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The Rollin' RN's

Sugar and Spice….Is Everything Nice?

When we strive to come up with articles of interest to the Spinal Cord Injury population, we obtain our inspiration from various sources…magazines, TV, friends, and family.  And when we research and write these articles, we learn new ideas as well, along with you all who read them.  And this one is no different.  SUGAR, we love it as much as the next person, but how much is too much and what are the consequences of this precious sweetener on our SCI bodies?  We know….this article comes at the worst time of the year but that’s why we are sharing it.

The first site we investigated stated "Sugar has no nutritional value.  The sweetener provides extra calories but none of the vital nutrients your body needs to stay healthy."  We all know this but here are the hard facts, and yes, we have our listening ears on too.  The average American consumes 3 pounds of sugar a week and 130 pounds a year. This is equal to about 3,550 pounds of sugar in a lifetime. The consumption of added sugar accounts for an intake of 500 calories per day, which can cause a weight gain of 1 pound per week.  Oh, my goodness!!  But how much sugar should be consumed per day?  According to the American Heart Association, 30 grams of sugar is recommended per day…MAX.  Let me put that into perspective: A 12-ounce soda with sugar contains about 40 grams of sugar or 1 medium order of French Fries equals 1 hour and 12 minutes of swimming.

Take a gander in your pantry, like we did.  Look at the sweet contents of the food you have already bought.  Start there and once you feel comfortable reading labels at home then transfer that habit to your grocery shopping.  You will be amazed at the sugar content you are already ingesting.  We can bet most of you are consuming more than the recommended daily allowances.

You may wonder "Why are you chatting about sugar?"  There are so many, many effects of sugar on the SCI body: weight gain, decrease in healing of wounds, risk of diabetes, UTIs…the list is endless. An elevated blood sugar level stiffens the arteries and causes narrowing of the blood vessels. The effects of this are far-reaching and include the origin of wounds as well as risk factors for proper wound healing.  We already have decreased circulation from being spinal cord injured but now narrowed blood vessels lead to decreased blood flow and decreased oxygen to a wound. An elevated blood sugar level decreases the function of red blood cells that carry the nutrients to the tissue. This lowers the efficiency of the white blood cells that fight infection. Without sufficient nutrients and oxygen, a wound heals slowly.

Let's take a minute to absorb this statement…narrowed blood vessels → decreased blood flow → decreased oxygen to promote wound healing.  Mmmm, interesting, isn't it!!  Sounds like the idea of a simple precious sweetener leads to many other problems.  Remember, sugars are also referred to as sucrose, fructose, dextrose, lactose, and many other names.

Urinary tract infections can be an additional concern with increased sugar consumption. Higher blood sugars may cause a spilling of sugar into the urine which acts as food for bacteria and makes it much easier for bacteria to grow and replicate thus leading to urinary tract infection.  Sugar or glucose allows the bacteria in the urine to reproduce much easier.  We are already trying to remedy the urinary system issues associated with spinal cord injuries.  Ingesting increased amounts of sugar is a cumulative, evolving issue.

The last issue being addressed in this article is weight gain due to increased sugar consumption.  We are not spending much time on the subject because we all understand that increased sugar leads to weight gain.  A statement from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center booklet reads, "Extra pounds cause risk to the skin: As people gain weight, the skin traps moisture, greatly increasing the risk of skin sores.  Inactivity can also result in loss of trunk control, shortening or weakness of muscles, decreased bone density, and inefficient breathing."  Inactivity – huge word for us in wheelchairs. We have read that for every 30 minutes of pushing a wheelchair 272 calories are burned. Not bad but what about us in electric power chairs?  We don’t even burn the 272 calories quoted for pushing a wheelchair for 30 minutes.

Helpful hints for decreasing sugar consumption:

  • Read the labels.

  • Choose fruits and vegetables for snacks or desserts.

  • Do not add extra sugar to coffee, tea, cereal, or other foods.

  • Add protein to each meal – protein helps stabilize blood sugar.

  • One other suggestion was to choose sugar-free or low-sugar sodas. We suggest substituting sugar-free sodas for water. All of us SCI individuals need increased water for many reasons.

This article is merely providing factual information on the consumption of sugar and SCI individuals.  As nurses, we have always provided facts to increase the learning process and this article is only providing the realities of sugar consumption. Our aspiration is that by everyone reading this article, it would result in a reduction of intake of sugar. Today, we vow to decrease our daily consumption of sugar. Raise your hand or nod if you take the vow with us.  Sugar addiction has been proven by science to be a real addiction and changes are difficult to maintain. Stopping cold turkey is one way or just decrease your sugar intake on a gradual basis. The choice is yours.


Merry Christmas and Happiest of Holidays to all.

It’s all good, so keep on rollin’.

The Rollin’ RNs ™

Patty Kunze, BSN, RN


Diet containing too much sugar can quickly cause weight gain.  Obtained September 27, 2014 from

How diabetes affects wound healing.  Obtained September 23, 2014 from

Maddox, S. (2nd Ed.) (2009)  Health management and wellness.   Paralysis Resource Guide.  Short Hills, NJ. 110.

Recommended grams of sugar per day.  Obtained September 26, 2014 from

Urinary tract infection. Obtained September 26, 2014 from



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