Dwight Howard battled a severe candy habit for around a decade, ESPN reported earlier this week.
According to Dr. Cate Shanahan, the Lakers’ nutritionist who uncovered Howard’s habit in early 2014 while he was with the team, the NBA player apparently consumed an average of 24 chocolate candy bars a day. People magazine estimated that equated to around 5,500 calories daily.
Shanahan told ESPN that because of Howard’s habit, the then 27-year-old NBA was sluggish on the court and had difficulty healing from injuries. He’d also begun experiencing tingling in his legs and fingers, which the nutritionist suspected was dysesthesia, a painful neurological sensation.
Professor Laura Schmidt of the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine told The Huffington Post that she’s surprised the NBA was unaware of the extent of Howard’s habit and how it affected his athletic performance.
“Shanahan was smart to start by cleaning up Howard’s food environment—that’s a critical first step,” Schmidt wrote via email. “Unfortunately you can’t exercise away the health harms of a poor diet. The health harms from excessive sugar intake range from fatty liver, to insulin sensitivity leading to diabetes and other cardiometabolic diseases.”
She added, “Some of the sugar he consumed would have been mobilized immediately as energy for all of his activity, which hopefully mitigated some of the adverse effects.”
Howard was eventually able to quit his sugar habit by getting rid of all of his boxes of candy and going cold turkey, with the exception of paired-down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
While most people won’t develop a dramatic 24-candy bar a day habit, eating a high level of sugar (which the American Heart Association classifies as 100 calories of refined sugar daily for women and 150 calories for men) can lead to problems like obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Unfortunately, problems with excessive sugar are all too common for Americans, according to Schmidt.
“The majority of Americans are overweight or obese—70 percent of us,” she told HuffPost. “Excess carbohydrate consumption is a leading cause of our obesity epidemic. What’s interesting about Howard is that he wasn’t getting all that added sugar in liquid form. Sugary drinks are the main way people get into trouble with excessive sugar intake.”
If you or someone you know is looking to cut down on sugar intake, Professor Schmidt offers six easy ways to curb your sweet habit. Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein, a pediatric neurologist, told The Splendid Table she recommends incorporating more bitter foods into your diet, by way of fruit and veggie peels, dark chocolate, coffee and beer.
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