It’s time to take a look at your brain and belly on sugar, because the truth about sugar health effects is devastating! In the following post, we’ll discuss the negative health effects of sugar, why it’s so addictive, and how put an end to your refined sugar habit.
Sugar Health Effects + How to Stop Sugar Cravings: Overview
- Is Sugar Bad for You?
- An In-Depth Look at Sugar Binges and Crashes
- Is the Hype About Diet Soda Health Risks Real?
- How to Stop Sugar Cravings Once and for All
- Withdrawal Symptoms of Sugar
- Your Turn! Take the First Step to Curbing Your Sugar Addiction!
Is Sugar Bad for You?
Surprising Sugar Health Effects
Before answering that question, I want to make a distinction between “bad sugar” and “good sugar.” Think of “good sugar” as natural sugar from fruit or organic honey. Alternatively, you can think of “bad sugar” as processed sugar additives present in things like cake, ice cream, and almost all processed foods. (Even your oh-so-innocent pasta sauce!)
Natural Sugar vs Added Sugar
Simple sugars from fruit, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and beans are natural. Obviously, it’s always safer to take food from Mother Earth!
These are safer forms of sugar because they are derived from whole foods.
Some alternative names for natural sugars include glucose, sucrose, and lactose.
These are “good sugars” because whole, organic foods are also full of valuable dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein, and micro-nutrients. In a sense, these nutrients “soften the blow” and slows your body’s absorption of the simple sugars.
In contrast, added sugar – or “bad sugar” – lacks any nutritional value.
As a result, it causes a sudden spike and subsequent crash in blood sugar. This is what leaves you feeling like a hungover college student after a sugar binge. Some sneaky ingredient names such as high fructose corn syrup actually mean the same thing as “unhealthy sugars.”
So read the nutrition facts on each label carefully!
Now, back to the original question. Is sugar bad for you?
Only very small doses of refined sugar are recommended. Specifically, the recommended daily limit is 6-9 teaspoons per day. (It may also be helpful to remember that 4 grams of sugar are in 1 teaspoon.)
In short, a quick answer to “Is Sugar Bad for You?” would be a careful “no”… in moderation. However, most people eat way too much sugar. And so yes, too much sugar is definitely bad for you!
Americans & Sugar Addiction
Despite the fact that sugar contains absolutely no nutritional value, the average American consumes 24,000 teaspoons per year! And this is in spite of the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 suggestion of restricting calories from artificial sugar to no more than 10% of their total caloric intake each day.
As a result, there is a nationwide rise in chronic diseases. In order to understand the hard facts behind the negative sugar health effects, check out the following list of negative health effects of too much sugar.
The 3 Worst Health Effects of Sugar
1. “Sugar Belly” is a Real Thing
According to UC Berkeley’s Nutrition Action Newsletter, the term “Sugar Belly” is similar to Beer Belly. This is because evidence has led researchers to believe that the fructose in added sugar actually sends the calories straight to your midsection!
3. Eating less added sugars diminishes the National Obesity and Diabetes Epidemic.
In fact, America’s feeding frenzy on added sugar is leading to a widespread problem of obesity. And, according to Vasanti Malik, a research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health, the increase in obesity is closely related to Americans drinking more and more beverages sweetened with copious amounts of added sugar. Specifically, the sugar in these drinks is fructose.
Fructose is a simple sugar that increases cravings for starchy foods. It also causes your body’s “I’m full” signal to stop working, and so people who drink lots of sweetened drinks tend to keep eating.
It’s easy to do, since their body isn’t sending them a signal to stop! Given this information, you can probably see why a case of “Sugar Belly” can quickly fly off the rails into full-fledged obesity.
2. The Scary Truth About Sugar Brain Effects:
Depression May Be Just Behind the Corner
It’s only natural to reach for ice cream or cake when you’re feeling down and need a pick-me-up. But the truth is, sugar additives only end up making you feel worse in the long run.
In fact, people who eat an excess of sugary processed foods are more likely to experience clinical depression! According to an article published in Molecular Psychiatry, this is because excessive sugar messes with your brain’s neurotransmitters and causes inflammation.
Still not convinced?
Consider the following two studies:
1. While the first study focused on men, this second one is based on nearly 70,000 women. Researchers found that women who ingested the highest amounts of sugar were the most likely to be depressed. In contrast, women who took in very little sugar had the lowest likelihood of developing depression.
2. This first study spans over 22 years and includes roughly 8,000 people. After collecting data for over two decades, researchers found that men who ate 67 grams of sugar or more daily were 23% more likely to become depressed than those who did not. Now how’s that for grim?
Clearly, there is a strong link between foods and drinks with added sugar and the development of terribly difficult brain illnesses like clinical depression!
3. Sugary Foods & Drinks Are Terrible for Your Skin
When sugar engages with the protein in your body, your body produces Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs). These are compounds that help accelerate the aging process of your skin.
In other words, the more sugar you eat, the more likely you are to cause your skin to age prematurely. Since AGEs hinder the growth of collagen and elastin production, premature wrinkles and sagging definitely makes sense on a biological level! It’s always helpful to remember that your diet has a huge impact on your complexion.
4. Your Brain on Sugar: Understanding Powerful Sugar Brain Effects
When we consume sugar, the brain releases a “feel good” hormone called serotonin. Because we associate this feeling of happiness with the consumption of sugar, we often turn to sugar when we are sad and stressed. Frequently, we choose to consume sugar in the form of cake to receive that happy boost for times of celebration.
But Stop the Guilt Trip, Already!
Don’t even let that negative self-talk begin! Especially if you like to indulge your sweet tooth in unhealthy ways. On rare occasions, it’s okay. But rest assured that this is a common problem. And there are also easy-to-implement solutions!
At first, it seems weird that the brain and belly would be designed to crave something that turns out to be so toxic to the body. However, this actually makes sense when you look at it from an evolutionary perspective. Put simply, sugar cravings are an evolutionary survival method.
Understanding Sugar Cravings from an Evolutionary Perspective
One way to stop sugar cravings is by starting at the very beginning. In other words, educate yourself! Once you know what’s happening in your body and mind, it will be easier to create a plan to eat less and less refined sugar.
Without further ado, here’s an evolutionary perspective on sugar cravings:
Cravings are normal because the body converts carbohydrates and some sugars into glucose. Glucose is the brains’ preferred form of fuel. Since your brain needs glucose to function, it’s natural for the primitive part of your brain to produce a strong desire for sugar.
If we were still living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of our ancestors, then foods high in natural sugars would be a rarity. If you happened to stumble across a wild berry bush, you wouldn’t just nibble on a few berries. The brain would signal: “Hey! This is great fuel for me! I’m going to KEEP EATING.”
In this scenario, it makes sense for survival because you wouldn’t know the next time you had access to sugars and carbs. Of course a berry-gobbling extravaganza would commence!
Interested in learning more negative sugar health effects? Check out my list of “Recommended Reading” at the bottom of this post!
The Unpleasant Truth About Diet Soda Health Risks
Although diet sodas don’t technically contain sugar, they still pose plenty of threats to your health! According to one 2019 study, artificially sweetened diet sodas are deadly. And that is no exaggeration. Specifically, high consumption of diet drinks linked to a higher risk for stroke, heart disease, and all-cause mortality.
But this is just one of the many studies exposing diet soda health risks. In order to really drive the point home, I can’t help but mention just a few more examples:
- According to a joint study conducted by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, consuming two or more diet beverages daily correlates with an increased risk for clot-based strokes, heart attack, and early death.
- Additionally, a myriad of studies support a strong link between diet drinks and diabetes, dementia, and obesity.
FAQ: Does Coke Zero Have Sugar?
How to Stop Sugar Cravings:
An Easy, Effective Solution
Luckily, you can completely avoid these terrible health effects of sugar on the body. The following are some tips to help you stop sugar cravings:
1. Since your brain is craving entertainment in its reward centers (remember the dopamine and sugar being as addictive as drugs?), you can curb sugar cravings by activating your reward centers. The key here is to do it with something different than sugar. You can do this by exercising, sitting in a steamy sauna or tub, and also by distracting yourself with entertaining YouTube videos. In other words, do something that stimulates your brain.
2. Another tactic is to eat a healthy meal, if you are actually hungry. You can find helpful articles in our Clean Eating Recipes archives, our Easy Vegan Recipes for Beginners archives, and also our Pinterest Recipes boards.
3. Instead of artificially sweetened snacks, reach for naturally sweet foods like a handful of organic raisins or dates. Better yet, grab a handful of protein-rich almonds!
4. Another method is to eat an organic breakfast with nutrient-dense ingredients and complex carbs. I recommend checking out High Fiber Breakfast Foods for the Natural Energy Your Body + Mind Craves.
One breakfast that fulfills these requirements is all-natural Mu Mu Muesli. This delicious and healthy breakfast cereal contains absolutely no added processed sugars, and it never will!
Mu Mu Muesli contains absolutely no artificial sweeteners and never will.
The naturally occurring sugars in Mu Mu Muesli come from the organic raisins, organic dates, and cranberries sweetened with apple juice. Each of these contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals that slow down absorption and keep you full longer. The oats are complex carbohydrates that will keep you full until mid afternoon.
One of the best things about Mu Mu is that there are many ways to enjoy muesli. In fact, adding additional fresh fruit not only increases the nutritional value but also adds more variety!
5. Restrict your intake of artificial sweeteners. According to at least one reputable study, fake sugar substitutes like aspartame actually encourage sugar cravings!
Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” answer. It depends on your level of sugar consumption as well as your own unique biochemical makeup. However, according to multiple self-reports across the web, it tends to take from between 10 to 14 days to stop feeling the withdrawal symptoms of sugar.
Ready to Quit Sugar? Here Are Some Common Withdrawal Symptoms of Sugar
Like most vices, quitting sugar can cause some rather annoying side effects. Although this list is daunting, it’s important to remember that the symptoms will subside over time. Furthermore, you probably won’t experience all of them! Everyone is different. It also helps to remember that temporary discomfort is a small price to pay for a happier, healthier, more energized future!
Here are 10 of the most common
withdrawal symptoms of sugar:
- Mood changes, such as depression or anxiety
- Even more intense sugar cravings than before
- Difficulty focusing
- Excessive sleepiness or insomnia
- Feeling like throwing up
- Lack of energy
FAQ: How can I prevent headaches from sugar withdrawal?
In order to minimize headaches from sugar withdrawal, I suggest drinking plenty of water and eating lots of fruits and vegetables. You might also feel better after a gentle walk outside or a healthy, plant-based meal.
Interested in learning more tips when you’re wondering how to stop sugar cravings? Check out my list of “Recommended Reading” at the bottom of this post!
The First Easy Step to Curbing Your Sugar Addiction
Since so many processed foods we consume in our modern society have added sugar, it is inevitable that we will crave it. Understandably, we might even become addicted.
The first step is to keep refined sugars out of the house! The less you have it around, the less you crave it-you don’t even think about it anymore. Start reading nutrition labels and learn to be knowledgeable about all the sneaky names for sugar!
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