Sugar: The Silent Killer

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In a 2018 study conducted by WalletHub and a panel of experts, the McAllen Metro area was once again named amongst the top five fattest cities in America. Obesity-related conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, are also common in the region. One reason for these findings is linked to the long-term overconsumption of added sugars. According to the USDA, added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to food or beverages when they are processed and prepared, but does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those found in milk and fruit.

“Foods with added sugars promote overconsumption and the inability to control cravings,” said Karla Arredondo, the owner of Feminae Women’s Health Holistic Services in McAllen. “These foods create habits and eating behaviors that are hard to break.”

According to the American Heart Association, many people consume more sugar than they realize. The organization’s website notes that it is important to be aware of how much added sugar you are taking in because it is not needed to keep our bodies functioning. Added sugar only adds many calories with no nutritional value, leading to obesity and poor heart health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that sugar-sweetened beverages or sugary drinks are the leading sources of added sugars in the American diet. Frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout, a type of arthritis.

Arredondo first became interested in the effects of added sugar on her health after being introduced to Whole30, a short-term nutrition reset with a focus on eating real food, limiting processed foods and foods with added sugar.

“Taking out added sugars for an entire month made me experience firsthand what a healthy gut response feels like, but also what withdrawal from sugar is like,” Arredondo said. “Sugar is so addictive that going off it causes withdrawal symptoms similar to withdrawal from other drugs.”

Examples of added sugars include but are not limited to honey, sucrose, corn syrup, and dextrose. These ingredients and others are often found in our easy-to-grab, pre-packaged and processed foods. Arredondo also stresses the importance of reading the ingredient list on packaged foods, noting that this is one of the easiest and most significant changes you can make to avoid the overconsumption of added sugars.  

“Most likely, there are 10 to 20 ingredients, and most of those are hard to pronounce,” she said. “Pause for a second and realize this is directly what you are giving your body. The food you eat is the largest and most direct influence of your health. If you are not buying fresh, whole foods, such as fresh veggies, fruits, meats, fish, raw nuts, as they come from the earth, then it likely has added sugars.”

Some of the best ways to reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet is to avoid packaged and processed foods, sugary drinks, and to eat more proteins and healthy fats. Replace your desserts with fruit or Greek yogurt, and void sauces with added sugars and rely on spices instead for flavor.

Arredondo is an occupational therapist who seeks to improve the lives of her patients in any way that she can. Occupational therapy encourages rehabilitation of physical or mental illness by performing tasks that are used in everyday life.

“Occupational therapists can guide and educate clients on things like whole versus processed foods, reading ingredient lists, breaking up activities into objectives to help clients reach health-related goals in an effective and realistic way,” Arredondo said. “We can teach clients positive coping strategies for other negative effects of poor nutrition, such as stress, depression, and anxiety.” Arredondo firmly believes that many lifestyle diseases can be prevented or reversed by changing our eating habits.