Sugar, sometimes referred as ‘white poison’, ‘white death’ or ‘sweet poison’, is the real enemy to your health and I think it deserves these titles.
Added sugar is the greatest threat to human health. Unless we change our ways and stop consuming sugar we are at the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, just to mention a few.
The problem with added sugar is that it comes in different forms and products; it’s in many processed foods which makes it easily available and we consume a lot of it unknowingly.
If you are not keen you won’t be able to identify the added sugars, companies which make these products are clever with the labeling.
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So the next time you are going through the labels, to identify added sugars, look out for ingredients that end with –ose, like; glucose, maltose, sucrose, dextrose, lactose and any type of syrup.
What is sugar?
Usually, when we talk about sugar we are referring to glucose, fructose and galactose. It’s found in many plants but mainly in sugar cane and sugar beets, white sugar comes from the crystallization of sucrose extracted either of the two plants.
Sugar is also found in in fruits in the form of fructose.
What most people tend to consume is added sugar, it contains no nutrients and it’s bad for your teeth and your health.
Added sugars contain a lot of empty calories and no essential nutrients or minerals. There are zero proteins, zero fats and zero minerals in added sugar, just energy.
Dr. Robert Lustig explains it here in detail.
Before we go any further lets discuss the harmful effects of consuming added sugars.
- Sugar causes obesity
Sugar decreases satiety which leads to overeating; people who consume sugar tend to get hungry after a short period of time.
You’ll realize that people who consume most sugar are overweight or obese regardless of whether they are adults or children.
Studies have associated sugar with obesity.
- It causes tooth decay
I’m sure this is not something new to most people; consumption of sugar doubles the risk of caries in children and increases chances of cavities in adults.
Sugar fuels the bad bacteria that cause tooth decay than any other food substance.
- Sugar increases risk of diabetes and heart disease
People who drink one to two sugar-sweetened beverages a day, have a 28% higher chance of developing type II diabetes, and a 20% higher chance of developing metabolic syndrome.
Women who consume one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day are twice likely to develop type II diabetes.
Over the last decade over 100,000 diabetes cases in the U.S were caused by an increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Sugar is highly addictive
Like other addictive drugs, sugar causes the release of dopamine in the reward center of the brain.
Sugar and junk foods have a high dopamine effect, much higher than found in natural foods. This makes it easy to get addicted to sugar and junk foods.
Take sugar in moderation may not be the best idea for someone who is addicted; the only thing that works best is complete abstinence.
- Sugar can cause cancer
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world; it is characterized by unrestrained growth and multiplication of cells.
Experts argue that having constantly high levels of insulin which is a result of sugar consumption can contribute to cancer.
Research shows that people who consume a lot of sugar have a higher risk of developing cancer.
- Sugar accelerates aging
It also contributes to aging signs like sagging skin. When consumed, some of the sugar ends up attaching itself to proteins in a process called glycation.
This molecular structure leads to loss of elasticity found in aging body tissues; then it goes from your skin to your organs and arteries.
The more sugar in your blood the more the damage it does.
These are just a few of the most harmful effects, there are many health problems associated with sugar, some are direct while others are indirect.
What about sugar in its natural form?
Natural sugar is the kind of sugar that is contained in fruits, vegetables, honey, agave nectar, sugar cane, sugar beets and other plants. These sugars occur in the form of fructose, sucrose and glucose.
The reason we call them natural is because they come about on their own and they are not manipulated or extracted by humans.
Plenty of natural sugar is found in fruits; it’s what gives them the sweet and appealing taste. But sweetness in foods doesn’t only come from sugar, foods like carrots and most squashes are usually high in natural sweetness.
Is sugar in fruits healthy?
Fruits usually contain a lot of fructose which is a lot of sugar. When you eat fruits it’s not only fructose you get, you are also consuming vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Fruits are healthy and we need them but too much sugar whether natural or added is not a good thing. It’s advisable you limit the intake of the most sugary fruits.
Evolutionarily, sugar as fruit was only available to our ancestors during harvest season and honey was heavily guarded by bees.
But if you have to choose between processed foods, sugar-sweetened beverages or fruits, always go for fruit.
Fruit juice is a different case though, when the juice is being made, most of the fiber and nutrients are lost and you are left with a lot of sugar.
Let’s compare a 12 ounce glass (350ml) of apple juice and coca cola:
- Coca Cola: 140 calories and 40 grams of sugar. (10 teaspoons)
- Apple juice: 165 calories and 39 grams of sugar. (9.8 teaspoons)
Conclusion: Fruit juice is not healthy; it has a low number of nutrients, no fiber and a lot of calories and sugar, just like most sugar-sweetened beverages.
Addiction to sugar is very common and some people are addicted to it without even realizing. Sugar is in so many products that we consume a lot of it without knowing, this leads to individuals developing cravings for sugary products.
Like all other addictive drugs, sugar shares the same symptoms.
- It causes the brain to release neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, something which is also experienced with alcohol, cocaine and other abusive drugs.
- When individuals continue to use it, they develop a level of tolerance to its effects.
- People continue to consume it, despite knowing its effects and even beating their desire to stop.
I hope that helps you understand how and why sugar is addictive.
Let’s discuss some of the tactics you can use to do away with sugar addiction.
- Exercise regularly, generally exercise makes one more aware of what he/ she is consuming. It is easier to make the more informed and right food choices if you exercise regularly.
- Keep sugar and processed products with sugar out of the house, this will help avoid temptations, remember to read food labels to avoid any products with added sugar.
- Eat regularly, 3-4 times a day, include the three macronutrients in all the meals, this will help keep your blood sugar levels normal through the day and the cravings will go down, if you experience them eat fruits instead.
- Learn how to deal with stress, sometimes when you are stressed you may want to bite some chocolate bar or a piece of cake. Find other ways of dealing with this like; talking to a friend, taking a walk or exercising.
- Take care of your body, now that you know all the harmful effects of sugar, make the right food choices and live a healthy lifestyle.
Consume sugar in moderation or cut out all?
Sugar in small amounts is not harmful, but in high amounts especially fructose, is very unhealthy. The problem is that many processed foods contain fructose; this makes it hard to consume sugar in moderation because it is everywhere.
My advice is, do away with sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods with high amounts of sugar. Consume foods which have fiber and sugar in them, fiber will help curb your sugar intake. These are foods like; vegetables, fruits, brown bread and so forth.
Final word: Now that you know all the ill effects of sugar, I would suggest you do away with added sugar once and for all, moderation hardly works especially in sugar because you’ll get more urges and cravings.
Have you ever experienced sugar addiction or it’s harmful effects? Let me know how you dealt with it.