Ice cream. Popsicles. Iced coffee. With elevated temperatures and more time spent at beaches, boardwalks, and amusement parks, people in the summer are likely to turn to foods that are typically loaded with sugar, which can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. Lina Begdache, associate professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, State University of New York, offers insight into the effects of sugar and how to reduce your intake and have a healthier summer.
“Many of the foods and drinks that we consume during the summer are major sources of added sugar,” said Begdache, a nutritionist whose research projects include the impact of nutrition and lifestyle factors on neurobehaviors, mood and mental health. “These include regular soft drinks, cold drinks, juices, sweetened tea and coffee, fruit and energy drinks, ice cream, candy, and desserts. There is hidden sugar in many packaged foods as well, like breakfast cereals, salad dressings, fruit yogurt, and pasta sauces among others.”
Excessive sugar intake can have a detrimental effect on your physical and mental health, said Begdache. It may lead to weight gain, constant hunger, fatigue, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal issues, mood swings, loss of motivation, heart disease, and decreased organ function (due to a process called glycation), which may limit blood flow to organs. Excessive sugar consumption may lead to inflammation, which is involved in the etiology of many chronic diseases.
“Sugar has an addictive property, therefore cutting down may lead to withdrawal symptoms such as cravings and headaches,” said Begdache. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025, people 2 years and older should limit their added sugars to less than 10% of their total daily calories.
Begdache offers some tips to cut back on sugar this summer:
- Read labels and food ingredients to cut back on hidden sugars.
- Account for the glycemic effect of food, which is the level of blood sugar increase. The higher the blood sugar spike, the more negative symptoms are experienced.
- Incorporate more protein and healthy fats in meals that have high carbohydrates to reduce the speed of sugar absorption into the bloodstream.
- Eat more fiber to reduce the glycemic effect of food.
“Being mindful of what you eat and drink this summer will help you to reduce your sugar intake and have more fun days at the beach and beyond,” said Begdache.