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Sugar and MS

By Matt Cavallo
The holidays are a time of the year marked by an abundance of sugary sweets. Candy, caramel apples, pumpkin everything and did I mention candy? As the season gets colder, the comfort of these sweets becomes more important, so much so, that we never stop to question the number of calories in our pumpkin spice latte. 

While it is fun to indulge our sweet tooth this time of year, it is important to know that there is a correlation between sugar and MS. The direct correlation is that consuming sugar leads to increased fatigue. Fatigue and MS is devastating, so limiting your sugar intake may help. 

The problem is that sugar is everywhere and in everything we eat nowadays. It isn’t about just about cutting back on desserts, it is also about that dish at our favorite restaurant where the secret ingredient is some sugar. These are called added sugars.

Added sugars and sugar carbohydrates are common ingredients to foods. These are processed sugars, meaning that they don’t occur in nature, rather they are created through food processing. Some of the names of these added sugars you’ve probably heard of like high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, and sucrose to name a few. These added sugars are often added to processed foods for taste. 

My neurologist gave me a rule of thumb for shopping at the grocery store. He said to buy the majority of your food items on the outside aisles of the grocery store. These are often the nonprocessed foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins. He said to avoid the inside aisles that contain the processed food, both frozen or boxed. If you eat fresh, you have the opportunity to limit both your sugar and salt intake. 

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid processed foods all together. It is all about moderation. According to a Harvard School of Public Health, the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which amounts to an extra 350 calories. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests an added-sugar limit of no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar) for most women and no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for most men. 

Most of us consume two to three times the recommended amount of a sugar daily and most of us don’t even know it. Knowing how to read the labels to spot the added sugar could help you cut down on your daily sugar intake. Also, avoiding sugar-sweetened drinks can help drastically cut down on sugars, which includes those energy drinks we drink to combat fatigue. 

An even bigger problem is that sugar can lead to food addiction. “People who eat a diet high in added sugars are most likely eating a diet containing a lot of processed foods,” explains Allison Sattison, RD, CD, CNSC, a clinical dietitian specialist at Indiana University Health – Methodist Hospital. “Eating foods with a lot of added sugars can be somewhat addictive, yet they tend to be non-nutritive, empty calories that leave us unsatisfied and undernourished. This may trigger overeating, and overall it’s a vicious cycle.” While not a direct correlation to MS, adding extra weight due to eating and drinking excessive sugar lead to chronic inflammation, vitamin D deficiency, fatigue, and depression.

Cutting back on sugar can have many health benefits, including MS and fatigue. Knowing how to recognize which foods you eat every day is a great way to start reducing your sugar intake. Reducing your intake will having you feeling better overall and enjoying a sweeter quality of life.