By: Amanda Freeman, PhD
Two assignments in the course required students to create infographics which highlighted the application of various self-tracking variables. Students selected an area of self-tracking that they found interesting and examined the scientific literature available on this topic. They then had to discern the most important finding of the study and determine how best to convey this information. Although infographics seem simple when you read them, they are actually quite challenging to communicate the critical elements of a study accurately and effectively in just a few words.
We will be sharing a few of these student-made infographics with you on this blog in the coming weeks, starting with an infographic made by Stephanie Pintas on sugar. We hope you enjoy!
Thank you to CFDE for making this course possible and to Donna Troka and Alan Pike for sharing their experience with infographic assignments.
The Sweet Tooth Problem: Why We Should Avoid Sugar
By: Stephanie Pintas
As I discuss in my infographic, sugar intake in the U.S. is excessive and most of it comes from sweetened beverage consumption. These sugar-sweetened beverages include sodas with added high-fructose corn syrup. In my third slide I looked at three studies that point to the risk of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption. The first study observed male and female participants over a ten-week period and found that those who consumed fructose-sweetened beverages versus beverages sweetened with aspartame, an artificial sweetener, gained significantly more weight. The second study observed the difference between glucose- and fructose-sweetened beverage consumption. Fructose differs from glucose in that it is mainly processed by the liver and goes straight to fat storage. Glucose, on the other hand, is metabolized directly into the bloodstream and used as fuel by various cells in the body such as the muscles and brain. Those who consumed the fructose-sweetened beverages saw a significant increase in visceral fat. Visceral fat develops around the organs in the mid-section and has been linked to metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes. In addition, those who consumed fructose-sweetened beverages saw an increase in their blood lipid profile—their cholesterol increased overall and their LDL, the bad cholesterol, also increased. In the final study, researchers surveyed teenagers across the US aged 12-19 and found that those who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages had increased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and a decrease in HDL, the good cholesterol.
In my fourth slide I discuss why high-fructose corn syrup in our food supply, specifically from beverages, is a problem. As the studies show, they lead to weight gain and high triglycerides and both of these are risk factors for type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease.
Sugar intake affects lifespan in more than just these diseases, however. New research is showing that sugar intake affects Alzheimer’s disease. In the first study, researchers selected a large sample of elderly participants and found that those with a high carbohydrate diet characterized by refined sugars had an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who ate a high-protein or high-fat diet. In the second study, another large sample of elderly participants were followed over a 7-10 year period. Those with Type 2 Diabetes and higher blood glucose levels had an increased chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Further, those without Type 2 Diabetes, but who still had high blood glucose levels had an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. A high-carbohydrate diet fueled by refined sugars is associated with high blood glucose levels and points to another reason why excess sugar in the diet should be avoided. Subsequently, researchers are calling Alzheimer’s disease “Type 3 Diabetes” because sugar creates a similar resistance in neurons as insulin receptors. When people eat too much sugar the mitochondria in the brain lose efficiency at processing it and this creates cell death and decreased memory function.
In my final slide I list the top ten leading causes of death in the U.S. and those highlighted in red are associated with a high refined sugar intake. I then discuss ways that one can take action in their own life to monitor their sugar intake through a food journal or app such as MyFitnessPal. In addition, avoiding processed foods, especially refined carbohydrates and sugar-sweetened beverages, and opting for dark green vegetables and fruits is optimal. Further, vegetables and fruits have even been shown to prevent cancer and heart disease. Through my infographic I hope to teach the general public about the ill effects of refined sugar intake and inspire people to make healthier food choices for longevity.
Stephanie Pintas is a rising sophomore in the Emory College of Arts and Sciences. She is a Human Health major and plans to minor in Nutrition Science. Nutrition is really central to her life because she believes that eating whole foods is a powerful preventive tool for many of the diseases in the United States and around the world. Next year Ms. Pintas will be a Healthy Eating Partner at the Dobbs University Center. Beyond Emory, Ms. Pintas desires to help people with their health and well-being because absence of wellness, dis-ease, is severely impacting individuals' health and the prosperity of the United States as a whole. She will achieve this by opening up a clinic that caters to each individual. It will have medical doctors that collaborate with East Asian medicine practitioners. Further, it will incorporate meditation, yoga, and cooking classes as well as courses on compassion. The ultimate goal is to create a center for wellness that focuses on prevention as much as possible and helps individuals implement healthier choices into their lives for happier living. Nutrition is just one aspect of wellness, but one that is essential to Stephanie as you will see in her following infographic work.