We add it to our cup of coffee, sprinkle it on our cereal and it’s added to almost all processed food. And yet this ingredient causes a host of health problems, from depression to cancer. Why do we reach for sugar despite the growing health warnings? Have you ever wondered whether you could be a slave to sugar?
Sugar, also known as “white gold” due to its high profitability, has been part of our lives since the 18th century. Our consumption has steadily increased since then, rising rapidly after the industrialization of food manufacturing. In 1822, the average daily sugar consumption was less than 9 grams. Today the average person consumes over 150 grams of sugar a day. Parallel to this, we’ve witnessed a rapid rise in chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer. Could sugar be the cause?
The Bitter Truth about Sugar
Many different studies from leading research organizations link sugar to lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, cancer and depression. The report, Sugar Consumption at a Crossroads, published in September 2013 by Credit Suisse Research and Analytics, states “30–40 percent of health care expenditures in the USA go to help address issues that are closely tied to the excess consumption of sugar.”
When you eat sugar, your body produces the hormone insulin to help cells absorb the glucose (or sugar) in the blood. Insulin also signals to the body to store excess glucose as fat. If your diet is regularly high in sugar, your body produces more and more insulin to deal with the glucose. You put on weight, and eventually, the body can stop responding to the insulin. Otherwise known as insulin resistance, this is the main precursor to Type 2 diabetes.
Sugar consumption is also directly linked to weight gain and obesity. Insulin is responsible for fat storage, so when your insulin levels are high, you experience weight gain. In addition, sugar actually makes you hungrier. After eating it, your blood sugar levels quickly rise and then drop sharply — this causes you to feel lethargic and reach for more sugar, to get another burst of energy. So not only does sugar make you gain weight, it also makes you want to eat more — a double attack on your body’s ability to remain fit and healthy.
Weakened Immune System
Your immune system is truly wonderful. When it works properly, it keeps your body safe from bacteria and viruses and even destroys cancerous cells before they become a problem. Research shows that sugar actually weakens the immune system. Eating just a small amount will lead to a decrease in immune defenses. This increases your risk of getting ill and your immune system is less able to deal with cancer cells.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Although a diet high in saturated fats was blamed for this illness, more recent studies demonstrate that sugar increases your risk of a heart attack. A study published in JAMA: Internal Medicine concludes that individuals who get more than 17-21 percent of their daily calories from sugar have a 38 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease, than those whose sugar consumption doesn’t exceed 8 percent of daily calories. This is an important break through, in light of the fact that most low-fat diet products aimed at people who are trying to reduce their risk of cardio vascular disease actually contain more sugar than “full fat” versions.
Are You Addicted to Sugar?
Numerous studies demonstrate that sugar is addictive. Like a drug, sugar triggers the release of dopamine in your brain, making you feel good. This is why so many of us reach for biscuits and cakes when we feel upset or stressed out. Unfortunately, the comforting feelings provided by these treats are short-lived, and the health consequences of consuming too much sugar are far from sweet. Worse still, if you are used to getting a sugar high, your brain stops producing its own happy chemicals. This makes depression and low moods much more common for people who regularly eat sugar.
This addictive drug is added to almost ALL processed foods and fizzy drinks. In fact, much of the sugar we consume is found in fizzy drinks and the body seems less able to regulate consumption when we drink, rather than eat it. Drinking just 1 to 2 cans per day increases your risk of developing diabetes by a massive 26 percent.
Set Yourself Free
You may think, “it’s impossible to avoid sugar,” but it’s actually very easy. Once you’ve made the decision to rid your life of this health-damaging ingredient, you will find that saying NO to sugar is simple.
Here are some tips that will help you eliminate your sugar habit:
- Use alternatives such as honey, maple syrup, molasses or coconut nectar. Organic honey contains minerals and antioxidants, which boost your immune system. Coconut nectar comes from the sap of the coconut palm flower and contains high amounts of B vitamins, which your body needs to produce energy. Those who want to lose weight or control diabetes should use small amounts as these alternatives can still affect blood sugar levels.
- Stay away from artificial sweeteners, such as Aspartame, which has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression. Use Stevia instead, it is natural and safe with a long history of use.
- Make small changes. Make small changes. Go through your kitchen cupboards and gradually remove any products that contain refined sugar. Replace them with wholesome, natural foods.
- Always check the labels. Sugar is hidden under such names as dextrose, fructose, glucose, corn syrup, malt syrup etc. If the label includes any kind of sugar as the first, second or third ingredient (or lists it several times) then don’t buy it.
- Swap your unhealthy snacks for fruits and nuts. Fruits, both fresh and dried, contain fructose together with water and fiber, so they won’t make your blood sugar levels spike. Combined with a handful of nuts, such as almonds or cashews, these snacks will keep you full for longer.
- Don’t beat yourself up. If you over-indulge, try not to feel guilty, instead focus on how to make healthier choices next time. Sugar is addictive, and it can take a little time to break the habit.
- Cook home-made meals from fresh ingredients. Sugar is found in so many processed foods, it is virtually impossible to avoid if you continue to buy them.
- Drink water or herbal tea. Fizzy drinks are full of sugar and should be avoided. If you find water too plain, add a little honey and a squeeze of lemon, for a refreshing home-made lemonade.
- Dark chocolate is a healthy and delicious alternative to milk chocolate. It contains anti-oxidants, which boost your immune system. Pick the darkest possible chocolate for an indulgent moment, without the guilt!
Healthy and Happy Eating
Sugar is not so sweet after all! But, by making small, gradual changes to your diet, you can eliminate sugar from your life and rapidly feel healthier and more energetic. Set yourself free from sugar and you’ll quickly notice the benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing. What are you waiting for?