Sugar is one of the main reasons behind the obesity and disease epidemic we are experiencing in our society today. This includes sugar in processed foods and beverages, artificial sweeteners in soft drinks and that we pour into our coffee, and sugar in all of those baked goods we love to eat. Sugar is addictive. It is toxic. And it is poisoning our bodies. I hope to prove this to you in today’s post and in many future posts I will write on this topic. Can you tell I am slightly passionate about this?
I came to this realization about the negative effects of sugar a few years ago and since then have been trying to completely cut it from my diet for good. But it’s tough because it is everywhere. I have gone off the wagon many a time. Once I see it my mind takes over and I completely forget about all of the negative effects it has on me. When I take a bite my body goes into a dopamine-fueled sugar high that lasts a few minutes and then the bad stuff kicks in. Sugar gives me a pounding headache, makes me feel foggy and lethargic, makes me sleepy and unproductive at work, makes me cranky and bitchy (towards myself and others), makes me shaky, produces mood swings, and makes my digestive system go haywire. My body is so sensitive to it that even a few bites can send me into an unhealthy spiral. Have you experienced any of these symptoms yourself?
So, why does sugar do this to me? Why has it become such an issue in our society? A fantastic article was published in National Geographic in 2013 discussing this. As it is a long one (as most wonderful National Geographic articles are), this post will provide the main takeaways. If you’d like to read it all yourself, check it out here.
Sucrose, or table sugar, is made up of equal amounts glucose and fructose. Fructose is the kind of sugar you find naturally in fruit and is also what gives sugar its sweetness. While your cells metabolize glucose, fructose is processed primarily in the liver. If you eat too many simple sugars, which are quickly digested (soft drinks, candy), your liver breaks down the fructose and produces fats called triglycerides. A lot of these triglycerides are pushed into the blood. Over time blood pressure increases and cells become progressively more resistant to insulin. The pancreas responds by producing even more insulin to try to make up for this resistance. Eventually a condition known as metabolic syndrome kicks in, which is normally characterized by obesity. If not addressed, Type 2 Diabetes will develop.
Today, as much as a third of the adult American population could meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome set by the National Institutes of Health. The average American consumes 77 pounds of sugar annually, which amounts to about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Companies commonly use sugar to replace taste in products stripped of fat, such as fat-free baked goods, which are commonly loaded with the stuff.
So why do we crave sugar? Let’s take a trip back to caveman times, where sugar was extremely rare and only found in naturally growing fruit. Due to its scarcity, our bodies became efficient processors of fructose, storing it all as fat to help the body survive during the lean winter months. Also, our bodies didn’t develop the normal “I am full, stop eating” switch. So when we came across that rare berry bush, we would stuff ourselves silly and store it all as fat for the winter (think of squirrel stuffing acorns in mouth). Additionally, sugar provided the body with instant energy to survive in the wild. During those times, only the early humans that could process sugar in these ways survived.
Our bodies haven’t changed too much since those times and we still process fructose in the same way, as fat. And we still can eat loads and loads of it and our bodies will not tell us that we are full. Not very good news considering how abundant it is in our society today. Research has also shown that sugar stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain as heroine and cocaine. YIKES! And we don’t classify this as a drug?!
This blog post was inspired by my most recent off-the-wagon sugar consumption experience. Which was yesterday. I woke up this morning on a mission to discover how I can cut the white stuff for good. How I can take all of this information I know about sugar and its effect on my body and bring about personal transformation. So here I introduce my Sugar Series, which will be future blog posts specifically discussing the topic of sugar and my journey to cutting it out for good. I hope you will join me on this ride and maybe along the way you will choose to quit it with me as well.
Here’s to a sugar-free adventure!