Urban myths and scientific facts about sugar‘s impact on your body
1. Sugar is addictive.
TO BE DETERMINED. Scientists and nutritionists are not yet in agreement on this one, so let’s go with what they do agree on: MRIs show that sugar releases dopamine in the brain — a feel-good neurotransmitter that gives you a bit of a high.
“Many scientists are starting to consider sugar to be addictive,” said Dr. SeAnne Safaii, assistant professor in nutrition at the University of Idaho Extension in Boise.
The only other substances we consume that release dopamine? You guessed it: drugs and alcohol. That dopamine release is at least partially to blame for the fact that the more sugar we eat, the more we want.
2. The best way to come out of a “sugar hangover” is to eat more sugar.
FALSE. Obviously the best way to avoid a sugar hangover is to not eat a bunch of sugar in the first place. But it is Halloween. If you’re going to consume sugar, the best way to do it is in combination with other food. And here’s why:
A “sugar hangover” is the felt effects of low-blood sugar: headache, fatigue, dizziness, irritability. All that trick-or-treat candy you sampled spiked your blood sugar and, in a heroic attempt to save you from sudden death, your body released insulin to take care of it. In the urgency of the moment, your body produced too much insulin, bringing your blood sugar to below-normal levels and giving you the “sugar hangover.”
Eating sugar with real food helps stabilize blood sugar levels so you are less likely to overproduce insulin. And if you’ve already got a sugar hangover, just eat that same real food to bring your blood sugar levels back to normal; consuming more sugar will land you back in the same spot.
3. Like a high-fat diet, a high-sugar diet is associated
with heart disease.
TRUE. Unfortunately it isn’t just fat; high-sugar intake is also linked to heart disease.
“High sugar intake leads to high triglycerides in the blood,” Safaii said.
Sugar consumption also increases VLDL cholesterol, which elevates risk for heart disease.
Besides that, any sugar in the bloodstream that your body can’t use right away is converted to fat, putting strain on the heart and body.
For that reason, the American Health Association recommends that women consume fewer than 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of sugar a day and that men consume fewer than 9 teaspoons (36 grams). That’s about the size of a snack-size packet of M&Ms and can of soda, respectively. But don’t forget the sugar that hides in most processed foods.
4. It’s always healthier to give out fruit snacks instead of candy on Halloween.
FALSE. Just because fruit snacks say “fruit” on the package, doesn’t mean it is a health food. The truth is in the nutrition facts and ingredient label: fruit snacks that are closer to fruit will be made with fruit juice and include fiber.
“Fruit has fiber that binds up the sugar so there’s going to be a slower release of sugar into the blood stream,” Safaii said.
Without that fiber, your body won’t know the difference between those fruit snacks and a handful of Skittles.
Tips for parents on keeping candy madness at bay on Halloween
Forget the costumes — the scariest thing for parents on Halloween night is the frightening amount of sugar their kids consume. Here are a few tips to keep the ensuing hyperactivity and nausea to a minimum:
1. Feed your kids dinner on Halloween night. Make sure they get a good amount of fiber and protein, which will fill their stomach and help stabilize blood sugar levels.
2. Give out low- or no-sugar treats. It doesn’t have to be carrots. Glow-in-the-dark bracelets, tattoos and stickers are favorites with kids. Low-sugar granola bars and cheese sticks are healthier edible options.
3. Put the candy in the freezer. From there, it’s easier to dole out piece by piece.
4. Add one piece to their lunchbox each day. Eating candy with or after a meal helps the sugar to be absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream, avoiding the spikes and dips in blood sugar levels.
Schmidt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 305-4578.