Man, sugar is getting a bad rap these days. Is this bumming you out? Are you starting to look at that 3pm frappucino a bit differently now? Have you always considered sugar the enemy? Well, why the heck is it so bad? Isn’t it something our bodies need?
What Is Sugar?
To start, here are a couple definitions:
- A sweet crystalline substance obtained from various plants, especially sugar cane and sugar beet, consisting essentially of sucrose, and used as a sweetener in food and drink.
- Any of the class of soluble, crystalline, typically sweet-tasting carbohydrates found in living tissues and exemplified by glucose and sucrose.
In other words, it’s a tasty carb that provides pure energy to our bodies. There are no other attributes to sugar. It doesn’t contain vitamin C. There’s no calcium or iron. No minerals. It’s just pure energy. And now, just in case you want some music as you read on…
So why is all this energy so bad for us? Energy is a good thing, right? Lord knows I could use more of it every morning. Well, unfortunately the compound we all know as sugar, especially simple or refined sugar, doesn’t like to play too nice in our bodies. We’re not chemically fit to digest mass amounts of sugar.
Why Is Sugar So Bad?
So what happens in our bodies when we’re on sugar overload? You might not know it, but I’m sure you’ve felt it before. You consume a sugar bomb. It tastes so freaking good you get a high off it. But 30 minutes later all you can think about is falling asleep. You can’t concentrate, you might be really thirsty. So what’s your body working on while trying to digest that sugar?
- As sugar enters you bloodstream, your pancreas releases insulin to help utilize the sugar properly. Insulin helps store sugar in our liver and muscles, as food for our cells.
- With a big sugar rush, a big rush of insulin is released. This is often too much insulin, as your body detects a threat and goes into overdrive to take care of it.
- When there is too much insulin, our blood sugar drops (hypoglycemia), and guess what…
- We want more sugar!
If you think about it, it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have easy access to processed sugar. Our sugars came from fruits and vegetable sources. So to think that within a few hundred years (once refined sugar became widely available) our bodies could have evolved to digest large amounts of sugar in our diets with no problem is just silly. And unfortunately, just like too much of anything, it’s become toxic. Over consumption of sugar can lead to:
- Non alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Weight gain
- Addiction (you’re on the smack!)
- A highly acidic environment in your body that promotes the development of cancer
- Studies are pointing towards neurological deficits
Why Is Sugar So Good?
So why do we CRAVE sugar with such voraciousness that the average American consumes around 130 pounds of sugar a year? Because it is like crack, my friends. Sugar releases dopamine in our brains, a chemical that makes us feel REALLY good. This is the same chemical released when an illegal drug like heroine is used.
For purposes past, this was a good thing. When we were hunters/gatherers, our brain rewarded us for finding a delicious fruit that provided nutrients and fiber. What a treat it must have been! Fast forward to now, and our bodies are still utilizing that reward system. We just readily have access to A LOT of sugar. And a lot of refined sugar. It’s wondrous that we can walk into a grocery store in the US and buy an apple from New Zealand. Having access to fresh fruits in the winter can keep our bodies healthy. But then you start heading into the interior of the store. Sugary cereals, sugary breakfast bars, chips with lots of sugar in the flavoring, soups with sugar, sauces with sugar, dressings with sugar, any type of candy bar you could want… you get the picture. Oh, and you can get a nice big sugary coffee drink to guzzle down as you get your shopping done. No wonder we’re addicts!
Cheap & readily available (photo credit)
How Can We Break The Addiction?
For some, breaking the sugar addiction will be easier than for others. Some peoples bodies naturally process sugar better. Likely it doesn’t mean they can avoid all problems caused by sugar, but they don’t have to deal with the weight gain aspect. Their body is more efficient at using sugar quickly to feed their cells, rather than it immediately being stored as fat. But if you eat a lot of sugar, and you are overweight, you’re more than likely addicted. And if this is the case, your best course of action is to talk to your physician and create an action plan. Withdrawing from sugar can include some unpleasant side effects like:
- Mood Swings
- Flu-like symptoms
- No ability to focus
Doesn’t sound fun, right? And if you don’t put a support network in place, you’re likely going to fail. So talk to your doc if you truly think you have a sugar addiction and want to change. And how do you know if you’re addicted? Try going one day without consuming sugar, even fruit. You should be able to tell before the day is over, because you’ll feel like crap!
Do I Have To Stop Eating Sugar Completely?
So here’s my take on this. Sugar can make life supremely enjoyable. It’s hard to beat a cold coke at a ball game on a hot summer day. Or sharing a fudge brownie with a few girlfriends during a girls night out. Just like any food, sugar can help us bond, bring back great memories from childhood, and just give us a boost. But sugars in the amounts we are currently consuming is not sustainable. Our bodies can’t process it properly, and it will likely lead to more disease among our population.
So, as with everything, moderation is key! And I think a really good rule of thumb is trying to get to a point where sugar from fruit is a mainstay in your diet, added sugar is kept to a bare minimum, and sugar bombs are an occasional treat. Our bodies do use sugar, it’s an important nutrient for energy. But our body does not need 130 pounds of sugar in a year.
If this topic interests you, here are the articles I sourced from: