lot of them if you’re eating a lot of foods that aren’t good for you anyway.
Give Yourself a Break
This article wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t point out that chocolate isn’t inherently unhealthy. A lot of candy bars contain too much of the nasty things listed above, but a dark or even semi-sweet chocolate will contain a lot less sugar, and probably a lot less of some of those other terrible things too.
Getting – or giving – chocolates with things like rice, nuts, or even fruit inside won’t make the candy healthy, but it will cut down on the volume of some of those less-healthy ingredients.
Bear in mind as well, that the stricter the diet, the harder it is to follow, and sometimes it can be good to reintroduce your body to some of those foods that you may have been keeping from it. After all, Halloween is a special occasion, and putting too much emphasis on your diet can rob you of a lot of the other aspects of life.
If you find yourself with more candy than you know what to do with this Halloween, try storing some up and eating over time – as long as those preservatives are in there, you might as well get the best of them. Consider having a sweet after each meal. Some people think it can help send a signal to your brain that you’re done eating and cut appetite.