On Halloween, kids often measure the success of their evening not by the coolness of their costume, but by the amount of candy collected. At the end of the evening, kids will meticulously sort their candy into piles, trading with friends and eating as much as they can before a parent intervenes.
To make matters worse, Halloween is the holiday season opener, the starting point when parties, sweets, and treats begin to ramp up and last through to the end of the year. Despite all of the treats and great holiday goodies, the unfortunate truth is that sugar is bad for you. So, Halloween is the perfect time to begin training your children to eat healthier and avoid too much sugar.
Sugar is not just in candy; it is in many of the foods you may eat. In fact, of the approximately 600,000 food items sold in the United States alone, about 80% of them contain added sugar. Furthermore, the average American consumes about 17 teaspoons (71 grams) of added sugar per day! All of this added sugar can have a negative effect on your body, from the heart to the skin.
The negative effects of eating too much sugar begin in the mouth. Some of the bacteria in the mouth combine with sugar to create an acid that dissolves tooth enamel. Although saliva has some properties meant to block this process, overconsumption of sugary foods may lead to dental cavities.
Normally, table sugar is broken down into glucose and fructose, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Sometimes, sugar is not digested or absorbed. When sugar enters your intestines, it can disrupt the balance of bacteria that live in the gut microbiome, a term referring to the bacterial environment in the intestines. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in the intestines, disrupting the delicate balance of the bacterial environment. This disruption can lead to all sorts of symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
The blood stream carries sugar from the intestines to the liver where excess sugar can have a negative effect. In the liver, one form of sugar, fructose, is converted into fat. In this way, excess sugar can be as damaging to the liver as alcohol. With a high-sugar diet, fat begins to build up in the liver and is called nonalcoholic liver disease because the effect is similar to what happens in the liver of people who drink too much alcohol.
When we consume food containing sugar, it is absorbed into the blood and raises our blood glucose level. An increase in glucose in our blood triggers the pancreas to release the hormone insulin, which is needed to move glucose into our cells where is it used to fuel the chemical reactions that keep us going.
In addition, insulin turns on an enzyme that increases the production of the “bad” cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins, in the liver and inhibits another enzyme that breaks down triglycerides. Low-density lipoproteins and triglycerides contribute to the formation of fatty deposits, called plagues, in arteries.
The formation of arterial plagues can cause hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure. Plagues in the arteries of the heart, the coronary arteries, can reduce normal blood flow to the heart muscle. When the demand of heart muscle for blood flow exceeds the supply due to blocked coronary arteries, one can develop a heart attack.
When we consistently eat too much sugar, it can also lead to a metabolic syndrome characterized by insulin resistance, where insulin no longer functions normally to regulate levels of glucose and triglycerides. This condition is considered a precursor to type 2 diabetes and also raises the risk of a number of diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels.
When a diet of excess sugar leads to the development of type 2 diabetes, it can affect the functions of many other areas of the body, including the skin and even sexual health.
Sugar is hard to avoid altogether; but if you choose your foods wisely, you can control how much sugar you and your children eat. For example, on Halloween, you can limit the number of sweets your kids can keep or swap out candy for some other “treat” that isn’t food-related. Even better, let your kids take the candy to a dentist who sends excess Halloween candy to troops overseas.
So, this year, have a healthy and safe Halloween and start limiting the sugar intake of you and your children.
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