How to Avoid a Sugar Belly This Summer
A frosty beverage plucked from an icy cooler is as much a symbol of summer as sunblock and sandals. While we have all heard that too many alcoholic beverages can wreak havoc on the waistline—commonly referred to as a beer belly—a similar phenomenon known as sugar belly could be hiding under the lids of some of your favorite summer libations.
"Our body is a suitcase for what we put into it," says Rob Danoff, DO, an AOA board-certified osteopathic family physician at Aria Health System in Philadelphia. "Consuming too many foods and beverages with added sugars is a recipe for rapid weight gain and deep storage of fat that will take many hours of physical activity to lose."
What causes sugar belly?
During digestion, starches and sugars are broken down into glucose, which can be immediately used as energy or stored for use at a later time. However, since the body can only store so much glucose, the excess amount circulates in your blood as fat. That fat tends to build up rapidly around your stomach and could cause a sugar belly.
Because of this, Dr. Danoff says consuming too many carbohydrates from added sugars—like those found in processed foods and hidden in sugary drinks like soda and energy drinks—can cause fat to settle deep into your muscles and around other internal areas of the body, including the liver. Not only is this harmful to your health, but the more deep layers of fat you store away, the more difficult they become to burn off through physical activity because your body uses glucose stored for energy before tapping into the energy from fat, Dr. Danoff notes.
Who should be concerned about sugar belly?
- Dr. Danoff cautions that everyone should be concerned about sugar belly and the negative impact of consuming too much sugar on your health.
- If you are diabetic, have heart disease, or know that these conditions run in your family, you should especially be careful about the amount of added sugar in your diet if you want to stay healthy, Dr. Danoff says.
- Anyone who is already overweight or who is unable to perform at least the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week (30 minutes at least five days per week) as recommended for adults by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and at least 60 minutes of aerobic activity per day for children) should be cautious of consuming foods and drinks with lots of added sugar, Dr. Danoff says.
"Talk to your physician about how much time you spend exercising each week, as well as what you eat to make sure the diet plan you follow is right for you, including the right balance of carbohydrates and other nutrients to suit your level of physical activity," says Dr. Danoff.
How can I avoid sugar belly?
"Watching what you drink is just as important as watching what you eat," says Dr. Danoff. "Choosing healthy beverage options is one easy way to cut back on the amount of added sugar and calories in your diet."
To cut back the amount of sugar you consume while drinking, Dr. Danoff offers the following tips:
- Beware of "added" sugars. Sugars injected into foods such as pastries, cereals, and canned fruit in syrup can cause you to quickly exceed your daily recommended sugar allowances.
- Limit beverages like soda, juice drinks, and energy drinks that provide little or no nutritional value. These types of beverages may contain an average of three to five times the amount of sugar compared to healthier options and drinks with natural sugars, such as those in whole fruit, vegetables, and milk.
- Drink water instead of soda. If you absolutely crave soda or a carbonated beverage, opt for seltzer water and squeeze in a slice of lime or lemon for flavor.
- Since fruit juice can contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but can also be loaded with sugar limit the amount of juice you consume. An 8 ounce glass of orange juice can contain up to 30 grams of sugar (the equivalent of 7.5 teaspoons of natural sugar) but has none of the fiber that would help you feel full if you consumed an actual orange.
- Also, pick your type of juice wisely since some types of juice contain more sugar and calories than others. For example, a 12 ounce glass of grape juice typically has 20 to 30 more grams of sugar than a glass of orange juice the same size.
- Stick with unsweetened coffees and teas. If you must add a sugared sweetener to your beverage, use a very small amount.
Do the Math
According to the American Heart Association's recommendation for sugar consumption, women should consume no more than 100 added calories and men should consume no more than 150 added calories from sugar a day.
To determine how much sugar is in a beverage, Dr. Danoff says to look at the grams of sugar on a product label and divide it by four. For example, if a beverage has 20 grams of sugar, divide it by four to determine there are 5 teaspoons of sugar in the drink. Then, Dr. Danoff says to multiply that number by 15 to determine the amount of calories (in the example that would be 75 calories).
"We need to be extra careful with soda, energy drinks, sugary juices, and sweetened coffees and teas," cautions Dr. Danoff. "These kinds of beverages are easy to consume in large amounts and often leave you thirsty for more. In many cases, you are basically drinking liquid sugar."