Sugar is a topic we love to hate. It’s delicious and comes in just about every processed food we can buy, which makes up for about 60% of all options at our grocery stores. We might think “if sugar is in so many things, then it must not be bad, right?”. That’s where the hard truths come into play. Refined sugar was introduced in the 1600’s and started off as a luxury item. As production of sugar became cheaper, it became more accessible to the rest of the population. Flash forward to now, where the average US citizen consumes about 57 pounds of sugar per year! Processed sugar isn’t “bad” because it doesn’t contain any nutrients, but its harmful effects to health, especially in large quantities, are why we should tread with caution.
As we’ve talked about previously, ingesting processed sugar greatly affects our blood sugar regulation. As our blood sugar continues to spike and fall above normal ranges, we start to become insulin resistant, making us prime candidates for type 2 diabetes. Research on sugar also shows that it wreaks havoc on our brain. In particular, causing mental health issues and cognitive decline to the extent of dementia. When our brain chemistry is altered, we see serious health consequences along with an increase in anxiety and depression. In the 1600’s, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease was thought to be linked to fat and cholesterol consumption, but the latest research confirms that sugar as the main culprit. To top it off with, once we consume refined sugar regularly we will start to crave it much more.
Sugar “addiction” has been researched extensively. Our brains have reward centers that are stimulated and reinforced with the presence of sugar, much like other addictive substances. The dopamine reward circuit, when activated, produces feelings of euphoria and pleasure similar to those we experience through other rewarding behaviors. Activating this circuit often conditions the body to seek out sugary foods. What classifies sugar as addictive isn’t only the cravings tit causes, but the challenge we face when trying to remove it.
Detoxing from sugar causes a plethora of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can range from mood swings, migraines, cold and flu symptoms, to reduced energy and heightened sugar cravings. It takes about 21-60 days to create a new habit, or rewire those pathways that keep us wanting more sugar, but luckily the adverse symptoms of detoxing from sugar only last about 3-5 days if done correctly. Fueling our bodies with non-sweet nutrient dense foods is the best support to round the corner of sugar withdrawal symptoms and come out feeling great. Once we’ve de-activated those sugar-craving pathways, we can start to introduce naturally sweet items back into our diet.
Naturally sweet foods like fruits, vegetables, honey and maple syrup certainly contain sugar. The difference is the way in which our bodies process them. Our bodies are made to use sugar (glucose) as a quick source of fuel. When we ingest them as real foods in their natural form, we are also ingesting all of the beneficial nutrients that they come with. Fruits and vegetables are full of fiber, water, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. When ingested together, these elements slow the absorption of sugars into our bloodstream, keeping our blood sugar within normal ranges. Other natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup contain beneficial nutrients, probiotic and antibacterial properties that support our health. As they aren’t found in abundance in nature, they are made to be consumed in small amounts.
The food industry has done an incredible job in disguising sugar and adding it into everything they possibly can. If we think about it, what better way to keep the masses buying products if we are addicted to them! Sugar can be disguised as: maltodextrin, fructose, lactose, galactose, sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, and much more. To make it even trickier, products that are labeled “sugar-free” can still contain some forms of these hidden sugars. If we choose to venture down the aisles in the center of the grocery store, be weary of these forms of sugar in the ingredient list. Let’s focus on stocking up on nutrient-dense, sweet and health promoting foods like fruits and vegetables. Our long and short term health, performance and waistline will thank us!
- Chris Kresser. “Here’s the Research on Sugar and Health.” Chris Kresser, Chriskresser.com, 7 Feb. 2019, chriskresser.com/heres-the-research-on-sugar-and-health/.
- Barnes, Jill N, and Michael J Joyner. “Sugar Highs and Lows: the Impact of Diet on Cognitive Function.” The Journal of Physiology, Blackwell Science Inc, 15 June 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3448146/.
- “This Is Your Brain on Sugar (Trust Us, It’s Not Pretty).” Bulletproof, 30 Aug. 2018, blog.bulletproof.com/too-much-sugar-bad-for-brain/.