Let us be honest, life without sugar is tasteless. Sugar just brings a smile to one’s face. It is said that sugar is the food nobody needs, but everyone craves it. In fact, there is even a history of controversy as to whether it should be considered as a food. It makes life a little sweeter but unfortunately, it is as addictive as drugs.
Sugar is a class of carbohydrates that tastes sweet, many of which are used in food. It is referred to as sucrose, a carbohydrate found naturally in most fruits and vegetables. Sucrose is the major product of photosynthesis, a natural process that allows plants to turn sunlight into energy. Sucrose is the most abundant sugar found in nature and occurs in the greatest quantities in sugar cane and sugar beets, which are used to produce sugar for use at home and in food products.
We have always been eating sugar – usually in the form of fruit and honey. It seems as though no other substance occupies so much of the world’s land, for so little benefit to humanity, as sugar.
According to conversation.com; The first chemically refined sugar appeared on the scene in India about 2,500 years ago. In many ways, the story of sugar and tobacco are closely aligned. Both products were initially produced through slave labour, and were originally seen to be beneficial to health which we know is not true.
Types of sugar
- Glucose – comes from the Greek word for “sweet.” It’s a type of sugar you get from foods you eat, and your body uses it for energy. As it travels through your bloodstream to your cells, it’s called blood glucose.
- Fructose – is a type of sugar found in many fruits and vegetables and in honey. Fructose is used to sweeten some diet foods, but this type of sweetener is typically not recommended for people with diabetes because it could negatively affect blood sugar levels.
- Sucrose – is the scientific name for table sugar. Sucrose found in processed foods is commonly extracted from sugar cane or beets. It tastes less sweet than fructose but sweeter than glucose.
- Lactose – is the sugar that’s in milk. Our bodies use an enzyme called lactase to break down that sugar so we can absorb it into our bodies. But people with lactose intolerance don’t have enough lactase. It’s produced in the small intestine. Even with low levels of lactase, some people can digest milk products just fine.
What happens when we eat sugar?
Your brain responds to sugar the same way it would to cocaine. Eating sugar creates a surge of feel-good brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. And just like a drug, your body craves more after the initial high.
This explains why you’re more likely to crave chocolates at 3 p.m. than an apple or a carrot. Because fruits and veggies don’t cause the brain to release as much dopamine, your brain starts to need more and more sugar to get that same feeling of pleasure.
When we digest sugars, enzymes in the small intestine break it down into glucose. This glucose is then released into the bloodstream, where it is transported to tissue cells in our muscles and organs and converted into energy. This gives us a quick burst of energy (or “high”) by raising your blood sugar levels fast.
Your body then releases a hormone called insulin, its job is to absorb the excess glucose in the blood and stabilize your sugar levels. Once the insulin does its job, your blood sugar drops again. When your levels drop, as your cells absorb the sugar, you may feel sluggish, hungry, or thirsty (a.k.a. sugar-crash) which also affects your mood.
The danger of eating too much sugar
We all know that too much of anything is not good. Sugary drinks, alcohol, candy, baked goods, and sweetened dairy are the main sources of added sugar. Even some savory foods, like bread, tomato sauce, and protein bars, can have sugar, making it all too easy to end up with a surplus of the sweet stuff.
Over and above all that, when we eat food that is high in carbohydrates (which are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products) the digestive system breaks down the digestible ones into sugar, which enters the blood and increases blood sugar levels.
Eating lots of sweets has been shown to worsen joint pain because of the inflammation they cause in the body. Another side effect of inflammation is that it may make your skin age faster. An abundance of added sugar likely contains fructose, which is processed in the liver, and large amounts of fructose can cause liver damage.
Too much sugar results in extra insulin in your bloodstream which can affect your arteries all over your body. This causes their walls to get inflamed, grow thicker than normal and more stiff, this stresses your heart and damages it over time.
Now that we know that insulin absorbs excess glucose in our bloodstream and your pancreas pumps out the insulin. But if you’re eating way too much sugar and your body stops responding properly to insulin, your pancreas starts pumping out even more insulin. Eventually, your overworked pancreas will break down and your blood sugar levels will rise, setting you up for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Research has proven that the more sugar you eat, the more weight you gain. People who drink sweetened beverages including alcohol tend to weigh more and be at higher risk for type 2 diabetes than those who don’t.
Sugar also lowers testosterone – In men, insulin resistance brought on by excessive amounts of sugar drives down testosterone, the hormone responsible for numerous functions including sexual well-being. Testosterone isn’t just a guy’s hormone. Imbalanced levels of this hormone in women can reduce desire, increase body fat, lower muscle mass, and create a fuzzy memory.
The list is endless and the tricky part is that some of the sugars we consume are hidden in the foods we consider healthy. Nutrition labels don’t make it easier either but, at the end of the day, no matter what it is called, sugar is sugar.
A list of common and no so common sugar names
My rule of thumb is that if it ends with ‘ose’ on the label, then it’s probably sugar. Heres’ a few:
Here are some sugars that most people believe are healthier than the good old table sugar, but have the same dangers mentioned:
- Coconut Sugar
- Sweet Sorghum
- Brown Sugar
- Barley Malt
- Golden Syrup
- Maple Syrup
- Rice Syrup
- Raw Sugar
- Palm Sugar
- Beet Sugar
- Evaporated Cane Juice
- Corn Sweetener
- Corn Syrup
Benefits of quitting sugar from your diet
- Cravings eliminated
- Improves Mood
- Increases energy levels
- Reduced inflammation
- Less belly fat
- Improved weight management
- Younger looking skin
- Reduce the risk of diabetes
Just like quitting drugs, letting go and cutting out sugar is easier said than done, to be honest, but the benefits are worth it. Research suggests that sugar can be addictive, which is why reducing your sugar intake may lead to unpleasant symptoms in some people. As your body adapts to a low sugar diet over time, the less intense your symptoms and cravings are likely to be.
Giving up sugar can feel unpleasant, both mentally and physically. But rest assured, it will get better soon if you stick to it. An easier way is to start small to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms.
- Swap sweetened drinks (including fruit juice) for water
- Instead of sugar, fuel your body with protein and low carb veggies
- Remove condiments from your diet e.g. tomato sauce, salad dressing, and barbeque sauce
- Skip dessert
- Avoid processed foods as they are notorious for hidden sugars
- Eat more whole foods
- Avoid artificial sweeteners
- Prepare your meals at home
- Opt for nuts and seeds instead of cereal
Although cutting all sources of added sugar might be helpful for most people, you need to set realistic goals in order to succeed. High fiber foods also contribute to healthy blood sugar regulation. Reducing sugar can be difficult, especially if your diet was high in added sugar, so go easy on yourself.
At the end of the day, cutting sugar is taking a step in the right direction if you want to improve the quality of your life.