Sugar—the sweet temptress that has become an inseparable part of our modern lives. From the morning cup of coffee to the decadent dessert after dinner, it's hard to resist its allure. But have you ever stopped to consider sugar's impact on your health? Brace yourself because the truth might be hard to swallow.
Excessive sugar consumption in American diets has been linked to many health problems, ranging from obesity and diabetes to heart disease and even certain types of cancer. It's not just about the extra pounds on your waistline; sugar wreaks havoc on your entire body.
By understanding the science behind sugar and making informed choices, you can regain control over your health and well-being without significant dieting. So, grab a pen and paper because it's time to take notes on how to break free from the sugar trap and reclaim your vitality.
Understanding Different Types of Sugars
Sugar, in the form of glucose, is a necessary nutrient that provides energy for our cells and food for the brain. But we don't need to eat actual sugar to get glucose. Our bodies can make glucose from the foods we eat, including carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and dairy.
Fructose, sucrose, and glucose found in fruits, some vegetables, and honey are naturally occurring sugars. These sugars are better for you than added sugars because they are found in more modest amounts and come in a complete package with fiber and other necessary nutrients which slows the process of breaking the sugar down. It's a bit harder to overindulge and consume too much sugar from these foods.
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are the same types of sugar found in fruits or vegetables. However, in carbs, they break down more quickly because they do not have the same natural fiber and other nutrients. Too many carbs can lead to too much sugar, which is stored as fat.
Added sugars are those included during manufacturing, processing or the preparation of foods. Sugary beverages, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, and most ready-to-eat cookies or other sweet treats have excessive amounts of extra sugar. This is partially due to using sugar as a preservative.
Health Risks Associated with High Sugar Intake
There are many health risks associated with a high intake of sugar.
• Increases blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels
• Contributes to kidney, liver, and cardiovascular disease
• Causes cognitive issues such as dementia and Alzheimer's
• Is linked to colon cancer, diabetes, and obesity
• Causes inflammation, overeating, skin aging, and wrinkles
• Is responsible for tooth decay and cavities
Some, if not all, of these health risks, are not just associated with sugar. For example, many people who don't eat sugary diets have cardiovascular disease. This just means that if your genetics predispose you to one or more of these health risks, sugar increases your chances of developing the condition.
Sugar's Impact on Weight Gain and Obesity
As we already mentioned, glucose is a necessary form of sugar. However, refined sugar (the kind found in so many foods) has no real nutritional value. Sugar is also sneaky because the more of it you eat, the more you crave it. Too much sugar causes your body to create extra fat because you can't use all the excess sugar, and your body can't eliminate it before it turns into fat.
Moreover, people who are already overweight or have high blood sugar or diabetes can end up with fatty liver disease. This is when the body struggles to find fat to store the sugar in, sending it to the liver, where it becomes fat on or in this vital organ.
Cutting sugar intake, changing diets, and exercising regularly can help you lose weight and reverse fatty liver disease.
Ways to Reduce Sugar Cravings and Intake
Perhaps the two biggest problems with reducing sugar cravings and intake are that sugar is found in almost everything we eat, and, like any addiction, we crave it as we try to cut it out. Is it possible to curb the cravings and cut the sugar in our diets?
Starting your day with a protein-packed breakfast may help you reduce sugar cravings for the rest of the day. Try eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, protein shakes, or a fruit smoothie with protein powder.
"Urge surfing" is another technique that many find helpful in reducing sugar cravings. This technique is as simple as riding out the craving as if you were surfing on an ocean wave. You are mindfully aware of the craving, noticing as it grows stronger, reaches its peak, and then begins to subside—all without giving in to the craving. Mindful eating and journaling support this technique well.
Reducing sugar intake seems as simple as removing white sugar, brown sugar, molasses, syrups, and honey. Those can be a great first step, but aside from being unreasonable, they're also not enough. Instead, cut down the amount of those things that you put in your coffee, on your cereal, or over your pancakes. Cut the amount in half, and then keep reducing it to the lowest amount you can stand.
Cut out sugary drinks. Ideally, water is the best and only thing you should drink. But we all crave a sweet drink now and then. Swap the full-sugar sodas for a no-sugar water enhancer to flavor your water. Seek out juices with no or low sugar. When you do choose a full-sugar soda or juice, drink less of it.
Make sure you're getting enough sleep, too. Sleep helps regulate hunger hormones and make better choices about what you do eat.
Healthy Alternatives and Sugar Substitutes for Diets
Avoiding sugar can be a little easier than you think. Once you start looking at product labels, you'll make healthier choices. You can double down on those healthier choices by using healthy alternatives and sugar substitutes.
One of the easiest alternatives is fruit. Instead of eating a cookie, piece of cake, or bowl of ice cream, reach for an apple, orange, or peach instead. While the natural sugars in these fruits may not seem as sweet at first, you may notice and appreciate their natural sweetness over time.
Coconut sugar makes an excellent replacement for regular sugar. Coconut sugar has vitamin C, B vitamins, and antioxidants while having a lower sucrose content and lower glycemic index rating.
Monk fruit has zero calories, is low glycemic, and is high in antioxidants. It has a good effect on blood sugar regulation and may even have anti-cancer effects.
The Sweet Takeaway
Sugar may taste sweet on the lips, but on the way to your hips, it can wreak havoc in your body. Reducing your sugar intake can improve your health overall and, specifically, can reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Several diets can help limit sugar. There are also several alternatives and substitutions that can allow you to indulge your sweet tooth without harsh dieting. You'll feel better, have more energy, and enjoy life more when sugar loosens its hold on you.