Blanking out in the middle of a meeting? Research out of the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that too much sugar forms free radicals in the brain and compromises nerve cells’ ability to communicate. This could have repercussions on how well we remember instructions, process ideas, and handle our moods, says Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, PhD, author of the UCLA study.
The Fix: Stay under the American Heart Association limit of nine teaspoons a day for men, five for women. Read labels and nutrition information at chains: A 16-ounce Starbucks vanilla latte and plain Einstein Bros. bagel will max out your day’s allotment! A wiser choice: black coffee and plain yogurt with blueberries and walnuts, sweetened with a teaspoon of honey.
The Sign: Aging Skin
Sugar contributes to premature aging, just as cigarettes and UV rays do. When skin support structures collagen and elastin break down from sun or other free-radical exposure, cells try to repair themselves. But this process slows down with age. And when sugar is present in the skin, it forms cross-links with amino acids that may have been damaged by free radicals. These cross-links jam the repair mechanism and, over time, leave you with prematurely old-looking skin.
The Fix: Once cross-links form, they won’t unhitch, so keep sugar intake to as close to zero as you can. “It’s the enemy,” says William Danby, MD, a dermatologist with Dartmouth’s medical school in New Hampshire. Avoid soda and processed pastries, and trade sugar packets for cinnamon—it seems to slow down cross-linking, as do cloves, ginger, and garlic.
The Sign: A Sluggish Workout
Muscles mostly use carbohydrates for fuel because they break down into glucose, a simple sugar that can kick-start your morning jog. But prepackaged snacks touting “natural sweeteners” may contain just fructose, a type of sugar that is mostly metabolized in the liver, not the muscles. This can result in bloat or even the runs.
The Fix: Have a glucose-packed snack with minimal fructose before exercise, says Richard Johnson, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, Aurora. Try a sports drink like Gatorade or an energy bar with a modest amount of sugar an hour before a vigorous workout.