Is Sugar Really That Bad For You?
Growing up blessed with a rather slim physique, giving up sugar didn’t seem necessary to me until my doctor told me I’d be a diabetic in five years if I didn’t stop – immediately!
Processed sugar does not have any nutrients, proteins or healthy fats to nourish the body, providing only empty calories that can be very addictive and not filling. You should stop eating sugar because it leads to poor memory, premature ageing, and degenerative diseases, but also because your body’s gains in health are worth it.
Quit Sugar to Boost Your Immune System
If you have a sweet tooth and often fall prey to a cold, stomach flu or a sore throat, look no further for a culprit: it’s probably a suppressed immune system!
To understand how this works you need to first know that the immune system is not a single organ, but a combination of millions of cells, organisms and triggers in your body that work together to ward off bacteria, fungi, viruses and other unpleasant pathogens.
Whenever your body senses a threat your first responders are white blood cells called phagocytes, whose job is to locate those harmful cells and engulf them, so they can be flushed out asap!
Refined and processed sugar (like white refined sugar, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) keep white blood cells from performing properly because when broken down sugar looks very similar to Vitamin C which is what the phagocytes really need to work (hello lime and orange juice!). This leaves the cells malnourished, impoverished and incapable of doing their job.
Additionally, sugar contributes to inflammation, high blood pressure and nutrient depletion, which also bring your defences down and make it easy for common strains of the cold and flu to grab hold of you.
The good thing is, quitting processed sugar cold turkey usually sends your body into shock and high-gear, helping your immune system bounce back quickly. To help your body regain the vibrant health you deserve add the following foods to your diet:
- Yogurt: boosts the immune system with probiotics
- Garlic: natural antibiotic and full of the antioxidant allicin
- Mushrooms: rich in B vitamins
- Whole Grains: which have fibre and beta-glucan
Some supplements may also be good if you’re feeling particularly vulnerable for a short period of time.
Bye Processed Sugar, Bye Inflammation
Even though nowadays it has a bad reputation, inflammation is actually a healthy and natural defence mechanism and part of your body’s immune system response. So why is it bad? Like most things, the key is moderation; when you fall and hit your knee, it swells up or becomes inflamed because the hurt tissue needs extra protection to heal.
However, when eating too many inflammatory foods – such as excess sugar – your body may suffer from chronic low-grade inflammation, usually around visceral and abdominal areas which can be painful, stiff and uncomfortable. Inflammation is supposed to be a relatively quick process and go down as your body heals, therefore prolonged or extended inflammation drains your body of the energy it needs for other things.
How can you tell if you have chronic inflammation? If you have any or some of the following symptoms, and you have a high sugar diet, (most of us unwittingly do!) then you may indeed have chronic inflammation:
- Joint pain
- Inexplicable chest pain (particularly when working out)
- Continued Fatigue (even with regular sleeping patterns)
- Frequent mouth sores
- Abdominal pain
- Fevers and rashes that come and go
If you thought inflammation meant bloating, you wouldn’t be wrong! If inflammation occurs at a visceral level, it can often be confused with weight gain and bloating.
It’s important to note that this is a direct consequence of all kinds of added sugars! While it is widely agreed that you should not avoid or eliminate an entire food group, you’re not putting yourself in any danger by excluding sugar from your diet. Sugar is not a food group in itself, and it is in fact contained naturally in many other foods and beverages that positively contribute to your wellbeing.
You can find natural sugars in many fruits and vegetables which, in many cases, may actually be anti-inflammatory. Therefore, a diet free from processed sugars is never an entirely sugar-free diet. Sugars are mostly added to processed foods as sweeteners, for preservation purposes and to improve taste in many forms – many times there are two or more types of sugar present in one product, making it really hard to ascertain the amount of added-sugar intake per day.
Natural sugars are only consumed in whole foods and thus they are balanced by the fibre, protein, vitamins, and enzymes that the very fruit or vegetable already have (think carrots, pineapples and beets), this helps the body absorb the sugar more slowly giving it time to process it as energy and discard what is not needed.
Added sugar usually comes on its own, in great quantities, and overwhelms the system. This in turn, triggers your defence mechanisms making you ultimately inflamed – your body feels it needs to fix something, and it does! It needs to get rid of that excess sugar!
Reduce the Risk of Life-Altering Diseases
When my doctor first told me I was on track to develop Type 2 diabetes, I was sure she had to be mistaken. Unfortunately, she was right. As a short, relatively thin and young woman I had not stopped to think about the consequences of my rather unhealthy habits, the truth was – they were hard to tell!
Carrying most of my extra weight in a small, round and hard abdomen, I had not stopped to question the amount of added sugar I was eating every single day. “You should stop eating sugar immediately” she said, and once she showed me the numbers in my blood work I did. Cold turkey!
See when you decide to watch what you eat, read product labels before you purchase. Exchange that sweet after work donut for mix nuts or a fruity snack. You’re not only going to get healthier and lose weight, you’ll also be avoiding:
- Type 2 Diabetes: high sugar intake leads to insulin resistance which in turn can result in Type 2 Diabetes, renal failure and a life sentence of pills, blood check-ups and painful testing. Fortunately, this can not only be prevented, it can be reversed with a healthy no added sugar diet!
- Alzheimer’s: some people call it “Type 3 Diabetes” and while that may be a tad exaggerated, as there are many components involved with this complex disease, studies show that there is a definite link between the aging of the brain, reduced neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change and adapt) and memory loss.
- Non-Alcoholic Liver Disease: Yes! Sugar is as bad as a lifelong alcohol problem. When your body doesn’t know what to do with the excess it starts to store it as fat. This affects your liver profoundly, eventually rendering it too ill to function.
- Cancer: there are multiple studies showing the connection between high insulin levels and increased tumour proliferation, as well as interfering with cancer treatments.
- Depression: surprised? That sugary treat that you think is helping you get in a better mood, is actually contributing to sugar spikes. As these go up and down in your blood, your mood is affected by the highs and lows that can be really damaging for your psyche.
If you’re thinking: “I hardly ever get sick, I don’t feel inflamed and I’m far away from Alzheimer’s”, then let me appeal to one more wonderful benefit of giving up processed sugar!
You Will Rejuvenate Your Skin – and other things!
You should stop eating added sugars to regain your skin’s youthful glow and elasticity. One of the many consequences of high blood sugar is “glycation” the process where glucose attaches itself to proteins such as collagen, resulting in the collagen becoming brittle and losing its elasticity. The end result being quicker formation of wrinkles, and a much older looking appearance!
So regardless of how many collagen bears you take to complement your diet, if you have more than 5% of your calories coming from sugar, or over 50 to 70 grams a day, your skin will slowly but surely lose elasticity and become dull. There’s only so much lotions and moisturizers can do for you if they’re fighting an enemy indoors.
Some parting thoughts:
- If you’re ready to give up sugar but wonder how to deal with that sweet tooth, don’t worry! There are many healthy, delicious and natural alternatives to cover your needs on a daily basis. Experts agree that you can have two to four servings of fruits per day, so just get creative!
- If you absolutely must have some sugar with your tea or coffee choose stevia (a highly sweet herb from South America) or raw honey. Beware Agave, although it sounds natural, it is actually very processed and just as bad as high fructose syrup in some cases.
- Stay on the lookout for added sugar in your pantry staples (like tomato sauce) and watch out for all ingredients ending in “ose”; they’re usually all added sugars with different names. The closer to the beginning of the ingredient list, the higher the amount in the product.
Go live your best life, sugar-free!