Your energy level is tanking faster than a balloon deflating, but you still have work to do. You go to the vending machine to grab a soda or a sugary snack, but after that burst of energy fades, you feel more lethargic. You know sugar isn’t good for you, and you want to live a healthy lifestyle, but it can be challenging. Since the time of our ancestors, our bodies have been programmed to love sweets, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us when the only thing we are trying to survive is the rest of our shift.

Sugar increases the level of dopamine in the brain which produces a high and makes you think you want to eat more even when you are not hungry. This makes it easy to overindulge. The convenience and taste make sugar hard to resist, but the amount of hidden added sugars might surprise you.

Identifying Added Sugars

Most people can spot the obvious sources of extra sugar such as soda, cakes and cookies, but you almost need to be a detective to determine how much added sugar is in products. You might think you are eating healthy, but sugar can be in a variety of foods you wouldn’t expect, such as salad dressings, yogurt, bread, spaghetti, barbecue sauce, ketchup and cereal. Sugar can be listed under other names which makes it easy to hide sugar in the label. Most of us have heard of high-fructose corn syrup, but there are many others.

Added sugar goes by a few other names including:

  • Agave nectar.
  • Cane crystals.
  • Invert sugar.
  • Corn sweetener, sugar and syrup.
  • Malt sugar and syrup.
  • Maple syrup.
  • Evaporated cane juice.

This can be discouraging when the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends women limit added sugar intake to 24 grams (six teaspoons) and total sugar to 48 grams (natural and added) a day. The suggested numbers for men are 36 grams (nine teaspoons) and 72 grams of total sugar.

The Dangers of Added Sugars

Natural sugars are included within the AHA total grams of sugar per day recommendation, but natural sugars offer nutrients and fiber that added sugar does not. Added sugar only provides brief energy and no nutritional value. It is digested immediately and rapidly absorbed. This produces an upswing of your blood sugar levels when your pancreas pumps out more insulin.

Other dangers of added sugars include:

  • Problems with insulin secretion and diabetes.
  • Inflammation throughout the body.
  • Increased triglycerides. High triglyceride levels are a risk factor for heart disease.
  • Tooth decay.
  • Food allergies.
  • Increased risk of certain cancers.
  • Elevated blood pressure.

What Can You Do to Avoid Them?

It can be challenging to determine where to start cutting back sugar, although often once you begin, you may notice reduced sugar cravings. Begin by eliminating the obvious sugars and increasing fiber. Educate yourself and your patients about the risks of added sugars, how to identify added sugar in foods, how to interpret nutrition labels, and how to make informed decisions.

Suggestions to reduce sugar:

  • Instead of sugar in recipes, try flavorful spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, almond extract, vanilla or ginger.
  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Replace soda or fruit drinks with sparkling water or herbal tea.
  • Choose foods high in protein, healthy fats and fiber to keep your blood sugar steady.
  • Prepare healthy snacks such as hard-boiled eggs, plain yogurt with fresh fruit, nuts, avocados, or vegetables with hummus.

Be a Healthy Role Model

Your knowledge of added sugars and success in reducing consumption can enable you to educate your patients and be a positive role model. Incorporating better alternatives can help you live healthier and sustain an increased energy level to meet the exciting challenges of your nursing career.

Learn more about the Nevada State College online RN to BSN program.


Harvard Health Publishing: How to Spot — and Avoid — Added Sugar

JAMA Network: Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among U.S. Adults

Healthline: Daily Intake of Sugar – How Much Sugar Should You Eat Per Day?

American Heart Association: Sugar 101

Alternative Daily: 4 Sugar Secrets the Food Industry Is Keeping From You