Is Sugar Really As Bad As They Say?
If you spend enough time in the world of wellness, you’ll find all sorts of claims made about sugar.
It’s linked with weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, acne, cancer, the list goes on.
Some even claim it’s more addictive than cocaine.
But is sugar really as bad as they say it is?
Here at the Edison Institute of Nutrition, we offer courses for a diploma in holistic nutrition that dig deeper into this and many other topics.
Let’s take a closer look.
What Actually Is Sugar?
Sugar is an important part of what we eat, as it is found in most of our food – but some types of sugar are better for us than others.
Sugars are found in most foods, at varying levels, and in many cases this is okay.
In fact, very few vegetables are entirely devoid of sugar – even spinach, kale, broccoli, celery, and other perennial healthy diet staples have a little bit of sugar in them.
It’s a carbohydrate, and like all carbohydrates, your body uses it for energy.
In fact, sugar is critical for your health.
Without it, your central nervous system, red blood cells, and even your brain wouldn’t operate properly.
As we digest foods with sugar in them, they are broken down: they are then released into our bodies as energy.
Since a lot of the food that naturally contains sugar is also good for you – like almost every fruit and vegetable – it is okay for you to eat natural sugar as a part of a varied and healthy diet.
Sugar, if understood properly, can be an important tool in keeping us fueled and functional – but it can also be detrimental.
Added Sugar vs. Natural Sugar
We now have a basic understanding of natural sugar.
Added sugar is, simply, something that a food manufacturer adds to their products.
Added sugar can often act as a preservative in highly processed food and can add flavor.
Some types of added sugar include, but aren’t limited to, high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, and molasses.
Beyond being “human made”, added sugar activates our dopamine and opioid receptors in our brains.
Dopamine is part of the reward circuit that can enhance addictive behaviors and can explain why added sugars can be so difficult to quit.
Fact: trying to mediate your relationship to added sugars can be beneficial to your health and wellbeing.
Here are some of the reasons why it might be time to question how much sugar you eat.
1. It’s Bad for Your Heart
We don’t exactly know how or why it affects your heart health, but the evidence is clear.
A study of over 30,000 people over fifteen years showed that people who consumed between 17 and 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% increase in heart disease.
And since heart disease is the second most common cause of death in Canada, that’s a big deal.
One of the possible explanations for this is that your liver breaks down sugar much the same way as it breaks down alcohol, which can turn dietary carbohydrates into fat.
If fat accumulates in your liver, it can lead to fatty liver disease, which can turn into type 2 diabetes, which is a precursor to cardiovascular issues.
2. It Increases Your Risk of Cancer
Diets high in sugar can cause inflammation in your body and can contribute to hormonal imbalances like insulin resistance, which can lead to cancer.
Specifically, doctors have found that high sugar and starch consumption can lead to an increase in esophageal, pleural, and cancer of the small intestines.
When you study for a holistic cancer coach practitioner certification, this is one of the many things you’ll learn.
3. It Can Lead to Obesity
Most of the soft drinks and fruit juices we consume are loaded with a particular added sugar: fructose.
Fructose has been proven to increase your desire for more food than its counterparts.
Also, it can cause a resistance to insulin, high sugar intake over time can lead to a resistance of leptin, a hormone that mediates your hunger and tells your body to stop eating.
This can confuse our bodies’ regulatory systems, which can cause us to eat more than we ‘normally’ would, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain.
Weight gain then can add stress and pressure to our joints, bones, and internal organs, leading to a myriad of other health concerns.
4. …Which Increases Your Risk of Diabetes
Weight gain is often correlated with type 2 diabetes.
As we’ve discussed, a diet high in added sugars can lead to a resistance to insulin.
One of insulin’s responsibilities is to help blood sugar absorb into your liver, fat, and skeletal muscle.
If its ability to do so is impaired, the proportion of glucose in the blood increases, and isn’t siphoned off into the rest of your body.
This means that your circulatory system “floods” with blood sugar and the resulting “toxicity” can lead to diabetes.
Often type 2 diabetes can be mitigated through re-directed, careful attention to diet and lifestyle.
5. It’s Bad for Your Skin
When your blood sugar levels are saturated, this can lead to an overproduction of testosterone, skin oils, and inflammation.
This can make outbreaks of pimples, blackheads, and different types of rashes more common.
Beyond that, however, your skin says a lot about your general health .
A high sugar diet can actually make you age more quickly.
It does this through increased production of advanced glycation end products, which are formed by the sugar and protein in your body reacting with each other.
Appropriately, the acronym for these is AGEs, and they damage the collagen and elastin in your body – which helps keep skin youthful looking.
6. It’s Bad for Your Liver
Your liver processes what you eat and drink.
It breaks down each item into its parts and distributes the nutrients, fat, and soluble proteins to the appropriate parts of your body.
Much like when we drink alcohol in excess, too much sugar can slow your liver down, which inhibits its function.
This build-up eventually becomes deposits of fatty tissue.
Fatty liver disease is a serious health condition on its own, but it can also lead to a variety of other concerns.
7. It’s Bad for Your Mental Health
A lot of what sugar does to our bodies has to do with slowing us down.
It can cause chronic inflammation, adding a toxic buildup in our organs, and starting an “avalanche” of other health issues.
It acts the same on our brain as it does elsewhere.
It is believed that fluctuation in our blood sugar levels can impact the regulation of our neurotransmitters.
Our neurotransmitters act as gatekeepers to our brains, releasing the proper chemicals at the proper times.
If our neurotransmitters aren’t functioning optimally, it can lead to a higher rate of depression among people of all genders.
Medical studies have shown that people who eat larger quantities of highly processed food also have higher rates of clinical, chronic depression and other mental health issues.
Is Sugar Addictive?
A 2007 study took a look at this subject.
And the short answer is yes, sugar is addictive.
It works by stimulating both your opioid (pain relief) and dopamine (“feel good”) receptors in your brain.
Added sugars also spike your blood sugar levels.
The problem with that is blood sugar levels drop just as quickly –which makes you want more, as fast as we can get it.
This reward/depletion/want more cycle can be never-ending, until we become more mindful about what we are putting in our bodies.
Book Your Appointment With The Edison Institute Of Nutrition
Given that sugar is such a tricky, addictive substance, your clients may need to have a step-by-step plan, along with nutritional and supplemental guidance, to quit it permanently.
We’ll teach you how at The Edison Institute of Nutrition.
Contact The Edison Institute of Nutrition to find out more about our holistic nutritionist training programs.