Discussing sugar’s effect on the human body

Krishna has his math final due tomorrow, and he needs to study. As soon as he gets home, he grabs an energy drink from the refrigerator and immediately gets to work. Halfway through, Krishna rejuvenates by eating cookies. Finally, as he finishes his practice tests, he eats dinner… and then a pint of ice cream. The next day, Krishna comes home and craves sugar. He tries to control it but feels tired and demotivated – and so he eats sugar again. He gains energy to start his homework. Krishna depends on sugary snacks to get his day going. 

Sugar is in almost everything we eat. From bread to yogurt, every food contains sugar in some way, shape or form. What’s worse, sugar is very accessible. A serving of Lucky Charms cereal from the MVHS cafeteria can have around 40% of the recommended daily serving of added sugar. A can of Fanta contains 49 out of the 50 grams recommended by the FDA. 

But why exactly is too much sugar bad? What does it do to your body? Let’s embark on the journey of a chocolate chip cookie through our bodies.

First stop: the tongue. As soon as you bite that warm, ambrosial cookie, sweetness is detected by sugar receptors. Microscopic hairs on our tongue called papillae contain heterodimeric receptors that sense the presence of sweet-tasting compounds. These receptors can sense nutrients, monitor changes in energy stores and trigger reactions to maintain energy levels. They also trigger the reward system, where the brain essentially rewards us for eating sugar by sending pleasure-causing hormones into the bloodstream. Serotonin and dopamine are hormones that cause this temporary feeling of happiness. When that feeling expires, our body feels deprived until we eat sugar to increase hormone levels again. After eating a lot of sugar, the pleasure spikes, then suddenly crashes. The easiest thing to do to recover from the sudden crash is just to eat more sugar. 

Lora Lerner, a Freshman Biology teacher and an AP Environmental Science explains the emational aspect of eating sugar. “We use[sugar] as a treat. And so there’s this feeling of like, I’m going to reward myself, especially if you work hard.” Lerner says “And just now you’re like, where’s my treat? Because that’s what I always do.” 

After the sugar travels through our esophagus, it reaches our gut, which has sugar receptors — causing proteobacteria to thrive and outnumber the bacteroidetes. Proteobacteria in small amounts is good, according to the  National Center for Biotechnology Information, but large populations of proteobacteria are associated with irritable bowel syndrome and similar metabolic disorders. If these proteobacteria don’t receive enough sugar, they send signals to our brains, which causes us to crave sugar even more. 

Then, carbohydrates in the cookie flour break down into individual sugars and pass into the liver, where they convert into glycogen. Storing large quantities of glycogen is inefficient, so our body begins to convert the excess glucose into triglycerides, which can be stored in adipose tissue throughout our body and even in our bloodstream. 

The current obesity rate is 41.9%, but scientists at Harvard project that this rate will increase. The already high rates of obesity and the projected increase is likely due to excessive sugar, as our body converts the excess sugar to fats. Too much fat in our body can cause blockages in our veins, increasing the risk of heart disease or stroke. They also cause obesity which can indirectly cause high blood pressure. 

But with all of these negative effects of excessive sugar, why is it still so accessible? Money. Sugar is incredibly cheap to produce, and sugary foods have high profits. Lerner shares her opinion on the accesibility of sugar and the economical reasons as to why.

“[Sugary food creators are] making them for next to nothing. I mean, soda pop is like, water and sugar that they’re selling to you for like $5,” Lerner said. “So there’s a number of factors that sort of combine to make it so that it’s pretty easy for people eat the wrong things.” 

Since sugar is accessible, we are already exposed to unhealthy amounts of it. Freshman Aditi Revanuru agrees with Lerner, offering her own standpoint as a student in the sugar-filled society we live in today.

“I feel that as a kid since we’ve been having so much of [sugar], the addiction is hard to stop,” Revanuru said “So just we end up eating more[sugar] without even considering its detrimental effects”

What can we do to stop this? One solution is sugar taxes.. In the UK, the implementation of sugar taxes began in 2014. Mhairi Brown, a policy and public affairs manager at the UK campaign group stated 48 million kilos of sugar have been removed from the diet of the nation, just from the sugar tax on soft drinks. If this tax is applied to all food containing sugar, we could potentially remove billions of pounds of sugar from American diets. This strategy also would save billions of dollars for the government. Another strategy to prevent excessive sugar consumption is by informing the public about the negative effects of sugar and suggesting possible prevention strategies such as drinking less soda, checking labels, etc. 

Ultimately, It all starts with us. As teens, this is the period of life where we develop our habits and activities, so teens must be educated about what happens to the food we eat. 

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