It is delicious, forms the basis of many of the foods you crave and almost always leaves you wanting just a little bit more, but despite its place in your diet, sugar is not a food. Sugar contains no nutrients, no healthy fats, no protein and no enzymes, just empty and quickly digested calories that actually pull minerals from the body during digestion.
When consumed, sugar triggers a hormonal cascade that ignites a feedback loop in the body that encourages further consumption. Generations ago when food was scarce, it was important that the food available and consumed in summer months was energy dense in order to facilitate survival through the winter. These naturally occurring sugars, consumed moderately, did not over-stimulate the palate or lead to cravings the same way that modern, refined foods do. Unfortunately, in today’s world of constant access to processed foods, our natural biological purpose triggers many of the deleterious effects of excessive, continuous sugar consumption.
Modern, refined forms of sugar create a huge dopamine response, rob your body of its nutrient stores and leave you craving more sugar. Food manufacturers hire scientists to specifically engineer foods to appeal to your senses on both a conscious and sub-conscious level. They are constantly working on getting just the right balance of sweet, salty and fatty (or at least the sensation of these), to keep you coming back for more.
I know that every place you turn you are bombarded with the message that sugar is terrible for you. Although it may seem obvious, do you really know the why behind this warning?
Contrary to conventional dietary wisdom, you can't just ‘burn off’ sugar...
There is a false belief that if you consume a lot of sugar, you can just exercise a little bit harder that day or the next to burn it off. Sadly, that kind of thinking will lead you to suffer from the many negative effects sugar can have on you and your wellness.
What sugar does internally to the cells of your body, and how sugar gums up your internal workings, causing disease, makes the eating of and ‘burning off’ of this special white powder not quite so simple.
This is no exaggeration and I am not trying to use scare tactics. Sugar does not just make you fat, it is truly a very harmful substance, so please, pay attention.
Understanding the physiology behind sugar consumption will make you think twice about eating that sweet treat, piece of cake, candy, sugary soft drink, fruit juice, or ice cream, or, more importantly, feeding them to your children or loved ones.
For many decades, people have blamed saturated fat for heart disease which is the number 1 cause of death worldwide. Sugar became a low fat, relatively low calorie, tasty substitute and was added to all processed foods from cookies to pasta sauce.
Newer studies have scientifically determined what the Paleo community has been saying for a while. Saturated fat is benign at worst and harmless at best. Evidence is mounting that sugar, NOT fat, may be one of the leading drivers of heart disease via the harmful effects of fructose on metabolism.
Excessive amounts of fructose (sugar is comprised of equal proportions of glucose and fructose) can raise triglycerides, small, dense LDL and oxidized LDL (which are especially dangerous), raise blood glucose and insulin levels and increase abdominal obesity in under 3 months. These are all major risk factors for heart disease and not surprisingly, many observational studies find a strong statistical association between sugar consumption and the risk of heart disease.
There are way more reasons to avoid large amounts of sugar. Some of the most relevant include:
- In order to digest carbohydrate efficiently, you require certain nutrients including B vitamins, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese and chromium. Sugar contains none of these. They must be leached from your bones and muscles in order to process the sugar. This, in turn, leaves you feeling tired, depleted and craving some quick energy to replenish lost nutrient stores. The quickest source of energy available is often more sugar!
- Sugar causes extreme fluctuations in your blood sugar. Excess blood sugar causes glycation (and the formation of AGE’s) inside your body. These molecules accelerate the rate of aging of your organs, skin, arteries, and joints.
- To make matters worse increased sugar consumption increases risk factors for type 2 diabetes due to the excessive stress put on your pancreas resulting decreased insulin sensitivity.
- Sugar also slows down the efficacy of your white blood cells (the ‘fighting cells’ of your immune system), making infection more likely, and allowing deformed cells a better chance of survival in your body. This can lead to the primary stages of cancer cell formation!
- Excess fructose (at least 50% of what makes up sugar) gets turned into fat, which can lodge in the liver and cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- The problem with sugar and many junk foods is that they can cause a massive dopamine release (our feel good hormone). This release is often much higher we were ever exposed to from foods found in nature. This makes sugar highly addictive, and a difficult habit to break free from.
To clarify, when I discuss the damage sugar does to your body, I am not talking about tiny amounts such as the sugar you ingest from a teaspoon of honey sweetening in a warm beverage. Your body is well equipped to handle small amounts of natural sugar quite efficiently.
The true damage occurs when consuming 40-50 grams of sugar in one sitting. This would be like eating a large piece of chocolate cake, a bag of candy, a can of soda or even that ‘healthy’ smoothie at your local hangout. The problem becomes further magnified when repeated daily, sometimes more than once. .
It is easy to be deceived by clever food labeling, attractive marketing and ‘authoritative’ statements, more concerned with making a profit, and keeping you coming back for more than your health and wellness. Following Paleo principles and consuming primarily whole, minimally processed, nutrient dense, high fiber foods will allow your body to effectively deal with any food-based sugars you consume quite effectively.
Your simple solution for eating a diet that benefits you and your wellness goals is to take back control of what you are putting into your body, eating real, whole food, as it was intended to be eaten.
We, as a society, have, for too long, outsourced our nutrition, and in turn our ultimate wellness to big corporations and food manufacturers who are way more concerned with pleasing shareholders and gaining and maintaining market share than they are about the consequences of their actions.
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com