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The Benefits of Kicking Sugar From Your Diet

Lifestyle, Nutrition

Most people don’t overeat fruits or vegetables. However, they do overeat and drink added sugars in everything from coffee to sodas, breakfast cereal to desserts, and a broad range of packaged, processed foods from vegetables to entrees. 

Added sugars provide you with calories that have little or no nutritional value (known as empty calories). This is deceptive—after having a sugary snack, you probably feel satisfied, but in reality, your body is starved for nutrients.

It is not always easy to detect foods containing added sugars. Obvious items include candy, cookies, desserts, and soft drinks – all loaded with refined sugar. Other seemingly innocent foods like crackers, yogurt, milk, and fruit juice are also culprits. Even savory items like spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, salad dressings, and ketchup can contain surprising amounts of added sugar.

Sugar is disguised on food labels in many forms including:

AgaveBrown rice syrup
Brown sugarCoconut sugar
Corn sweetenerDextrose
FructoseFruit juice concentrate
GlucoseHigh fructose corn syrup
HoneyInvert sugar
LactoseMaltose
Maple syrupMolasses
SorbitolSorghum syrup
Sucrose

This deception by food manufacturers prompted the requirement that, by mid 2021, they were required to list the amount of added sugars in addition to naturally occurring sugars on the Nutrition Facts Label. A recent analysis found that this labeling could potentially prevent nearly one million cases of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes over the next two decades.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) also contains too many refined carbohydrates from “fast carbs”—foods like pasta, white bread, white rice, and potatoes that are easily broken down into sugars. These foods are digested and metabolized rapidly, dumping the excess glucose into your bloodstream. The result is an immediate energy high (and a crash about 30 minutes later). Unfortunately, the extra blood sugar (glucose) is stored as fat.

The primary difference between fast food and slow food is that foods high in fiber are broken down slowly in the digestive tract, so the nutrients and glucose are released gradually:

  • Protein can take four hours to digest.
  • Whole grains like brown rice or wild rice take about two hours to be digested.
  • Salads and raw veggies are also “slow food” because of the high fiber content.

Interestingly enough, our body’s main fuel source is glucose—sugar in its simplest form. Glucose is made by breaking down the foods we consume as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. But most of us are genetically wired by Mother Nature to run on a whole-food /plant-based diet, and can get all this premium fuel without ever consuming added sugars.

The more sugar you eat, the higher your blood-glucose level will be, which triggers the release of the hormone insulin making your body store fat. Eating a high quantity of sugar in one sitting causes your body to remain in the fat accumulation mode for longer periods.

Chances are you already know that eating too much sugar isn’t good for you, yet you’re still overdoing it. On average, American adults consume about 17 teaspoons (270 calories) of sugar a day, compared to The American Heart Association’s recommendation that adults consume no more than 9 teaspoons (1/4 cup—36 grams of sugars or 150 calories).

Some of the side effects of excessive sugar intake include…

Leptin Resistance – Leptin is a hormone that helps regulate appetite. It tells your brain when you are full and when to stop eating. If you eat too much sugar, leptin stops working. Your fat cells continue to produce leptin, but your brain’s ability to “hear” its message shuts off. This condition of “leptin resistance” also leads to a reduction of testosterone production, with the compounded lowering of sex drive.

Fatigue – Sugar may give you a temporary spike of energy, but too much sugar leads to frequent bouts of fatigue, and you can’t perform at work (or at play, including in the bedroom) when you are too tired.

Inflammation – This can affect everything from your joints to your heart. Sugar is highly inflammatory, so a diet high in sugar can trigger arthritis symptoms, raise blood pressure, and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Higher Levels of Stress and Anxiety – Elevated blood sugar and insulin lead to chronically higher levels of cortisol, one of the so-called stress hormones that triggers the fight or flight response. Elevated cortisol leads to increased stress and anxiety, both of which can cause decreased libido.

Kidney Stones – Sugar, particularly in the form of fructose in sodas, increases risk of kidney stones by more than 23% in people who drink more than one regular soda a day. (That means about one of every four people who are fond of sodas is at higher risk.)

Tooth Decay – Excess sugar feeds the bacteria in your plaque to create acids that wear down your tooth enamel, forming cavities over time.

Liver Disease – Alcohol isn’t the only food that can wreck your liver. Eating too much sugar increases risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) or the buildup of extra fat in your liver cells. Effects of NAFLD increase as we get older. In fact, 25% of men over 40 have it, and according to Baylor College of Medicine, 80% of people with NAFLD aren’t diagnosed. This is serious because it can lead to cirrhosis, a scarring of the liver that could lead to cancer over time (according to the American Liver Foundation).

Prostate Cancer – Inflammation of prostate tissues due to high blood sugar levels in men who are obese has been found to increase the risk of an enlarged prostate and potential cancer. Sugar also encourages the wrong mix of digestive flora (encouraging “bad bugs” in the gastrointestinal tract). Since the prostate is located right next-door to the colon, it is theorized that this encourages low-grade infection in the gut. While this is still a theory to some extent, there is currently consensus in the medical literature that a high-sugar diet is associated with increased cancer incidence.

Lower Testosterone – There is also an impact on your general health and well-being, since testosterone supports heart health, lean muscle and corresponding strength, stronger bones, better memory and focus, stronger libido, and positive moods. As testosterone drops, you lose all these health benefits..

Higher levels of stress and anxiety – Elevated blood sugar and insulin lead to chronically higher levels of cortisol, one of the so-called stress hormones that triggers the fight or flight response. Elevated cortisol leads to increased stress and anxiety, both of which can cause decreased libido.

Turning to Artificial Sweeteners: Why It’s Not A Good Idea

When trying to decrease sugar, some turn to artificial sweeteners like saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, or sucralose. These zero-calorie sweeteners are found in packets for your coffee/tea and commonly used to sweeten diet sodas and sport drinks. Although they reduce the calories in diet foods, research over the past seven decades has found that artificial sweeteners are linked to negative health outcomes.

Research suggests that they can prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. As a result, we may crave more sweets and tend to choose sweet food over nutritious food, resulting in weight gain. Participants in the San Antonio Heart Study who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week (3 per day) were twice as likely to become overweight or obese as people who didn’t drink diet soda. Research has also concluded that artificial sweeteners contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

How To Get Off Sugar

Eat real, single-ingredient foods that grow from the earth, roam the earth, or swim in the sea. Avoid processed foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates including soft drinks, candy, baked goods, fruit juices, fruits canned in syrup, low-fat/diet foods, and refined white flours.

  • The place to begin is the grocery store. If we buy sweets, of course we’re going to eat sweets.
  • Replace soda and juice with sparkling or spring water, lemon water, herb tea (great over ice), vitamin water, coffee, or low-carb lattes. Don’t add sugar to tea or coffee.
  • Replace sugar as a flavoring with lemon, lime, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, or nutmeg.
  • Enjoy fruit such as berries, an apple, or stone fruit (peaches, plums, cherries) when craving something sweet.
  • Choose recipes that replace sugar with fruit as a sweetener.
  • Experiment with natural, zero calorie sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit (lo han guo) when you want a touch of sweet in beverages like coffee or tea.
  • Read nutritional labels to avoid added sugar disguised in many forms.
  • Get support. If you find that you are not making the progress you want, explore working with a nutritionist or joining a support group.

When people decrease sugar in their diet, they not only avoid health issues like heart disease and diabetes, they also lower body fat, reduce joint pain, look better (naked), increase their energy, feel more confident and attractive, and enjoy more physical intimacy.

Interested in learning more about the negative effects of eating sugar, as well as how to free yourself from cravings and guilt that come with eating sugar and refined carbohydrates? Check out The Twenty-First Century Man by Dr. Judson Brandeis, specifically Chapter 32 😉 (written by yours truly, covering all things Kicking Sugar).

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About the Author

Angela is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), board-certified health coach and trained yoga teacher who helps clients achieve a healthy weight and gain control over their GI distress.

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