When it comes to alarming health headlines, sugar is the new salt.
Whether it’s being blamed for dementia or soaring childhood obesity rates, sugar is certainly getting a bad rap these days. But, as researchers are learning, there are many reasons to avoid that spoonful of sugar. (Sorry, Mary Poppins.)
YOUR BRAIN ON SUGAR
Why is it so hard to stay away from the sweet stuff? One word: dopamine. You know, that ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter that makes us want to experience a pleasurable activity again and again. Unfortunately, the more we repeat the behavior, the less dopamine our brains release — which means you need to increase the frequency and dose to feel that ‘high.’ Not to mention, what goes up must come down.
And — surprise, surprise — sugar will inevitably bring us down. Here’s the science behind it: Consuming too much sugar makes your insulin spike and your blood sugar levels go way down, resulting in a ‘crash.’ Your body responds by releasing cortisol (a.k.a., the stress hormone), making you feel low until you consume more sugar.
Not only that, but turning to sweets to overcome stress may be doing your brain a disservice, as it gradually loses its ability to respond to stress naturally, possibly masking its fight-or-flight response — nature’s way of keeping us safe in high-stress or dangerous situations.
Even worse? Elevated blood sugar levels over the long term has been linked to depression, and can negatively impact memory, increasing the risk for developing dementia later in life.
YOUR BODY ON SUGAR
Okay, so now we know why we find it hard to stop after a couple of cookies. Or why we might feel down if we don’t get our next sugar fix in time. Our brain is seeking out more of those feel good hormones released when you eat a double-dipped, chocolate donut.
But what is happening inside our bodies when we consume too much sugar? A lot of not-so-great stuff. We’ve covered a few of the biggies below, but you can read the full list here.
Eating too much sugar releases extra insulin into your bloodstream and may also cause the liver to release more harmful fats as well. What does this mean exactly? Your risk of a heart attack, heart disease or stroke goes up.
If your diet is too high in sugar, your liver may eventually become resistant to insulin, making you that much more susceptible to a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Why? Because your body won’t be able to control its blood sugar levels if your insulin hormone isn’t able to do its job (i.e., transforming the sugar in your bloodstream into energy for your body to use).
Considering the time of year, it’s important to understand that sugar can wreak havoc on your immune system, weakening the cells that fight harmful bacteria (like the flu virus). And — get this — its effects are immediate, and can last several hours after consuming too much. If the flu has invaded your home (or workplace), help your body fight it naturally by replacing your sweet snack or dessert with vitamin C-rich fruits or veggies. And don’t forget that even “healthy” fruit juices are often way too high in sugar, so try quenching your thirst with the actual fruit rather than drinking a glass of what “may as well be” pop.
Excess sugar consumption can also force the immune system to go into overdrive, resulting in inflammation in certain areas of the body, sometimes even causing or exacerbating existing joint pain. Not only that, but a diet high in sugar is linked to a greater chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
IT CAN’T BE ALL BAD… CAN IT?
At approximately 20 teaspoons of sugar a day, the Average American consumes 14 teaspoons more than the recommended daily amount — and this isn’t even counting naturally occuring sugars found in whole foods (a.k.a., the good guys).
Not sure what the difference is between good and bad sugar? Let’s break it down.
It’s probably not news that natural sugars (found in fruit and dairy products, for example) are the good guys — mainly because these foods contain important nutrients, and have a plethora of health benefits when consumed. Not only that, but fiber-filled fruit and protein-rich milk help you feel full longer.
This is not the case for foods made with refined sugars. These bad guys can go by many different names (56 to be exact) —- like high-fructose corn syrup and dextrose —- and are mostly found in processed foods. That’s because our bodies digest refined sugars so quickly that we don’t tend to feel full afterwards — no matter how many calories we’ve consumed.
HERE TO HELP
Don’t fret. If this all seems too overwhelming or you don’t know where to start, we’re here to help! Detoxing from sugar can be tough, but doing something as simple as reading food labels the next time you’re at the grocery store can be an important first step. If the item contains one of the “bad guys”, simply put it back. We also encourage you to check out our 21-day “Sugar Reduction Health Rewards Program” to help you kick your sugar habit. More questions? Simply reach out to Health Concierge and ask about how you can best cut sugar out of your diet, tips to avoid withdrawal, and more!