Sugar, my nemesis, is the antithesis of healthy. I'm sure you've been told this since you were a child, but let's face it...it's delicious. I mentioned in a previous post that I'm a recovering sugar addict and I struggle on the daily. But I know I'm not alone. In fact, the average American is consuming 22 teaspoons of sugar per day!
6 ways sugar is harmful to the body
There are many, many ways sugar is harmful to the body, including the well known issue of tooth decay. However, it’s one of the few substances we consume that really wreaks havoc on all of our organ systems. It also alters how the brain and body communicate by impacting our hormones and neurotransmitters. For example, dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for controlling the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Consuming sugar triggers a dopamine response which causes you to chase that feeling of pleasure by eating more sugar. More and more research is pointing to sugar and its role in health conditions from Alzheimer’s to cancer.
#1 - Inflammation
Although inflammation is a normal immune response, a high-sugar diet is known to cause chronic low-grade inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a leading contributor to health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
#2 - Weight Gain
When you consume sugar, your pancreas releases insulin to move it out of your blood stream. If your body can't use the sugar, it will top off your glycogen stores and any excess is then stored as fat. Excess sugar consumption leads to weight gain, and is often stored as abdominal fat.
#3 - Blood Sugar Dysregulation
Not only does high sugar consumption lead to weight gain, but eventually your body stops responding to the insulin released, leading to insulin resistance or Type II diabetes. Blood sugar dysregulation makes you feel like you're riding an energy rollercoaster all day long. When your energy falls, you want to reach for more sugar continuing the cycle of mood swings and energy crashes. It can even cause sleep disruptions.
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#4 - Leaky Gut
High-sugar diets have been shown to increase gut permeability causing food allergies, poor nutrient absorption, compromised immunity and GI distress. Remember, 70 to 80 percent of your immune system is in your gut. Sugar also feeds the bad bacteria in your gut which alters your gut flora and can contribute to SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial
Overgrowth) or candida.
#5 - Stresses the Liver
Everything you put in or on your body is processed by the liver. It's responsible for many things including detoxification, manufacturing cholesterol and triglycerides, bile production and protein synthesis. Regardless of the type of sugar you're consuming, natural or artificial, it must be processed by the liver. A high-sugar diet adds unnecessary stress to the liver.
#6 - Heart Disease
Despite what we've been told, fat is not the cause of heart attacks. Sugar causes stress on the cardiovascular system in many ways. High blood glucose causes the blood to thicken and makes it difficult to transport throughout the body. This also allows glucose to start 'sticking' to the arterial lining leading to atherosclerosis. And as I mentioned earlier, it also leads to fat storage in the abdomen and insulin resistance, both components of metabolic syndrome which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
how much sugar are you actually Consuming?
So now that we know the damage that sugar can do to the body, do you know how much you're actually consuming? I'm not *just* talking about cookies, candy and soda. I'm talking about items that say "heart healthy" and "fat-free" on the front of the package. Often times you think you're eating something "healthy" based on the marketing label on the front of the box, but a quick look at the ingredients and you'll see it likely has sugar. Why add sugar to say, crackers? Because sugar not only tastes delicious, it's addictive due to the impact it has on our neurotransmitters and will keep bringing you back. Sneaky, sneaky cracker maker.
read the ingredients
The Nutrition Facts label will tell you how many grams of sugar per serving and in the future will also differentiate between 'added sugar' and naturally occurring sugar. You can read about the FDA Guideline changes here.
However, the ingredients, will tell you what type of sugar it contains.
This is important because not all sugar is the same. Some sweeteners used in processed foods are highly processed and the body simply doesn't know how to metabolize them. Foods that naturally contain sugar, such as fruit, contain enzymes, nutrients and fiber that help the body use the naturally occurring sugars properly.
why the label doesn't just say 'sugar'
Food manufacturers use a lot of different types of sugar so that they can avoid listing it as 'sugar' on the label. By law, all ingredients must be listed in order of predominance by weight. This means the first few ingredients will make up the majority of what's in the box. If a manufacturer uses many types of sugar then they can disperse it throughout the ingredients list versus listing 'sugar' as the first or second ingredient.
There are many, many types of sweeteners used in processed foods today. Natural sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols and of course, sugar. Click here to print an extensive, but not all encompassing, list of the many names of sugar you might find on a label.
My top picks are below. These are the least processed sweeteners, however, they’re still sugar and should be used sparingly. Remember, both natural and artificial sugars still tax the liver.
-honey (local, raw)
-fruit juice (fresh)
Sugar can be very difficult to avoid or eliminate. It's something I work at every. single. day. Be aware of the sugar you're consuming by reading the labels or even better, by consuming foods that don't have labels! I recommend reading your ingredients and stick to foods with 6-8 ingredients.
Being aware of your sugar consumption and avoiding high-sugar foods on a regular basis will help you reduce your intake. Save those treats for special occasions.
When you do choose to eat sugar, try to eat the least processed sweeteners and enjoy it.