Sugar has been getting a bad rap over the last few years — and in the case of added sugar, it's for good reason. While naturally occurring sugars, like those from fruit, are welcome in a healthy, balanced diet, added refined sugars, like those in a powdery doughnut or soft drink, are a different story. Added sugars come in the form of granules, powders, and syrups that are cooked into foods or added at the table.
According to the American Heart Association, most women should be consuming no more than 100 calories from these added sugars per day, or about 24 grams (six teaspoons of sugar) — for reference, one 12-ounce can of regular Coca-Cola has 39 grams of added sugar. If you're not convinced that it's time to cut back, here are all the reasons to get serious about the sweet stuff ASAP.
It's addictive: While the levels are lower than highly addictive drugs, sugar affects your brain and releases dopamine into your bloodstream much like cocaine. Like with any other drug, your high diminishes with continued use, so you start craving more and more in hopes of feeling better and better. In fact, there's a trend among newly sober individuals; many get off drugs and pick up a sugar addiction instead.
It's linked to heart disease: Recent studies have shown a link between high sugar consumption and heart disease, even for individuals who aren't overweight. Over the course of one 15-year study, participants who took in 25 percent or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included less than 10 percent added sugar.
It promotes belly fat: One laboratory study has drawn a link between high levels of fructose in a childhood diet with an increase in belly fat. When fructose, a sugar widely used in processed foods and sodas, was present as children's fat cells mature, research found that "more of these cells matured into fat cells in belly fat." Beyond a larger waistline, abdominal obesity raises the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
It affects your immune system: According to naturopath practitioner Dr. Holly Lucille, too much sugar is one of the biggest problems that contributes to being "immuno-compromised or susceptible to catching flus." If you're constantly coming down with a new bug or infection, it might be time to look honestly at your sugar consumption.