We’ve all heard it. Eating an excess of sugar can cause a myriad of health issues including diabetes, obesity, coronary problems, immune system suppression, dental issues, kidney problems, depression and hypertension. So why is sugar so bad?
What is Sugar?
There are a plethora of different kinds of sugar, so we’ll just focus on the two most common types that Western people consume: glucose & fructose.
Your body loves this simple sugar. For most people their bodies will use it as the primary method of generating energy, so eating glucose is helpful. When it’s absorbed in the body, the pancreas is stimulated and produces insulin. The brain will notice the increase in insulin as a signal that you ate something, and that your body is busy metabolizing it. Your brain will then send out signals to reduce your appetite. However, glucose is not all perfect. When you consume it, your liver produces very low density lipoprotein (VLDL), a bad cholesterol, which causes problems like cardiovascular disease. Lucky for you, only 1 out of 24 calories from glucose are processed by the liver and then turned into VLDL.
- Sucrose and High Fructose Corn Syrup
These both contain large amounts of fructose and are extremely sweet. Sucrose is 50% fructose while HFCS is 55% fructose. Glucose makes up the remainder of each. The liver is needed to metabolite fructose . This means that a larger amount of calories (around 3 times as many as glucose) are being processed by the liver, and thereby producing more VLDL, fat, uric acid and many other things that aren’t the best for you. This can lead to high blood pressure and hypertension. Fructose also plays with your brains understanding of what you eat. When you eat fructose, your brain resists leptin, a protein that’s crucial for managing your appetite. Because of this, you can keep on eating without realizing you’re full.
Sugar and Your Body
- Provides Energy
As stated earlier, sugar is your body’s primary source of energy. However, the amount the average American consumes far exceeds what your body needs to function on a daily basis. Eating foods high in sugar or made of simple carbohydrates will give your body a brief energy rush because it’s processed so quickly in the body. When the energy rush ends, the body will “crash,” leaving your body with less energy than before your sugar buzz.
- Raises Insulin Levels
Insulin retrieves and processes glucose in your blood streams. It lowers your blood sugar level by processing the glucose and sending it to your liver and muscles to be stored as glycogen. Consuming too much sugar causes very high levels of insulin which can result in sodium retention, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.
- Depresses Immune System
Too much sugar in your diet will also prevent your immune system to operate at its best. Vitamin C fights invading virus and bacteria in your body. Sugar and vitamin C have very similar chemical composition. If there’s an excess of sugar in your body, it will replace vitamin C entering cells.
- Causes Tooth Decay
The bacteria that attaches to your teeth and becomes plaque love sugar. This bacteria will convert the sugar you eat into a sticky substance that they use to adhere to the surface of your teeth.
- Upsets the Balance of Minerals in the Body
Refined sugars have no vitamins or minerals. In order for absorption into the body, these sugars “steal” the nutrients that are already there. So, they don’t add anything beneficial to your body, AND they’re taking essential vitamins and minerals too.
- Adds Weight
When your body has high levels of sugar, a couple things happen. Firstly, your body starts concentrating on burning that sugar, this is rather than burning already existing fat reserves in the body. Second, if your body can’t burn it right away, your body will store excess sugar as saturated fat. Not only does consuming “bad” sugar make maintaining weight difficult and losing weight impossible, it adds fat!
What About Fruit?
Fruit contains the black sheep of sugar, fructose. But, eating fruit is fine because fruit, in raw form, contains fiber. Although fructose inhibits your brain to recognize satiety, fiber will override fructose signals. And fiber does a great job at it. Sugar, when processed, loses its original fiber content, so your brain doesn’t know when to tell you not to eat anymore.
Making Healthier Sugar Choices
- Stop Drinking Soda
Fructose-laden soda is very problematic because you can keep drinking it, and your brain won’t recognize that you’re not hungry. Soda also has absolutely no nutritional content. Tip: If you want to drink a soda, try drinking it 20 minutes AFTER you’ve eaten.
- Eat Fibrous Sugar
If you want to eat fructose, make sure you’re eating fiber as well. Avoid processed foods and get your fructose from fruit (or other sources that have fiber in it too).
- Don’t Keep Sugar in the House
Don’t buy desserts and keep it at home. If, after dinner, you want something sugary to end the meal, go out and buy a serving. By the time you make the effort to go out and get dessert, your brain will tell you that you’re full.
- Reduce Your Sugar Intake Slowly
There are some people that believe in sugar dependency. If you’re used to a high sugar diet, going cold turkey will make you feel anxious until you get your mouth on something sugary.