When I strive to come up with articles of interest to the Spinal Cord Injury population, I obtain my inspiration from various sources…magazines, TV, friends, family. This current article came as a request from our own co-founder and owner of Push Living, Deborah Davis. And when I research and write these articles, I learn new ideas as well, along with you all that read them. And this one is no different. SUGAR, I love it as much as the next person, but how much is too much and what are the consequences of this precious sweetener on our SCI bodies?
The first site I investigated stated “sugar has no nutritional value. In fact, the sweetener provides extra calories but none of the vital nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.” We all know this but here are the hard facts, and yes, I have my listening ears on too. The average American consumes 3 pounds of sugar a week and 130 pounds a year. This is equal to about 3,550 pounds of sugar in a lifetime. The consumption of added sugar accounts for an intake of 500 calories per day, which can cause a weight gain of 1 pound per week. Oh my goodness!! But how much sugar should be consumed per day? According to the American Heart Association, 30 grams of sugar is recommended per day…MAX. Let me put that into perspective: A 12 ounce soda with sugar contains about 40 grams of sugar or 1 medium order of French Fries equal 1 hour and 12 minutes of swimming.
Take a gander in your pantry, like I did. Look at the sweet contents of the food you have already bought. Start there and once you feel comfortable reading labels at home then transfer that habit to your grocery shopping. You will be amazed at the sugar content you are already ingesting. I can bet most of you are consuming more than the recommended daily allowances.
You may wonder “why am I chatting about sugar?” There are so many, many effects of sugar on the SCI body: weight gain, decrease in healing of wounds, risk of diabetes, UTIs…the list is endless. An elevated blood sugar level stiffens the arteries and causes narrowing of the blood vessels. The effects of this are far-reaching and include the origin of wounds as well as risk factors to proper wound healing. We already have decreased circulation from being spinal cord injured but now narrowed blood vessels lead to decreased blood flow and decreased oxygen to a wound. An elevated blood sugar level decreases the function of red blood cells that carry the nutrients to the tissue. This lowers the efficiency of the white blood cells that fight infection. Without sufficient nutrients and oxygen, a wound heals slowly.
Let’s take a minute to absorb this statement…narrowed blood vessels → decreased blood flow → decreased oxygen to promote wound healing. Mmmm, interesting, isn’t it!! Sounds like the idea of a simple precious sweetener leads to many other problems. Remember, sugars are also referred to as sucrose, fructose, dextrose, lactose, and many other names.
Urinary tract infections can be an additional concern with increased sugar consumption. Higher blood sugars may cause a spilling of sugar into the urine which acts as food for bacteria and makes it much easier for bacteria to grow and replicate thus leading to urinary tract infection. Sugar or glucose allows the bacteria in the urine to reproduce much easier. We are already trying to remedy the urinary system of issues associated with spinal cord injuries. Ingesting increased amounts of sugar is a cumulative, evolving issue.
The last issue being addressed in this article is weight gain due to increased sugar consumption. I am not spending much time on the subject because we all understand that increased sugar leads to weight gain. A statement from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center booklet reads, “extra pounds cause risk to the skin: As people gain weight, the skin traps moisture, greatly increasing the risk of skin sores. Inactivity can also result in loss of trunk control, shortening or weakness of muscles, decreased bone density, and inefficient breathing.” Inactivity – huge word for us in wheelchairs. I read that for every 30 minutes of pushing a wheelchair 272 calories are burned. Not bad but what about us in electric power chairs? We don’t even burn the 272 calories quoted for pushing a wheelchair for 30 minutes.
Helpful hints for decreasing sugar consumption:
- Read the labels.
- Choose fruits and vegetables for snacks or desserts.
- Do not add extra sugar to coffee, tea, cereal, or other foods.
- Add protein to each meal – protein helps stabilize blood sugar.
- One other suggestion was to choose sugar-free or low sugar sodas but I’m torn about supporting that for various reasons. I suggest substituting sugar-free sodas for water. All of us SCI individuals need increased water for many reasons, which I will discuss in a later article.
This article is merely providing factual information in the consumption of sugar and the SCI individuals. As a nurse I have always provided facts to increase the learning process and this article is only providing the realities of sugar consumption. My aspiration is that by everyone reading this article, it would result in a reduction of intake of sugar and to remain FIT, FABULOUS, and SUGAR-less. Today, I vow to decrease my daily consumption of sugar. Raise your hand or nod if you take the vow with me. Sugar addiction has been proven by science to be a real addiction and changes are difficult to maintain. Stopping cold-turkey is one way, or just decrease your sugar intake on a gradual basis. The choice is yours.
Share any of your suggestions with me or to our SCI friends to maintain our FIT, FABULOUS, and SUGAR-less BODIES. Let’s do this together.
Patty Kunze, RNC, BSN You can also visit patty’s Facebook page, “The Rollin RN” for questions and/or comments on this topic as well as past or future topics. https://www.facebook.com/rollinrn
Diet containing too much sugar can quickly cause weight gain. Obtained September 27, 2014 from http://www.womenfitness.net/deit_sugar.htm.
How diabetes affects wound healing. Obtained September 23, 2014 from http://www.woundcarecenters.org/article/living-with-wounds/how-diabetes-affects-wound-healing.
Maddox, S. (2nd Ed.) (2009) Health management and wellness. Paralysis Resource Guide. Short Hills, NJ. 110.
Recommended grams of sugar per day. Obtained September 26, 2014 from http://www.livestrong.com/article/474832-recommended-grams-of-sugar-per-day/.
Urinary tract infection. Obtained September 26, 2014 from http://www.urologyteam.com/node/359.
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