Ahhhhh…Caffeine and Sugar…But What's the Price?

You can’t tell the story of military life without talking about caffeine and sugar.  A morning cup of “Joe” is so named because of reforms put in place by then Secretary of the Navy, Josephus “Joe” Daniels way back in 1913. Among his many reforms of the Navy, he outlawed alcohol aboard ships.  Since then, the strongest drink aboard Navy ships has been coffee.

Sweets too, so popular with Sailors!   “Care” packages often contain hard to get, and much missed, candy, cakes, and treats.  The original CARE packages were the product of the non-profit CARE organization and included: one pound of honey, one pound of raisins; one pound of chocolate and 2 pounds of sugar. The Navy version of these packages also includes sugary treats, and many a deployed Sailor will testify that there’s nothing like a chocolate chip cookie to boost morale.

While important to maintaining a happy crew, consuming both caffeine and sugar – to excess – can negatively impact your psychological health.  Too much caffeine has been linked to increased levels of anxiety that can produce unwanted symptoms of apprehension, agitation and uneasiness; can cause dehydration, and can negatively affect memory and attention, so important in an operational environment.   Caffeine can also interfere with a good night’s sleep – a key to staying healthy and alert.

Excessive amounts of sugar may also negatively affect our health and moods, but few of us even know how much we consume.  Much of the sugar we get is added to foods during processing; and the amounts can be significant.  Just one 12 oz. can of a popular soda contains 40.5 grams or 10 teaspoons of sugar.  That one bottle exceeds the maximum recommended daily consumption of added sugar of six teaspoons for women and 10 teaspoons for men.

We don’t have any physiological need for refined sugar but it’s easily absorbed by our bodies and elevates our blood sugar levels. “In the stress response, the liver releases glycogen (i.e., stored body sugar) into the blood, preparing the body for “fight or flight.” When people eat sugar, the body interprets the increased sugar level as a sign of stress, and other characteristic physiological reactions are also triggered. The body’s response to this quick “sugar rush” is to struggle for equilibrium; but sometimes it overreacts, and the blood-sugar level drops to below normal. This can make people feel suddenly depressed or lethargic. To restore equilibrium again, there can be even a greater craving for sugar. Many people see-saw through life in this way.”

It’s hard to balance all of life’s commitments and pleasures, but you’ll perform and feel better if you can maintain an ‘even keel’. One way you can do that is by watching what you and your family eat and drink.


Ref:  Stress, Workload and Fatigue. Contributors: Peter A. Hancock – editor, Paula A. Desmond – editor. Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Place of Publication: Mahwah, NJ. Publication Year 2001

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