Sugar: The Dark Side of the White Stuff

You may already know that eating too much sugar isn’t healthy for you.  These days, the real challenge is avoiding overconsumption because many manufacturers stuff it into so many different foods and beverages, sometimes even under unrecognizable names.  They’re even adding it to foods that we wouldn’t normally think of as sweet such as condiments and crackers. 

Not only is sugar an unnecessary part of our diet, but it also doesn’t provide any actual nutrition. Sugar is actually one of those foods that are energy-dense, meaning that it provides a lot of calories for very little nutrition, unlike nutrient-dense foods that offer a lot of nutrition, and much fewer calories.

Unfortunately, when all of your sugar consumption adds up, it can result in some very serious health consequences.

Here are a few of the top health issues that can happen as a result of eating too much sugar:

Obesity

As mentioned earlier, sugar provides zero nutritional value. It may provide energy, however, when you eat highly processed sugar – or too much sugar – your body needs to do something with it and often chooses to “save it for later.” Over time this can lead to weight gain or even obesity. 

When you consume high levels of sugar, it can also cause weight gain by contributing to something called “leptin resistance.” Leptin is a hormone that tells your brain when you have eaten enough food. When you consume too much sugar, it can manipulate your system and decrease your sensitivity to leptin.  Unfortunately, leptin resistance often leads to overeating which, again, leads to weight gain.

Micronutrient Depletion

When you consume a lot of sugar your body needs to process it using certain vitamins and minerals to help balance the effect of the sugar. The nutrients your body uses the most include magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and chromium. However, if you eat a lot of sugar, over time you can become deficient in these micronutrients which are essential to your health.

Heart Disease, Hypertension, and Diabetes

Along with weight gain and obesity there is also an increased risk for other serious diseases, especially type 2 diabetes which is often highly correlated with hypertension and heart disease. In fact, studies have shown a direct correlation between excess sugar consumption, cardiovascular disease, and cardiovascular mortality.

It’s important to understand that the more sugar you consume, the higher the risk for eventually having to deal with one or more of these diseases.

Increased Anxiety and Depression

Because sugar often offers us a bit of a boost, this may seem like an unclear connection. However, it turns out that increased sugar intake can be linked to elevated reports of both anxiety and depression. This validated previous studies which found a clear link between how much sugar was consumed and the annual depression rate across a number of countries. So although sugar tastes good and we think that it makes us feel better, this is definitely something that you want to be aware of. Especially if you are someone who struggles with mental health issues.

Reduced Cognitive Performance

In addition to emotional balance, sugar can also affect our brain in other ways, including your memory. It just so happens that a high sugar diet can cause a negative effect on cognitive performance, beginning with adolescence. So this makes the idea of aging well and maintaining healthy brain function an even more important reason to be aware of your sugar intake.

Digestion

Sugar does not offer nourishment for us, instead, it happens to be a better food source for several negative organisms including candida, other yeasts, and proteobacteria in the gut. When sugar feeds those organisms they begin to grow and take over the gut, along with the number of colonies of beneficial bacteria. Increased sugar consumption can also cause systemic inflammation. When the gut is disrupted like this it may lead to GERD, bloating, and other irritable bowel disorders.

Cancer

A significant number of studies indicate a clear connection between consuming high levels of sugar and sugary foods and various types of cancer. As stated above, sugar provides absolutely no nutritional value in the daily diet for your body, but it can provide a significant amount of energy. It appears that because cancer cells grow so rapidly they need easily accessible energy, something sugar provides rather easily.

Sweeteners To Avoid

There is one class of sweeteners which is critical to limit, and that’s fructose. Fructose is only processed by one organ in your body: your liver. Consuming too much fructose can potentially lead to liver disease, diabetes, and obesity as well. We’re not talking about fruit consumption here. Although overconsumption of fruit is also not healthy for you it’s important to be aware that fruit, especially when consumed in its whole food form, comes with fiber and micronutrients which help to reduce how quickly the fructose sugars affect your system. Sweeteners with high levels of fructose in them do not have that fiber and can be more challenging for your system to process.

The three major offenders when it comes to fructose syrups are high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, and crystalline fructose. High fructose corn syrup is approximately 55% fructose by volume. This is far in excess of what your liver can efficiently process, especially if you are drinking HFCS sweetened beverages or consuming foods that have been sweetened with it.

Agave nectar is another popular option. Many people believe that because it’s made from agave and has a low glycemic index (how quickly it affects your blood sugar) that it is a healthier choice. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. A low glycemic index does not ward off its effects to the liver. Having a fructose level of 70% by volume, this sweetener is not as healthy as you might be led to believe.

The third large contender in high fructose sweeteners contains an astonishing 90% fructose by volume. It’s called crystalline fructose. Often found in beverages, confectionary products, and even in frozen yogurt, crystalline fructose is, in very simple terms, dehydrated high fructose corn syrup. Due to its high and excessive fructose levels this is definitely a sweetener you should avoid.

Artificial Sweeteners Aren’t So Sweet

These days, it seems that many people try to avoid eating a lot of sugar by choosing artificial sweeteners instead. And while they can give the impression of sweetness, artificial sweeteners can actually cause a number of health issues including:

Dulled Taste Buds 

Because many artificial sweeteners are designed to give us the impression of being sweeter than sugar, chances are you may want to eat more of them. Over time these laboratories created non-nutritive sweeteners that can also affect your taste buds, causing you to think that other flavors may not taste as good. They can actually modify your palate. The good news is that by decreasing your consumption of them you will be able to reset your palate and reclaim your ability to appreciate the variety and intensity of other flavors again. 

Increased Appetite

Many people tend to use artificial sweeteners believing that they can eat sweets without the side effect of weight gain. It turns out that the opposite may be true. Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can actually increase appetite and cravings, leading to potential over-indulgence. These studies hypothesize that the use of artificial sweeteners can change the metabolic process which then contributes to overeating!

Changes To Your Gut 

Consuming artificial sweeteners is not nearly as benign as you may have been led to believe. Studies have found some artificial sweeteners may alter the microbiome which can then lead to digestive health issues. This is one of the most important reasons to avoid consuming artificial sweeteners as the gut is often considered to be the core of health and wellness. 

Simple Steps to Cut Your Sugar Consumption

I want to be clear here, simple does not necessarily mean easy. Part of the challenge when it comes to reducing your consumption is that we are actually biologically programmed to seek out sugar.  Because of that we often find ourselves addicted to it. Giving up sugar can be tricky; in the beginning, it can be rather unpleasant as you deal with detoxing yourself off of sugar, especially if you’ve consumed it in excess. Along with intense cravings, side effects include headaches, low-level nausea, gut health issues, and possibly even dizziness. Having said that, weaning yourself off of sugar can absolutely be accomplished, and the negative side effects are temporary. If you take it one step at a time, you can definitely free yourself from your sugar addiction.

Here’s how to do it.

Skip The Soda

When you drink sodas you’re really only getting a lot of empty calories that do not benefit your body. Bottom line, they do absolutely nothing for you. Simply by giving up soda you can cut out a lot of sugar from your diet. Not only sodas either! Give up juices, fancy coffee drinks, sweet tea, and all the other “liquid candy bars” that are far too easy to drink. 

Take the time to read the labels and see exactly how many grams of sugar you’re now going to avoid. Try choosing water or herbal teas instead and you’ll not only drop the sugar, but you’ll also feel better!  

Choose Healthier Treats 

Unfortunately, it’s a sad truth that the more sugar we eat, the more we want. Start by seeking out healthier replacements for cereal, cookies, and other sugary treats. Instead of these high-calorie, low nutrition junk foods choose real foods such as vegetables, healthy proteins, or a modest amount of fruit. The more you shift your diet the better you will feel. 

Read The Label

One of the biggest ways you can support yourself when you’re avoiding sugar is to be aware of all the different names for sugar. This can be a bit of a challenge because food producers are creating new ones all the time. But if you don’t take the time to read the labels you won’t know how much sugar you’re actually eating. 

Here’s a list of different sugars to help get you started.

Acceptable Sugars in moderation:

  • carob syrup
  • date sugar
  • demerara
  • evaporated cane juice crystals
  • fruit juice concentrate
  • honey
  • jaggery
  • maple syrup
  • molasses
  • muscovado
  • papelon
  • pilonco
  • rapadura
  • stevia
  • turbinado
  • xylitol

Less Desirable Sugars:

  • agave nectar
  • allulose
  • barley malt
  • brown sugar
  • cane sugar
  • castor sugar
  • confectioner’s sugar
  • deistic malt
  • invert sugar
  • lactose (added)
  • malt syrup
  • palm sugar
  • rice syrup
  • sorghum syrup
  • sucrose
  • sugar
  • treacle

Potentially Genetically Modified Sugars (best to avoid)

  • beet sugar
  • corn syrup
  • corn syrup solids
  • crystalline fructose
  • dextrose
  • erythritol
  • fructose
  • galactose
  • glucose
  • glucose-fructose syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • isoglucose
  • maltodextrin
  • maltose

A Word About Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are generally less sweet and contain fewer calories than sugars. They also affect blood sugar levels less significantly, making them a more attractive alternative for people with diabetes. Additionally, they’re not linked to tooth decay and may even help prevent it.

However, unlike sugar, they’re not well absorbed by the body. This means that when they’re consumed in large quantities or by sensitive individuals, they can cause bloating, flatulence, stomach pain, and diarrhea. When it comes to eating sugar alcohol, a better approach focused on simple whole foods, including sugars mentioned in the “acceptable category” (in moderation), which are derived from mother nature herself.

Sugar alcohols include:

  • arabitol
  • erythritol
  • ethyl mall
  • glycerol
  • isomalt
  • lacitol
  • malitol
  • mannitol
  • sorbitol
  • xylitol

Final Note About Sugar

Manufacturers often hide the real truth on the amount of sugar in your food by using a combination of several different kinds of sugar, using the plethora of names I’ve listed above. In that way, the number one ingredient listed on the label isn’t simply “sugar” which makes it seem like the food isn’t a sugar bomb.

Once you understand this fact, you’ll be shocked to discover that there’s significantly more sugar in the package than you realize. And, hopefully, this knowledge will result in you making better, more educated choices about the food you eat and share with those you love.

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