Why you should quit sugar and going sugar-free has certainly been a hot topic of the last several years. One group of ‘health gurus’ will claim that the body needs carbohydrates and that sugar is just one of many that are harmless. And yet another will claim that sugar is killing everyone.
What’s been lost in translation here are several factors when it comes to what sugar and carbohydrates do in the body. But also, the way that different forms of carbohydrates determine that.
Firstly, every single person is different. Their genes are different, their living situations, their lifestyles, and their diets are all different. Some claim that sugar doesn’t affect them adversely at all, while others swear that carbohydrates make them bloated, foggy-headed, and gain weight. And yet others feel they’re chained to it, unable to resist the calling for sugar and unable to quit once they’ve started.
One key puzzle piece here, however, is the fact that the body–regardless of all its differences from person to person–will attempt to adapt to survive. (Which is why people on diets ‘plateau’ at some point.)
So where some end up on low-carb and keto diets with very little carbohydrate and zero sugar and feel great, others can do plant-based or vegan dietary styles with much higher carbohydrate content, and also feel fantastic.
But the constant dispute has revolved around sugar and carbohydrates and whether or not they’re bad for us.
So first and foremost– sugar is a carbohydrate. Our bodies get energy from carbohydrates. There are MANY carbohydrates, however, and the ones that are refined (ie, table sugar, the various millions of ‘renamed sugars’ put on packaged food labels, and refined flours) are the key ones that are dangerous. Here’s why.
Sugar and Processed Foods
The first point I always make as a nutritionist is that when foods have sugar, fructose, or the thousand-and-one various ‘new names for sugar’ created by food companies, they will also invariably lack fiber.
Fiber is the thing in fruits and vegetables that prevent our body’s sugar-management system from going into overdrive. Fiber helps blunt the impact of sugars, which is why eating whole fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, is healthy, whereas eating refined sugars and refined grains is not.
What I mean is that the lack of fiber in processed foods, with the addition of extra (added) sugars, normally go hand in hand.
Sugar and Inflammation
Inflammation tends to be lower on the list of concerns for anyone that doesn’t seem to have a condition related to inflammation. This is a huge mistake, as chronic inflammation is the cause of a myriad of diseases, as well as other conditions like depression and anxiety.
And a key contributor to inflammation in the body is sugar. Even after studying the effects of several different types of sugar, reviews of multiple studies show that one isn’t necessarily worse than the other: ALL sugars contribute to chronic inflammation.
Sugar and Your Skin
As a teen, I was told peanut butter could be contributing to my acne, only to read a year or so later that foods don’t affect your skin. As a nutritionist, I now know this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
What you put in your body determines how your body functions. And since your skin is the largest organ, this especially holds true for your skin.
Research has shown that sugar produces advanced glycation end products, which cause a severe slowing of cell turnover rates for collagen and other proteins. The end result is much faster aging on the skin.
Sugar and Aging
Just as sugar produces advanced aging mechanisms for the skin, it also accelerates the same process in all other tissues in the body. This means that your skin will begin to reflect what’s happening to everything inside your body.
Sugar and Insulin Resistance + Metabolic Syndrome
Sugar and Heart Disease
Although dietary saturated fat has been traditionally thought to cause heart disease, studies have shown that sugar is actually a major contributor. This can also be attributed to the relationship with metabolic syndrome, as stated above.
Sugar and High blood pressure
High blood pressure is yet another condition traditionally blamed on excess sodium. It has been found, however, that sugar plays an equal role in high blood pressure.
Sugar and Sleep
Although a generally less-researched field, the connection with a high-sugar diet and sleep are steadily mounting. Many don’t realize that there is a connection with your insulin and circadian rhythm. The fluctuations in cortisol and melatonin affect how your body processes insulin while you sleep (much less effectively) which creates a higher blood sugar level during sleep.
If you’re diabetic you probably already pay attention to this as you check your fasting blood sugar levels upon waking. But people that aren’t diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes should be conscientious of this as well:
High blood sugar levels throughout the day will carry over into our sleep time, creating higher blood sugar while we sleep–even for people that do not have diabetes.
Higher blood sugar levels during sleep have been shown to create less quality sleep and shorter sleep. And the reverse is true as well, less quality and time sleeping creates a worse insulin sensitivity in the body–which becomes a vicious cycle.
Aside from the conditions listed above, keeping added sugars out of the diet helps keep you on a steady energy plane all day. I don’t know many people who don’t have too little time during the day for work, family, and home life.
Staying on an energy rollercoaster sets the stage for anxiety, depression, and a vicious cycle of loading up on unhealthy foods that give a temporary energy hit just to crash later and go back to the same foods for another boost just to get through the day.
My advice is to start with a sugar detox to get off added sugars altogether and see how good you feel every day with energy from healthy fuel instead!
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