Sugar has been a hot button topic recently. In the 90’s and early 2000’s we demonized fat, using it as a scapegoat for every health problem imaginable, and now we’ve moved on to sugar. I’m not saying that sugar isn’t bad for you, because there is significant research to substantiate claims of its negative effects. I am saying, however, that maybe we should reevaluate the all or nothing approach to sugar.
In any dietary change or shift, there shouldn’t be complete removal of an entire group of food unless a person is allergic or sensitive to it. Sugar is present in fruits and vegetables and is a great source of quick energy. Many of these foods are high in vitamins and minerals, and are important in a balanced diet. If removing sugar from the diet is what you want, removing all added and processed sugars is the way to go.
a couple of interesting facts about sugar…
- The average American adult consumes about 22 teaspoons of sugar every day, which surpasses the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 10 teaspoons a day.
- These average 22 teaspoons contribute to the national average of annual sugar consumption, which rings it at 130 pounds of sugar each year per person.
- Sugar lights up the addiction center of the brain, and has been considered to be more addictive than cocaine.
how do you know if you have a problem with sugar?
There are a couple of signs that could indicate a problematic relationship with sugar.
- Do you have a tendency to crave sugar or sugary products, especially at specific times throughout the day? If you do, it generally means that sugar is a fairly regular part of your life, so much so that the addiction center of your brain reminds you to consume sugar.
- Do you feel like you can’t get through certain events without sugary products like soda, candy or gums? This could indicate habitual sugar consumption and an emotional dependence on sugar in general. If you are eating processed foods regularly it’s likely that your sugar consumption is high, regardless of the products’ taste being sweet or savory.
In my opinion, most people have some level of dependence on sugar. We’re biologically predisposed to crave it, and we are socially conditioned to eat it on special occasions. This, combined with the easy access to refined sugar, creates a perfect storm that prevents many people from meeting their health goals. Refined sugar is widely available and contains more energy than plant sugar, it is associated with positive memories, and our bodies are conditioned biologically to desire it… so even though we know that there are negative health effects from the repeated ingestion of refined sugar, it is incredibly difficult to break the habit of consumption (this why it’s helpful to do a guided sugar cleanse or detox).
how do you detox from sugar?
The important note about removing sugar from the diet is that you are generally breaking the habit of eating sugar and thereby preventing the brain from craving it. This is why sugar cleansing and detoxing has been so popular, because it facilitates a bigger and more longstanding change going forward.
Many people think that they are avoiding sugar by opting for foods that aren’t sweet or that are low sugar and low carb. These dietary changes don’t often account for the hidden sugars that lurk in almost all processed foods, which are present to aid in preservation, flavor and shelf life. This is another good reason to participate in a guided cleanse, because a lot of the leg work involved in compiling information is already done for you.
It makes sense biologically that we have such an affinity for sugar, because sugar is dense in calories that are needed for growth, development and energy. Breast milk is high in sugar, which reinforces that craving in babies and toddlers. The cravings are further reinforced as we grow older and taste fruits and vegetables that are naturally sweet, and have the energy we need to thrive. In our modern society however, these cravings often become unnaturally strong, as children are introduced to processed foods like candy, pastries, and other sugary foods. From an early age, we are conditioned to crave sugar both biologically but also circumstantially based on strong nostalgic ties between sugar and holidays, celebrations and family time. Food, and especially sugar, is strongly tied to memory and good feelings. This, coupled with the feel-good sensation that it creates in our brains, makes it very difficult to kick if you don’t have the appropriate support.
what are the different kinds of sugar?
To be clear, there are many different forms of sugar, but I will speak briefly about three overarching categories of sugar.
- Natural sugars are found in fruits and vegetables, and are less easily digested in our system (which translates to slowed uptake of sugar into the bloodstream). These types of sugars are considered to be beneficial in moderation, and serve as great sources of fast acting energy.
- Refined sugars, such as white and brown sugars, are produced by extracting sugar from plants, essentially separating the sugar from the fibers to which they were initially attached (which translates to increased uptake of the sugar molecules into the bloodstream). These sugars produce more of an energetic punch than natural sugars do, making them more satisfying to the brain and also less likely to be fully utilized (which translates to fatty deposits in muscle tissues, arteries and around organs).
- Chemical sugars and sugar alternatives are sweeteners that have been created in a laboratory setting and require significant processing in order to be produced and utilized. These forms of sugar are most often found in processed and prepackaged foods, and are considered to be the most dangerous because they are unnatural, but also because they still stimulate the body’s response to sugar even in its absence.
When opting for a sugar detox, it is most important to remove refined sugars, chemical sugars and sugar alternatives from the diet to decrease the body’s taste for unnaturally sweet substances. In doing so, there is a heightened appreciation for naturally occurring sugars in plants, which are much easier for the liver to process. Essentially, such a detox is a step towards a whole-foods diet, which is vastly improved in comparison to a significant portion of Americans’ present diets.
where does sugar hide?
There are 61 common names of natural sugar, refined sugar and chemical sugars, but here are just a few:
- Agave nectar
- Barley malt
- Beet sugar
- Brown sugar
- Cane juice
- Cane sugar
- Coconut sugar
- Confectioner’s sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Date sugar
- Dehydrated cane juice
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Maple syrup
- Rice syrup
- Sugar (granulated)
Sugar hides behind so many different names in processed foods, prepackaged foods, and in foods that we don’t make at home, it makes it nearly impossible for people eating these foods to remove the more dangerous sugars from their diets. Because sugar hides in many places that it seemingly should not be present, it is difficult to fully detox without a little extra help and support.
To emphasize the importance of removing unnatural sugars from the diet, I’d like to share some of the researched negative health effects (and related conditions) of chronic sugar consumption on the body.
- Adrenal fatigue
- Cancers (especially pancreatic, colon, rectal and possibly breast)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Changes in brain function, especially attention span and memory
- Changes in gut flora, increasing the risk for Candida overgrowth
- Chrohn’s disease
- Excess weight
- Hormonal disruptions
- Imbalance of good bacteria (Candida, yeast infection, rashes, digestive disruption)
- Infertility and impotence
- Insulin resistance
- Irritable bowel
- Liver problems, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Metabolic disorders
- Skin disruption (acne, blackheads, puffiness)
- Ulcerative colitis
what are the benefits of quitting processed sugar?
The benefits of quitting processed sugar go beyond prevention and treatment of the aforementioned issues. By quitting processed and refined sugars, you can reset your metabolism, improve your body’s sensitivity to hormones, improve quality of skin, improve quality of sleep, decrease inflammation and bloating, and support healthy weight loss (in most people). Another huge benefit is reducing your dependence on sugar, which is key for breaking the habit and finding success.