Is Sugar Bad for You?
10 Disturbing Reasons Why Sugar is Bad For You
Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet.
It can have harmful effects on metabolism and contribute to all sorts of diseases.
Here are 10 disturbing reasons why you should avoid added sugar like the plague:
1. Added Sugar Contains No Essential Nutrients and is Bad For Your Teeth
You’ve probably heard this a million times before… but it’s worth repeating.
Added sugars (like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) contain a whole bunch of calories with NO essential nutrients.
For this reason, they are called “empty” calories.
There are no proteins, essential fats, vitamins or minerals in sugar… just pure energy.
When people eat up to 10-20% of calories as sugar (or more), this can become a major problem and contribute to nutrient deficiencies.
Sugar is also very bad for the teeth, because it provides easily digestible energy for the bad bacteria in the mouth (1).
Bottom Line: Sugar contains a lot of calories, with no essential nutrients. It also causes tooth decay by feeding the harmful bacteria in the mouth.
2. Added Sugar is High in Fructose, Which Can Overload Your Liver
In order to understand what is so bad about sugar, then you need to understand what it is made of.
Before sugar enters the bloodstream from the digestive tract, it is broken down into two simple sugars… glucose and fructose.
- Glucose is found in every living cell on the planet. If we don’t get it from the diet, our bodies produce it.
- Fructose is different. Our bodies do not produce it in any significant amount and there is no physiological need for it.
The thing with fructose is that it can only be metabolized by the liver in any significant amounts.
This is not a problem if we eat a little bit (such as from fruit) or we just finished an exercise session. In this case, the fructose will be turned into glycogen and stored in the liver until we need it (3).
However, if the liver is full of glycogen (much more common), eating a lot of fructose overloads the liver, forcing it to turn the fructose into fat (4).
When repeatedly eating large amounts of sugar, this process can lead to fatty liver and all sorts of serious problems (5).
Keep in mind that all of this does NOT apply to fruit. It is almost impossible to overeat fructose by eating fruit.
There is also massive individual variability here. People who are healthy and active can tolerate more sugar than people who are inactive and eat a Western, high-carb, high-calorie diet.
Bottom Line: For people who are inactive and eat a Western diet, large amounts of fructose from added sugars get turned into fat in the liver.
3. Overloading The Liver With Fructose Can Cause Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
When fructose get turned into fat in the liver, it is shipped out as VLDL cholesterol particles.
However, not all of the fat gets out, some of it can lodge in the liver.
This can lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), a growing problem in Western countries that is strongly associated with metabolic diseases (6).
Studies show that individuals with fatty liver consume up to 2-3 times as much fructose as the average person (7, 8).
Bottom Line: Excess fructose gets turned into fat, which can lodge in the liver and cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
4. Sugar Can Cause Insulin Resistance, a Stepping Stone Towards Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes
Insulin is a very important hormone in the body.
It allows glucose (blood sugar) to enter cells from the bloodstream and tells the cells to start burning glucose instead of fat.
Having too much glucose in the blood is highly toxic and one of the reasons for complications of diabetes, like blindness.
One feature of the metabolic dysfunction that is caused by the Western diet, is that insulin stops working as it should. The cells become “resistant” to it.
This is also known as insulin resistance, which is believed to be a leading driver of many diseases… including metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease and especially type II diabetes (9).
Many studies show that sugar consumption is associated with insulin resistance, especially when it is consumed in large amounts (10, 11).
Bottom Line: When people eat a lot of sugar, it can cause resistance to the hormone insulin, which can contribute to many diseases.
5. The Insulin Resistance Can Progress to Type II Diabetes
When our cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, the beta cells in our pancreas make more of it.
This is crucial, because chronically elevated blood sugars can cause severe harm.
Eventually, as insulin resistance becomes progressively worse, the pancreas can’t keep up with the demand of producing enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels down.
At this point, blood sugar levels skyrocket and a diagnosis of type II diabetes is made.
Given that sugar can cause insulin resistance, it is not surprising to see that people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages have up to an 83% higher risk of Type II diabetes (12, 13).
Bottom Line: Because of the harmful effects of sugar on the function of insulin, it is a leading driver of type II diabetes.
6. Sugar Can Give You Cancer
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and is characterized by uncontrolled growth and multiplication of cells.
Insulin is one of the key hormones in regulating this sort of growth.
For this reason, many scientists believe that having constantly elevated insulin levels (a consequence of sugar consumption) can contribute to cancer (14).
In addition, the metabolic problems associated with sugar consumption are a known driver of inflammation, another potential cause of cancer (15).
Multiple studies show that people who eat a lot of sugar are at a much higher risk of getting cancer (16, 17, 18).
Bottom Line: There is considerable evidence that sugar, due to its harmful effects on metabolism, can contribute to cancer.
7. Due to its Effects on Hormones and the Brain, Sugar has Unique Fat-Promoting Effects
Not all calories are created equal.
Different foods can have different effects on our brains and the hormones that control food intake (19).
Studies show that fructose doesn’t have the same kind of effect on satiety as glucose.
In one study, people drank either a fructose-sweetened drink or a glucose-sweetened drink.
Afterwards, the fructose drinkers had much less activity in the satiety centers of the brain and felt hungrier (20).
There is also a study where fructose didn’t lower the hunger hormone ghrelin nearly as much as glucose did (21).
Over time, because the calories from sugar aren’t as fulfilling, this can translate into an increased calorie intake.
Bottom Line: Fructose doesn’t cause satiety in the brain or lower the hunger hormone ghrelin nearly as much as glucose.
8. Because it Causes Massive Dopamine Release in The Brain, Sugar is Highly Addictive
Sugar can be addictive for a lot of people.
Like abusive drugs, sugar causes a release of dopamine in the reward center of the brain (22).
The problem with sugar and many junk foods is that they can cause massive dopamine release… much more than we were ever exposed to from foods found in nature (23).
For this reason, people who have a susceptibility to addiction can become strongly addicted to sugar and other junk foods (24).
The “everything in moderation” message may be a bad idea for people who areaddicted to junk food… because the only thing that works for true addiction is abstinence.
Bottom Line: Because sugar causes a large release of dopamine in the brain, it can cause addiction in a lot of people.
9. Sugar is a Leading Contributor to Obesity in Both Children and Adults
The way sugar affects hormones and the brain is a recipe for fat gain disaster.
It leads to decreased satiety… and can get people addicted so that they lose control over their consumption.
Not surprisingly, people who consume the most sugar are by far the most likely to become overweight or obese. This applies to all age groups.
Many studies have examined the link between sugar consumption and obesity and found a strong statistical association (25).
The link is especially strong in children, where each daily serving of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with a whopping 60% increased risk of obesity (26).
One of the most important things you can do if you need to lose weight is to significantly cut back on sugar consumption.
Bottom Line: Because of the effects of sugar on hormones and the brain, sugar dramatically increases the risk of becoming overweight or obese.
10. It Ain’t The Fat… It’s SUGAR That Raises Your Cholesterol and Gives You Heart Disease
For many decades, people have blamed saturated fat for heart disease… which is the #1 killer in the world.
The evidence is mounting that sugar, NOT fat, may be one of the leading drivers of heart disease via the harmful effects of fructose on metabolism (29).
Studies show that large amounts of fructose can raise triglycerides, small, dense LDL and oxidized LDL (very, very bad), raise blood glucose and insulin levels and increased abdominal obesity… in as little as 10 weeks (30).
These are all major risk factors for heart disease.
Not surprisingly, many observational studies find a strong statistical association between sugar consumption and the risk of heart disease (31, 32, 33).
Take Home Message
For people who can’t tolerate it, added sugar is incredibly harmful.
Empty calories are just the tip of the iceberg.
Is Sugar Really That Bad for You?
Raw sugar, corn syrup, agave nectar, cane juice, sugar substitutes...we've got the skinny on them all.
Every few years, there's a new food bad guy in town—and right now, it's sugar. Some experts have even declared it a "poison" that's "killing us." Yet could the sweet stuff people have been eating forever really be so terrible? "We actually need sugar; it's our body's preferred fuel," says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. "But we eat too damn much of it."
Naturally occurring sugar—which gives fruit, some veggies, and milk their sweet taste—is perfectly healthy. It's added sugar (sweeteners put in during processing and prep) that we need to not OD on. No need to cut out dessert: The key is to eat strategically.
Happily, some major companies are getting on board. In the past four years, cereal brands have cut back on sugar, the milk industry recently lowered amounts in the chocolate milk served in schools, and Walmart is aiming for 10 percent less added sugar in select foods by 2015.
We turned to experts to clear up the confusion over this tasty temptress. As Dr. Katz says, "There's a role for sugar in our diet. After all, what's the point of being healthy if it's not to enjoy living?"
Is there such thing as a sweet tooth?
Yes, sugar love is in your DNA. Researchers have found two sweet-receptor genes that can predict a preference for sweets.
How much is OK?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends most women get no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day. That's about 6 teaspoons, or 100 calories—a little less than the amount in one can of soda. Thing is, the average American woman eats about 18 daily teaspoons.
Sugar is hidden in unlikely foods, from salad dressing to crackers, which can push you past 24 grams. Read labels; if there's a sweetener in the first few ingredients (some common aliases: evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, agave nectar, fructose, dextrose, and syrup), look for a brand with a low-or no-sugar option.
Is it really so bad?
"Sugar is an important part of our lives," says Miriam Vos, MD, assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine. "But a little goes a long way." The AHA links added sugar to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In a nutshell, eating too much sugar can cause fat buildup in the liver, which can lead to these problems.
It's not all bad. "There's no need to avoid the naturally occurring sugars in fruit, vegetables, and low-and nonfat dairy," says Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington. As sweet as some of these things may taste, they contain relatively small amounts of sugar. Plus, nature's packaging comes with essential vitamins and minerals, along with water and fiber that slow the release of sugars into the bloodstream and prevent insulin spikes.
What's up with 'natural' sugars?
Sugar in the raw is no better than regular sugar. Agave nectar, alas, is also not great: Its main constituent, fructose, tends to get held up in the liver more than other types of sugar. Some sweeteners, like raw honey and sucanat, have trace nutrients, but they're all the same as white sugar in terms of calories—and some contain even more calories.
Is it ok to use calorie-free sweeteners?
Yes! The FDA deems stevia, aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda), and other cal-free sweeteners safe. "Short-term data suggests they're safer than table sugar," says Kimber Stanhope, PhD, a nutritional biologist at the University of California–Davis. Faux sugar won't cause blood-sugar spikes or weight gain—and all the potential health ills. As Stanhope says, "I use them because I can't afford the extra calories!"
The Harmful Effects of Sugar
When it comes to consumption and the effects of sugar, I often hear things like:
All things in moderation….
A little bit won’t hurt…
It’s fuel for the brain…
All justifications for consuming sugar in some amount. The question is: should sugar ever be consumed and if so, in what amount?
The Effects of Sugar…
Sugar exists in many forms besides just the white powdered (usually GMO) beet sugar we can pick up at the grocery store. There are effects of sugar in all of its forms (including corn syrup, honey, and maple syrup) and we are consuming more of it now than ever before. For instance:
…Consumption of processed foods (which are laced with sugar) cost the American public more than $54 billion in dental bills each year, so the dental industry reaps huge profits from the programmed addiction of the public to sugar products. …Today we have a nation that is addicted to sugar. In 1915, the national average of sugar consumption (per year) was around 15 to 20 pounds per person. Today the average person consumes his/her weight in sugar, plus over 20 pounds of corn syrup. To add more horrors to these facts there are some people that use no sweets and some who use much less than the average figure, which means that there is a percentage of the population that consume a great deal more refined sugar than their body weight. The human body cannot tolerate this large amount of refined carbohydrates. The vital organs in the body are actually damaged by this gross intake of sugar.
I often hear the argument that sugar is ok in moderation and that eliminating any “food group” is dangerous. Certainly, avoiding an actual macronutrient category completely (carbohydrate, protein or fat) would be problematic, but sugar in itself is not a food group. Though sugar in some form is naturally present in many foods, by itself, it contains:
- no nutrients
- no protein
- no healthy fats
- no enzymes
Just empty and quickly digested calories that actually pull minerals from the body during digestion. It creates a hormone cascade when consumed that starts a positive feedback loop in the body to encourage more consumption. In a time when food was scarce and needed to be contained in large amounts in the summer when available to survive the winter, this was a good thing. In today’s world of constant access to processed foods, this natural biological purpose highlights one of the negative effects of sugar. Here’s why:
“Dr. David Reuben, author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Nutrition says, “white refined sugar-is not a food. It is a pure chemical extracted from plant sources, purer in fact than cocaine, which it resembles in many ways. Its true name is sucrose and its chemical formula is C12H22O11. It has 12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen atoms, 11 oxygen atoms, and absolutely nothing else to offer.” …The chemical formula for cocaine is C17H21NO4. Sugar’s formula again is C12H22O11. For all practical purposes, the difference is that sugar is missing the “N”, or nitrogen atom.”
What’s in Sugar?
Most often, when we talk about sugar, we are referring to a mixture of glucose and fructose, both simple sugars that are contained in various amounts in different foods. As this article explains:
- “Dextrose, fructose, and glucose are all monosaccharides, known as simple sugars. The primary difference between them is how your body metabolizes them. Glucose and dextrose are essentially the same sugar. However, food manufacturers usually use the term “dextrose” in their ingredient list.
- The simple sugars can combine to form more complex sugars, like the disaccharide sucrose (table sugar), which is half glucose and half fructose.
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose.
- Ethanol (drinking alcohol) is not a sugar, although beer and wine contain residual sugars and starches, in addition to alcohol.
- Sugar alcohols like xylitol, glycerol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, and erythritol are neither sugars nor alcohols but are becoming increasingly popular as sweeteners. They are incompletely absorbed from your small intestine, for the most part, so they provide fewer calories than sugar but often cause problems with bloating, diarrhea, and flatulence.
- Sucralose (Splenda) is NOT a sugar, despite its sugar-like name and deceptive marketing slogan, “made from sugar.” It’s a chlorinated artificial sweetener in line with aspartame and saccharin, with detrimental health effects to match.
- Agave syrup, falsely advertised as “natural,” is typically HIGHLY processed and is usually 80 percent fructose. The end product does not even remotely resemble the original agave plant.
- Honey is about 53 percent fructose2, but is completely natural in its raw form and has many health benefits when used in moderation, including as many antioxidants as spinach.
- Stevia is a highly sweet herb derived from the leaf of the South American stevia plant, which is completely safe (in its natural form). Lo han (or luohanguo) is another natural sweetener, but derived from a fruit.”
Is There Any Safe Amount of Sugar?
In my opinion, there is no safe amount of processed or refined sugar. Naturally contained sugars in fruit and vegetables are balanced by the fiber, vitamins, enzymes and other properties of the fruit/vegetable which slow sugar digestion and help the body deal with it more easily. Processed varieties, on the other hand, provide none of these benefits and instead create these harmful effects of sugar in the body:
- Stresses the Liver: “When we eat fructose, it goes to the liver. If liver glycogen is low, such as after a run, the fructose will be used to replenish it (3).However, most people aren’t consuming fructose after a long workout and their livers are already full of glycogen. When this happens, the liver turns the fructose into fat (2). Some of the fat gets shipped out, but part of it remains in the liver. The fat can build up over time and ultimately lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (4, 5, 6).”
- Increases Bad Cholesterol and Triglycerides (source)
- Can contribute to Leptin Resistance (and then weight gain, cravings, sleep trouble, etc) – source
- Creates an addictive sugar response in the brain (source)
- Doesn’t fill you up and instead encourages you to eat more
I realize that in today’s world, it can be tough to completely avoid sugar since it is so readily available. Unfortunately, the widespread availability doesn’t reduce the effects of sugar…
Especially for kids who are still developing their nutritional foundation, metabolism, and hormones, even a little sugar can be harmful. As hard as it can be sometimes, we try to stick to whole, real foods as much as possible and avoid any processed foods (especially those containing grains and sugars.
For us, this means cooking at home almost all the time. We work to teach our children about healthy eating at home and about the negative effects of sugar, but I also don’t completely restrict unhealthy foods if we are away from home for a few reasons….
- While they are young now and it is easy to make sure they are eating healthy foods, especially at home, they will one day grow up and be away from home and exposed to all types of foods. I think it is important to let them start to make food choices on their own (and they usually make healthy ones) while they are still young and I can still help guide their choices rather than completely restrict them.
- When kids are used to eating a really healthy diet, even a small amount of processed food will usually make them feel *yucky* and discourage them from eating it again.
- Exposure to other foods often leads to conversations about different types of foods and which are good/bad for the body.
- My kids typically make good food choices on their own and have become rather adventurous eaters since they aren’t restricted or expected to only consume chicken fingers or hamburgers when we aren’t at home. For instance, my two year old loves broccoli, olives, sardines and other healthy foods. Make the good foods readily available and make the unhealthy ones few and far between…
We also don’t consume sugary drinks – even juice. The only thing we use sugar for is making Kombucha, water kefir and homemade sodas, and the great majority of it is fermented out and converted to beneficial bacteria before we drink it.
Our breakfasts usually consist of eggs or leftovers, lunches are salads or soups and dinners are often a baked or grilled meat with many veggies.
Sounds like a lot of work? It certainly is more work than a meal-in-a-box meal, but so worth it! We haven’t had to take any of the kids to the doctor in years, all but one have never had antibiotics and they are happily active and fit naturally. My hope as they grow is to nurture their own healthy eating habits and develop a lifelong foundation for healthy eating.
What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Too Much Sugar?
By Dr. Mercola
You add it to your morning cup of coffee or tea. You bake it into pastries, cakes, and cookies. You even sprinkle it all over your breakfast cereal or your oatmeal for added "flavor."
But that's not all. It's also hidden in some beloved "treats" that people consume on a daily basis, such as sodas, fruit juices, candies, and ice cream. It also lurks in almost all processed foods, including breads, meats, and even your favorite condiments like Worcestershire sauce and ketchup.
It's none other than sugar. Most people view sugary foods as tasty, satisfying, and irresistible treats. But I believe that there are three words that can more accurately describe sugar: toxic, addicting, and deadly.
Sugar, in my opinion, is one of the most damaging substances that you can ingest – and what's terrifying about it is that it's just so abundant in our everyday diet. This intense addiction to sugar is becoming rampant, not just among adults, but in children as well.
But how exactly does sugar work in our body, and what are the side effects of eating too much sugar on people's health?
Why Is Excessive Sugar Bad for Your Health?
Today, an average American consumes about 32 teaspoons of sugar per day. New numbers came out in February 2015. The Washington Post did a story on it using grams (4 grams = 1 tsp). They quoted Euromonitor’s study, which said Americans are now consuming 126 grams, which would equal close to 32 teaspoons.
Euromonitor’s study costs $1200 to access; the Washington Post interprets the study for free here. It's definitely alarming, considering the average Englishman during the 1700s only consumed four pounds of sugar per year – and that's most likely from healthful natural sources like fruits, and not from the processed foods you see in supermarket shelves today.
What's even more disturbing is that people are consuming excessive sugar in the form of fructose or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This highly processed form of sugar is cheaper yet 20 percent sweeter than regular table sugar, which is why many food and beverage manufacturers decided to use it for their products, as it would allow them to save money in the long run.
HFCS is found in almost all types of processed foods and drinks today. Just take a look at this infographic to see just how much fructose is hiding in some of the most common foods you eat.
The bad news is that the human body is not made to consume excessive amounts of sugar, especially in the form of fructose. In fact, your body metabolizes fructose differently than sugar. It is actually a hepatotoxin and is metabolized directly into fat – factors that can cause a whole host of problems that can have far-reaching effects on your health.
Effects of Consuming Too Much Sugar
Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology in the University of California and a pioneer in decoding sugar metabolism, says that your body can safely metabolize at least six teaspoons of added sugar per day. But since most Americans are consuming over three times that amount, majority of the excess sugar becomes metabolized into body fat – leading to all the debilitating chronic metabolic diseases many people are struggling with.
Here are some of the effects that consuming too much sugar has on your health:
- It overloads and damages your liver. The effects of too much sugar or fructose can be likened to the effects of alcohol. All the fructose you eat gets shuttled to the only organ that has the transporter for it: your liver. This severely taxes and overloads the organ, leading to potential liver damage.
- It tricks your body into gaining weight and affects your insulin and leptin signaling. Fructose fools your metabolism by turning off your body's appetite-control system. It fails to stimulate insulin, which in turn fails to suppress ghrelin, or "the hunger hormone," which then fails to stimulate leptin or "the satiety hormone." This causes you to eat more and develop insulin resistance
- It causes metabolic dysfunction. Eating too much sugar causes a barrage of symptoms known as classic metabolic syndrome. These include weight gain, abdominal obesity, decreased HDL and increased LDL, elevated blood sugar, elevated triglycerides, and high blood pressure.
- It increases your uric acid levels. High uric acid levels are a risk factor for heart and kidney disease. In fact, the connection between fructose, metabolic syndrome, and your uric acid is now so clear that your uric acid level can now be used as a marker for fructose toxicity.
According to the latest research, the safest range of uric acid is between 3 to 5.5 milligrams per deciliter. If your uric acid level is higher than this, then it's clear that you are at risk to the negative health impacts of fructose.
Sugar Increases Your Risk of Disease
One of the most severe effects of eating too much sugar is its potential to wreak havoc on your liver, leading to a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Yes, the same disease that you can get from excessive alcohol intake can also be caused by excessive sugar (fructose) intake. Dr. Lustig explained the three similarities between alcohol and fructose:
- Your liver metabolizes alcohol the same way as sugar, as both serve as substrates for converting dietary carbohydrate into fat. This promotes insulin resistance, fatty liver, and dyslipidemia (abnormal fat levels in your blood)
- Fructose undergoes the Maillard reaction with proteins. This causes superoxide free radicals to form, resulting in inflammation – a condition that can be also caused by acetaldehyde, a metabolite of ethanol
- Fructose can directly and indirectly stimulate the brain's "hedonic pathway," creating habituation and dependence, the same way that ethanol does
But if you think that's the only way eating too much sugar wreaks havoc on your body, you're dead wrong. Research from some of America's most respected institutions now confirms that sugar is a primary dietary factor that drives obesity and chronic disease development.
One study found that fructose is readily used by cancer cells to increase their proliferation – it "feeds" the cancer cells, promoting cell division and speeding their growth, which allow the cancer to spread faster.
Alzheimer's disease is another deadly illness that can arise from too much sugar consumption. A growing body of research found a powerful connection between a high-fructose diet and your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, through the same pathway that causes type 2 diabetes. According to some experts, Alzheimer's and other brain disorders may be caused by the constant burning of glucose for fuel by your brain.
Other diseases that are linked to metabolic syndrome and may potentially arise because of too much sugar consumption include:
How to Manage and/or Limit Your Sugar Consumption
Sugar, in its natural form, is not inherently bad, as long as it's consumed in moderation. This means avoiding all sources of fructose, particularly processed foods and beverages like soda. According to SugarScience.org, 74 percent of processed foods contain added sugar stealthily hidden under more than 60 different names. Ideally, you should spend 90 percent of your food budget on whole foods, and only 10 percent or less on processed foods.
I also advise you to severely limit your consumption of refined carbohydrates (waffles, cereals, bagels, etc.) and grains, as they actually break down to sugar in your body, which increases your insulin levels and causes insulin resistance.
As a general recommendation, I advise you to keep your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, including that from whole fruit. Keep in mind that although fruits are rich in nutrients and antioxidants, they also naturally contain fructose, and if consumed in high amounts may actually worsen your insulin sensitivity and raise your uric acid levels.
Remember that artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are also a no-no, as they actually come with a whole new set of health problems that are much worse than what sugar or corn syrup can bring. Here are some additional dietary tips to remember:
- Increase your consumption of healthy fats, such as omega-3, saturated, and monounsaturated fats. Your body needs health-promoting fats from animal and vegetable sources for optimal functioning. In fact, emerging evidence suggests that healthy fats should make up at least 70 percent of your diet. Some of the best sources include organic butter from raw milk, (unheated) virgin olive oil, coconut oil, raw nuts like pecans and macadamia, free-range eggs, avocado, and wild Alaskan salmon.
- Drink pure, clean water. Simply swapping out all the sweetened beverages like sodas and fruit juices for pure water can go a long way toward improving your health. The best way to gauge your water needs is to observe the color of your urine (it should be light pale yellow) and the frequency of your bathroom visits (ideally, this is around seven to eight times per day).
- Add fermented foods to your meals. The beneficial bacteria in these healthful foods can support your digestion and provide detoxification support, which helps lessen the fructose burden on your liver. Some of the best choices include kimchi, natto, organic yogurt and kefir made from grass-fed milk, and fermented vegetables.
How to Shake Off Your Sugar Cravings
The temptation to eat or indulge in sugary foods will always be there, especially with the abundance of processed foods and fast foods everywhere. However, most sugar cravings arise because of an emotional challenge. If this is what causes you to crave sugar, the best solution I could recommend is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). This psychological acupuncture technique is a simple and effective strategy to help control your emotional food cravings.
If you feel that your emotions and/or your own self-image is what's pushing you to keep consuming sugar-loaded foods and other unhealthy treats, I recommend you try this useful technique. Prayer, meditation, exercise, and yoga are also effective tools you can try to ward off your sugar cravings.
(Just Kidding, it’s 144)
By Nancy Appleton PhD & G.N. Jacobs
Excerpted from Suicide by Sugar
Used with permission
- Sugar can suppress your immune system.
- Sugar upsets the mineral relationships in the body.
- Sugar can cause juvenile delinquency in children.
- Sugar eaten during pregnancy and lactation can influence muscle force production in offspring, which can affect an individual’s ability to exercise.
- Sugar in soda, when consumed by children, results in the children drinking less milk.
- Sugar can elevate glucose and insulin responses and return them to fasting levels slower in oral contraceptive users.
- Sugar can increase reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can damage cells and tissues.
- Sugar can cause hyperactivity, anxiety, inability to concentrate and crankiness in children.
- Sugar can produce a significant rise in triglycerides.
- Sugar reduces the body’s ability to defend against bacterial infection.
- Sugar causes a decline in tissue elasticity and function – the more sugar you eat, the more elasticity and function you lose.
- Sugar reduces high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
- Sugar can lead to chromium deficiency.
- Sugar can lead to ovarian cancer.
- Sugar can increase fasting levels of glucose.
- Sugar causes copper deficiency.
- Sugar interferes with the body’s absorption of calcium and magnesium.
- Sugar may make eyes more vulnerable to age-related macular degeneration.
- Sugar raises the level of neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
- Sugar can cause hypoglycemia.
- Sugar can lead to an acidic digestive tract.
- Sugar can cause a rapid rise of adrenaline levels in children.
- Sugar is frequently malabsorbed in patients with functional bowel disease.
- Sugar can cause premature aging.
- Sugar can lead to alcoholism.
- Sugar can cause tooth decay.
- Sugar can lead to obesity.
- Sugar increases the risk of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Sugar can cause gastric or duodenal ulcers.
- Sugar can cause arthritis.
- Sugar can cause learning disorders in school children.
- Sugar assists the uncontrolled growth of Candida Albicans (yeast infections).
- Sugar can cause gallstones.
- Sugar can cause heart disease.
- Sugar can cause appendicitis.
- Sugar can cause hemorrhoids.
- Sugar can cause varicose veins.
- Sugar can lead to periodontal disease.
- Sugar can contribute to osteoporosis.
- Sugar contributes to saliva acidity.
- Sugar can cause a decrease in insulin sensitivity.
- Sugar can lower the amount of Vitamin E in the blood.
- Sugar can decrease the amount of growth hormones in the body.
- Sugar can increase cholesterol.
- Sugar increases advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which form when sugar binds non-enzymatically to protein.
- Sugar can interfere with the absorption of protein.
- Sugar causes food allergies.
- Sugar can contribute to diabetes.
- Sugar can cause toxemia during pregnancy.
- Sugar can lead to eczema in children.
- Sugar can cause cardiovascular disease.
- Sugar can impair the structure of DNA.
- Sugar can change the structure of protein.
- Sugar can make the skin wrinkle by changing the structure of collagen.
- Sugar can cause cataracts.
- Sugar can cause emphysema.
- Sugar can cause atherosclerosis.
- Sugar can promote an elevation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL).
- Sugar can impair the physiological homeostasis of many systems in the body.
- Sugar lowers enzymes ability to function.
- Sugar intake is associated with the development of Parkinson’s disease.
- Sugar can increase the size of the liver by making the liver cells divide.
- Sugar can increase the amount of liver fat.
- Sugar can increase kidney size and produce pathological changes in the kidney.
- Sugar can damage the pancreas.
- Sugar can increase the body’s fluid retention.
- Sugar is the number one enemy of the bowel movement.
- Sugar can cause myopia (nearsightedness).
- Sugar can compromise the lining of the capillaries.
- Sugar can make tendons more brittle.
- Sugar can cause headaches, including migraines.
- Sugar plays a role in pancreatic cancer in women.
- Sugar can adversely affect children’s grades in school.
- Sugar can cause depression.
- Sugar increases the risk of gastric cancer.
- Sugar can cause dyspepsia (indigestion).
- Sugar can increase the risk of developing gout.
- Sugar can increase the levels of glucose in the blood much higher than complex carbohydrates in a glucose tolerance test can.
- Sugar reduces learning capacity.
- Sugar can cause two blood proteins – albumin and lipoproteins – to function less effectively, which may reduce the body’s ability to handle fat and cholesterol.
- Sugar can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Sugar can cause platelet adhesiveness, which causes blood clots.
- Sugar can cause hormonal imbalance – some hormones become underactive and others become overactive.
- Sugar can lead to the formation of kidney stones.
- Sugar can cause free radicals and oxidative stress.
- Sugar can lead to biliary tract cancer.
- Sugar increases the risk of pregnant adolescents delivering a small-for-gestational-age (SGA) infant.
- Sugar can lead to a substantial decrease the in the length of pregnancy among adolescents.
- Sugar slows food’s travel time through the gastrointestinal tract.
- Sugar increases the concentration of bile acids in stool and bacterial enzymes in the colon, which can modify bile to produce cancer-causing compounds and colon cancer.
- Sugar increases estradiol (the most potent form of naturally occurring estrogen) in men.
- Sugar combines with and destroys phosphatase, a digestive enzyme, which makes digestion more difficult.
- Sugar can be a risk factor for gallbladder cancer.
- Sugar is an addictive substance.
- Sugar can be intoxicating, similar to alcohol.
- Sugar can aggravate premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
- Sugar can decrease emotional stability.
- Sugar promotes excessive food intake in obese people.
- Sugar can worsen the symptoms of children with attention deficit disorder (ADD).Sugar can slow the ability of the adrenal glands to function.
- Sugar can cut off oxygen to the brain when given to people intravenously.
- Sugar is a risk factor for lung cancer.
- Sugar increases the risk of polio.
- Sugar can cause epileptic seizures.
- Sugar can increase systolic blood pressure (pressure when the heart is contracting).
- Sugar can induce cell death.
- Sugar can increase the amount of food that you eat.
- Sugar can cause antisocial behavior in juvenile delinquents.
- Sugar can lead to prostate cancer.
- Sugar dehydrates newborns.
- Sugar can cause women to give birth to babies with low birth weight.
- Sugar is associated with a worse outcome of schizophrenia.
- Sugar can raise homocysteine levels in the bloodstream.
- Sugar increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Sugar is a risk factor in small intestine cancer.
- Sugar can cause laryngeal cancer.
- Sugar induces salt and water retention.
- Sugar can contribute to mild memory loss.
- Sugar water, when given to children shortly after birth, results in those children preferring sugar water to regular water throughout childhood.
- Sugar causes constipation.
- Sugar can cause brain decay in pre-diabetic and diabetic women.
- Sugar can increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Sugar can cause metabolic syndrome.
- Sugar increases neural tube defects in embryos when it is consumed by pregnant women.
- Sugar can cause asthma.
- Sugar increases the chances of getting irritable bowl syndrome.
- Sugar can affect central reward systems.
- Sugar can cause cancer of the rectum.
- Sugar can cause endometrial cancer.
- Sugar can cause renal (kidney) cell cancer.
- Sugar can cause liver tumors.
- Sugar can increase inflammatory markers in the bloodstreams of overweight people.
- Sugar plays a role in the cause and the continuation of acne.
- Sugar can ruin the sex life of both men and women by turning off the gene that controls the sex hormones.
- Sugar can cause fatigue, moodiness, nervousness, and depression.
- Sugar can make many essential nutrients less available to cells.
- Sugar can increase uric acid in blood.
- Sugar can lead to higher C-peptide concentrations.
- Sugar causes inflammation.
- Sugar can cause diverticulitis, a small bulging sac pushing outward from the colon wall that is inflamed.
- Sugar can decrease testosterone production.
- Sugar impairs spatial memory.
- Sugar can cause cataracts.
- Sugar is associated with higher rates of chronic bronchitis in adults.
Why Sugar is The Worst Thing Ever For You. Seriously. Ever.
Highly addictive, horribly debilitating, unfortunately pervasive, and freaking delicious.
If I had to point to ONE culprit to our country’s expanding waistlines and rapidly deteriorating health, it would be sugar. The amount of havoc sugar and sugar substitutes have wreaked on our nation is horribly depressing. Fear not, as I’ve come up with the perfect solution!
Eat less sugar if you want to live longer.
Just kidding, there’s so much more to this story than that.
I’m sure you probably have a lot of questions about sugar:
- Is sugar THAT bad for you?
- Fruit has sugar! Is fruit bad for you?
- Are certain kinds of sugar better or worse for you?
- Can you really get addicted to sugar?
- What about sugar alternatives that are used in drinks like Diet Coke? What about natural sweeteners?
Let’s nerd out about sugar and find out what you can do to kick your sugar habit and get your life back on track.
Fair warning: This post is MASSIVE (over 4,000 words), even for Nerd Fitness standards.
American’s love affair with sugar
Before we get into the biological and physiological stuff relating to sugar and how it affects our body, I want to talk about just how big of a factor sugar plays in our lives.
This might be the most telling statistic relating to sugar, especially when that close to 70% of America is overweight with a THIRD of the nation obese:
1822: Americans consume 45 grams of sugar every five days, or the amount of sugar in a can of coke.
2012: Americans consume 756 grams of sugar every five days, or 130 POUNDS of sugar a year.
As we have grown as a country (in more ways than one), sugar has continued to play an increasingly more prominent role in our food. It’s not just sugary foods like candy and cookies either, but sugar has made its way into practically EVERYTHING we eat.
Unfortunately, it’s not just sugar that’s killing us, but scientifically manufactured “sugar” as well.
Now, we all know that correlation does NOT prove causation, so let’s dig into the science behind why sugar is ruining our bodies.
What is Sugar?
Sugar is a carbohydrate.
If it ends in a “ose,” it’s gonna be a sugar. If that’s all you’d like to know, feel free to move onto the next section, as I’m about to get all Mr. Wizard up in here.
There are different kinds of sugar, starting with simple sugars (called monosaccarides) like glucose, fructose, and galactose. Then there are also more complex forms (called disaccharides) like sucrose, maltose, and lactose.
Here’s the cheat sheet to naturally occurring sugars:
- Let’s start with glucose: It occurs naturally in plants and fruits, and is a byproduct of photosynthesis. In our bodies glucose can be burned as energy or converted into glycogen (essentially: liver and muscle fuel). Our bodies can actually produce glucose when needed.
- Next, fructose! This is fruit sugar, occurring naturally in…you guessed it, fruit! It also occurs naturally in cane sugar and honey, and is incredibly sweet.
- Onto the more complex sugars, starting with Sucrose. This sugar is found in the stems of sugar cane, the roots of sugar beet, and can be found naturally alongside glucose in certain fruits and other plants.
- Last but not least, we have lactose, which is essentially milk sugar! This is something that is created as result of a process happening in our bodies: children possess the enzyme necessary to break down the molecule into lactose to be used by the body, while some adults don’t. These are the lactose intolerant folks.
So, we have a few key types of sugar. But where does sugar actually come from? It is USUALLY created as a result of the processing of one of two types of plants: sugar beets or sugar cane. These plants are harvested, processed, and refined to eventually resemble the white sugar you’ve come to know and love (or loathe). This sugar has absolutely no nutritional value: it’s just pure, refined, sugar.
We’ll cover other types of laboratory-created-sugar later.
What happens in our body when we eat sugar?
Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you that sugar can cause tooth decay and rot your teeth.
Sugar is the lifeblood of the cavity creeps!
Beyond that, your body processes sugar in a very specific way.
When you consume sugar, your body has two options on how to deal with it:
- Burn it for energy. WEEEEE!
- Convert to fat and store it in your fat cells. BOOOOO!
Depending on your genetic predisposition, your body might be better equipped to process sugar as energy, or you might be more likely to store it as fat. Think of this like you think of people with faster metabolisms vs. people with slower metabolisms.
Problem is, there’s a LOT more room for fat storage, and a lot less room to burn the sugar as energy.
So, we have this sugar in our body and blood stream. What happens next? When your pancreas detects a rush of sugar, it releases a hormone called insulin to deal with all of that excess sugar.
Insulin helps regulate that level of sugar in our blood; the more sugar in the blood stream, the more insulin is released. Insulin helps store all of this glucose in the liver and muscles as glycogen and in fat cells (aka adipocytes stored as triglycerides).
Now, oftentimes our body struggles to get that balance right (with us putting way too much sugar in our system very quickly). TOO much insulin is released, which ultimately results in our blood sugar dropping below normal levels.
This is called hypoglycemia, essentially a sugar crash: Our bodies respond by telling us: WE WANT SUGAR.
So we cram sugar down our throats and the process starts again.
Unfortunately, the more often this process takes place (the more sugar you consume), the more severe the blood sugar spike is, and the more insulin is required. This means it becomes easier and easier to skip using sugar as energy, and go straight to extra insulin and fat storage.
Along with making you fat, sugar consumption has been implicated in a litany of crimes, including contributing to an increased chance of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, macular degeneration, renal failure, chronic kidney disease, and high blood pressure.
So, I should just eat less sugar?
Now, you might be thinking: I’ll just eat less sugar and won’t have this issue, right?
Well, that’s a good start, but that’s only half of the battle. You see, our bodies actually process certain types of carbohydrates in a very similar way to processing pure sugar.
Believe it or not, there is an entire area of scientific research on how our bodies process certain foods.
You’ve probably heard of the Glycemic Index, and its lesser known associate: Glycemic Load.
The Glycemic Index is the calculation of how quickly a particular type of food increases one’s blood sugar level, on a scale from 1-100 (100 being pure glucose). Harvard researchers have found that things like white bread, french fries, and other simple carbohydrates have nearly identical effects on our blood sugar as glucose.
Generally, the more refined (processed) the food, the more likely it’ll be to get converted quickly to sugar in our body for processing.
What about fruit and fruit sugar? Keep reading!
For now, hopefully you’re coming to a conclusion with something like this:
“Oh, maybe fat isn’t making me fat. Maybe it’s the sugar and carbohydrates that I’m consuming…”
And unfortunately, it’s not JUST sugar, but also fake sugar, which I’ll get to soon.
What surprising foods containing sugar?
So, we’re learning that sugar is bad for us.
That’s nothing new, and it’s not a shock to companies that manufacture food. For that reason, companies have started to disguise the sugar in their foods, so it’s not as apparent how much sugar you are consuming. Here’s a quick list of what sugar can be listed as on a label:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Organic evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
Why do they change the name of sugar? Because nutritional labels are required by law to list their most prominent ingredients first. By putting two or three different types of sugar in the food (and calling them each a different name), they can spread out the sugar across three ingredients and have it show up much further down the list! Tricky tricky tricky!
To be sure, READ THE LABELS OF FOODS THAT YOU CONSUME!
If you’re curious how much sugar you are consuming, check out SugarStacks.com, which gives you a simple visual aid as to the amount you’re pumping into your body through surprising meals.
What about fruit sugar?
Ahhhh, the great “is fruit sugar bad for you” debate…
Honestly, I’m quite torn on fruit and fruit sugar. I’m a big fan of the Paleo Diet, and I know a LOT of fruit can contain a lot of fructose (and thus a lot of sugar).
That being said, I believe the consumption of fruit can be beneficial.
When you consume fruit, you are not only consuming fructose (in its natural state), but also consuming fiber and lots of vitamins and minerals. Yes, fruit can have an effect on your blood sugar, it IS sugar. But generally fruit will cause less of a blood sugar spike compared to nutrient-void table sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
Along with that: Fiber is an important part of a balanced diet (ask your bowels), and fruit can contain a lot of it!
Here’s my official stance on fruit: Consume fruit that has a low glycemic index/glycemic load to reduce blood sugar spikes and insulin secretion. Consume organic fruit when possible.
If your main goal is weight loss, and you need to keep your carb intake low, minimize fruit consumption and instead load up on vegetables.
However, if your choice is between processed foods, sugary drinks, candy, or fruit…GO WITH THE FRUIT.
What about fruit juices?
So, we’ve established that fruit can be healthy if consumed properly.
Unfortunately, fruit juices don’t really fit into that bill. Here’s why: When you consume fruit juices like orange juice, apple juice, or cranberry juice, the juice is squeezed, giving you all of the juice but very little of the fiber or nutrients that get left behind in the process.
For this reason, many fruit juices should probably be called “sugar water.”
Here is a typical amount of sugar for four popular beverages (stats from DailyBurn):
- Orange juice – 21g of sugar
- Apple juice – 28g of sugar
- Cranberry juice – 37g of sugar
- Grape juice – 38g of sugar
For reference, a can of teeth-rotting, insulin-spiking, fat-inducing Coca-Cola has 40g of sugar.
Want to know an even worse offender? Naked Juices! The “Green Machine” variety, with “NO SUGAR ADDED” and promised to be “ALL NATURAL” has 28 grams per serving…and there are TWO servings in those little tiny bottles. That means when you consume one small bottle of this “healthy” smoothie, you’re getting almost 60 GRAMS of sugar.
Brutal. Shame on you, Naked.
If you’re going to eat fruit, get it in FRUIT form, not juice form.
If you’re going to drink juice, squeeze it yourself, and even then consume it in small quantities.
What about sugar alternatives?
So, with more research coming out about the dangers of sugar, companies are scrambling to protect their image by promoting “healthy” alternatives so that they can slap on a fancy labels and toot their own horn.
There are a few main sugar alternatives that I want to cover, and allow you to make up your own mind:
Honey – Is Winnie the Pooh onto something here? Is honey a better alternative than regular sugar? The appeal of honey is that it’s not just fructose or glucose, but a mixture of all sorts of compounds, minerals, and more. A study comparing honey to various types of compounds resulted in good results for the sticky stuff: “Overall, honey improved blood lipids, lowered inflammatory markers, and had minimal effect on blood glucose levels.” Along with that, honey resulted in a lower blood glucose spike in rats compared to other types of sugar.
Agave Nectar: This is the most recent darling of the fake “healthy food industry.” Unfortunately, despite the fact that it comes from a cactus (which is natural!), this stuff is so processed and refined, and contains an absurd amount of refined fructose (90% fructose and 10% glucose). Also, the process to create this stuff is similar to the process used to create high fructose corn syrup.
Aspartame: So, many people have switched to diet soda because they heard regular soda can be bad for you. I would guess that 90% of diet sodas out there contains aspartame, a laboratory-created sugar alternative. NutraSweet also contains aspartame and should be avoided. Studies on this stuff have proven inconclusive and wildly different. Although some studies cite an increased link with aspartame and cancer, I believe more research needs to be done. Even still, I have made the decision to avoid aspartame until more conclusive studies surface.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is non-caloric as the body struggles to break it down. Sucralose is approximately 600 times as sweet as sucrose (table sugar), and thus can be consumed in smaller quantities to get the same desired “sweet” effect as sugar. Sucralose is available in things like protein powders, Splenda, and other products reliant upon remaining low-sugar or low-carb. Allegedly, sucralose has a negligible effect on blood glucose levels.
Stevia is a naturally occurring sweetener from the Sunflower family. It is approximately 300 times sweeter than table sugar, and allegedly has a lower effect on blood glucose levels. As you can read about here, Stevia has had an interesting history in the United States (for political reasons), but appears to have been used in Japan and South America with minimal adverse effects.
Saccharin is another artificial sweetener, created back in the late 1890s, that is much sweeter than table sugar and thus is consumed at lower quantities. It was linked to increased risk of cancer within laboratory rats and labeled as dangerous by the US, though this label was removed in 2000 due to the fact that the results couldn’t be replicated in humans. That being said, more studies need to be conducted.
This nerd’s opinion: If you’re going to eat sugar, get it from fruit or naturally occurring sweeteners. With that being said, to minimize the effect on your blood sugar, minimize sugar consumption across the board if your primary goal is weight loss.
What about High Fructose Corn Syrup?
I’m writing this section while grinding my teeth because it grinds my gears.
In an effort to keep family farms alive in the Great Depression, the government started paying farmers NOT to grow food, since crop prices were wildly low. Over 80 years later the program has evolved many times, and today we give almost $5 billion a year to growers of commodity crops, creating cheap corn.
Not surprisingly, when given the option to grow a crop with or without a government subsidy, many farmers went the lucrative route.
And thus, we ended up with a crazy amount of excess corn, and nothing to use it for!
(Un)luckily, science stepped in, and found a use for corn beyond just eating it or feeding it to animals.
Scientists discovered by processing and refining the corn, it could be turned into a sugar alternative, called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Despite the name, high fructose corn syrup is actually composed of equal parts of fructose and equal parts glucose.
As the government continued to subsidize farmers to produce corn, the cheap price of HFCS created a MUCH cheaper alternative for food producers compared to regular sugar.
Now, producers of high fructose corn syrup (and producers of food who use it) argue that it is no different on a molecular level from regular sugar, and is thus a safe alternative to sugar in food and drinks.
Unfortunately, it turns out that HFCS, despite being molecularly similar to regular sugar, does not affect the body the same way as table sugar. A recent study conducted by Princeton University concluded:
Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.
In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides.
Two groups of rats were fed the exact same number of calories. One group was fed HFCS, while the other was fed regular table sugar. The rats fed HFCS gained significantly more weight.
If this was a movie, you’d see an evil scientist in a laboratory, with lighting flashing in the background as he laughs maniacally while creating his greatest evil creation: HFCS, knowing that it’ll soon take over the world.
I highly recommend you watch the documentary “King Corn,” available for free on Amazon Prime for an interesting look at just how pervasive corn and high fructose corn syrup has become in our nation.
- Here’s a list of all the fast food items out there that contain HFCS.
- Here’s a list of all other types of food that contain HFCS.
- Here are 8 “healthy” foods (like Special K and Yoplait Yogurt) that contain HFCS.
Sugar = bad. High Fructose Corn Syrup = Bowser evil.
Can you get addicted to sugar?
So we’ve covered natural sugars, sugar alternatives, and the evil HFCS. Is this stuff addictive?
Short answer: YES.
Long answer: Sugary foods can be as physiologically addictive as many drugs. You can legitimately become addicted to sugar and sugary foods.
From another study:
In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tastants. The supranormal stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets, such as those now widely available in modern societies, would generate a supranormal reward signal in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus to lead to addiction.
In other words: We are not genetically designed to consume the amount of sugar that we are currently eating. For that reason, our brains get that ‘happy feeling’ from sugar and it can override the “I’ve had enough” mechanism.
It’s why your concentration goes to Hell when you eat a chocolate chip cookie and there is an additional plate of them in front of you. Suddenly it’s the only thing you can think about until you’ve eaten them all! Or you eat a Peanut M&M, and suddenly you’ve polished off a family-sized bag.
Do this repeatedly, and like Pavlov’s dog, your brain will start to anticipate this sugar rush and get prepared for it…even when you’re merely thinking about food!
It’s why Cinnabon is usually isolated in malls – away from the food court, it has a better chance of getting its smells into your nostrils from far away…which then triggers that mechanism in your brain if you love sugar: “SUGAR! CINNABON! HUNGRY NOW!” Suddenly you can’t think of anything else.
It’s also why everybody in line for Cinnabon looks so depressed. As Louis CK hilariously points out (NSFW language): it’s like they have no control.
I think I’m definitely addicted to sugar.
I’ve already covered food addiction, but I want to talk specifically about sugar.
Like with any other addiction, you have two main options:
- Cold turkey (and suffer through the withdrawal).
- Slowly ramping down the addiction.
I’m a bigger fan of the second option, as I find that most people end up going overboard when they fail on the “cold turkey” and are worse off than before.
However, I don’t know you personally (which is a shame!), so you’ll have to decide for yourself which method is best for you.
Like with any habit, it’s far easier to build a new habit in place of an old one than just trying to get rid of the old habit, so let’s take action:
1) Create your new identity. “I am somebody who is completely in control of the food that I eat.” “I only drink soda once a day instead of four times a day.” “I don’t eat cookies.” The more specific and positive and definitive you can make your new identity, the more likely you will be to eventually make that identity your new reality.
2) Be aware of your cravings. When you start to crave sugar, don’t just run to get sugar immediately. Take a few minutes and analyze why: is it because you are depressed and unhappy? Bored? Hungry? Sugar creates that happy feeling in your brain, and thus you could be craving sugar for any number of reasons.
3) Once you identify the reason for your sugar craving, decide if there is another activity you can complete to accomplish the intended desire without sugar. Maybe you’re bored, so going for a walk or playing a game or talking to a friend could help. If you’re unhappy, understand that the quick rush of sugar does not beat out long-term happiness and success. If you’re hungry, eat food with lots of fat and protein and fill yourself up.
4) Identify rules for yourself, and stick with them by minimizing willpower required. “Today, I will replace one of my sodas with water.” “I drink water with dinner, I don’t drink soda.” “I don’t ________.” It’s important to use “don’t” instead of “can’t”. Studies have shown that using “don’t” results in a much stronger dedication to habit building.
5) Increase the difficulty to continue your bad habit. Don’t keep cookies on the counter. Don’t keep ice cream stocked in your fridge. If you are trying to eat less sugar, increase the number of steps between you and sugar. If you are on your couch and see a commercial for something sugary, use your own laziness to work for you. Suddenly, getting in the car, driving to the store, and buying something sweet is more effort than it's worth.
Along with those few steps to get started, here are some other things you can do to help yourself fight the battle and win.
- Get mad. Like, really mad. I hate not feeling in control, and right now, the sugar and food companies have you under their control. If anything, you’re going to kick your sugar addiction to make yourself healthier and happier, but also out of spite. Stick it to the man, and let him know you’re taking back your brain.
- Don’t do it alone. Have somebody to talk to through the process. Work with others who have successfully kicked their sugar habits (check the NF boards if you don’t have somebody at home).
- Need SOMETHING sweet? Try dark chocolate or fruit. If you are craving something sweet, aim for alternatives that aren’t as bad for you or don’t trigger the same blood glucose spike. Eat dark chocolate with a cocoa content above 70% – you still get to feed your sweet tooth, but the sugar content in minimal compared to milk chocolate.
- Slowly scale it down. I don’t care if it takes you a year of slowly changing your habits to kick your sugar habit. Every change counts, and every little bit adds up. If you drink a case of diet coke every day, tomorrow only drink 11. In two weeks, cut it back to 10 per day. And then 9. And then eventually maybe it’s “only one on Friday.”
- Keep busy. If you are thinking about sugar, get up and go do something or engage your brain in another way so that you are not stuck with a one-track mind (focusing on the sugar that you’re not currently eating).
- EXERCISE! Sugar raises serotonin and dopamine levels, which can factor into your cravings. Exercise can do the same thing! Try exercising when you have sugar cravings…get that rush (and build your habits around that). Get addicted to the high from exercise.
- If you have children, save them now! Sugar addiction is built up over time, and yours might have started back when you were a child. Instead of creating a reward system with candy and treats, create a reward system that rewards your kids back with a healthier lifestyle (like in Zelda!).
- If you have to have sugar, consume it close to a workout. When you consume sugar before or after a workout, you will have a greater chance of burning the sugar/carbs as energy or having it stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver rather than being stored as fat!.
At the end of the day, understand that you are in control. If you are going to eat chocolate or something sweet, it’s because you made a conscious decision to do so OCCASIONALLY, not because you had to have it. Understand that it will be challenging. Understand that there will be cravings that get better with time.
Most importantly, understand that what you really want (a happier, healthier life) can’t happen if you keep settling for what you want RIGHT NOW (sugar!).
Understand that you can change.
Vote with your wallet
Every time you buy food, you are casting a ballot.
Every time you purchase something with high fructose corn syrup in it, you’re sending a message that you don’t care about your body, that you are satisfied with food that is making you sick, fat, and unhealthy.
Why not cast your vote for a better life?
Today’s article is educational: without action it’s just a pile of underpants.
I challenge you to decrease your sugar intake.
I challenge you to start eating more real foods and less processed ones.
I challenge you to cut back on candy and soda purchases.
Are you up to the challenge?
I’d love to hear about your personal relationship with sugar. Would you call yourself addicted? Have you kicked an addiction? If so, how did you do it?