Sugar has now firmly replaced fat as the number one diet enemy; carbohydrates in particular are seen as the devil in disguise. Is this just another fad celebrity diet craze or is there some truth to extracting our sweet tooth? In all honesty, and according to recent, cutting edge research, giving up sugar is the single most health-promoting thing you can do.
It is estimated that if everybody would give the white temptation a miss, the worldwide population would be healthier than if everyone stopped smoking! If you’re ready to abandon the white stuff and replace it with ‘natural’ sweeteners such as processed honey, fruit syrups containing fructose, snacking on copious amounts of dried fruit instead of sweets – think again! Mark Hyman MD, the chairman of the Institute of Functional Medicine once wrote an article for The Huffington Post, pointing out that calling sweeteners like corn syrup ‘natural’ would be similar to calling tobacco in cigarettes a natural herbal medicine! One considerable hurdle to overcome when quitting sugar is the addiction we develop to that white powder in the kitchen cupboard. In animal-based research, rats showed a greater dopamine-based reward response to intense sweetness than to cocaine. We are up against a force of nature and slaying our own sugar demons is no easy feat. I sincerely hope that the following ten reasons to give up sugar will instil enough willpower into even the most unmotivated individuals.
1 – we’re eating unnaturally high amounts
A pint of fizzy drink contains 17 teaspoons of sugar. Our cavemen ancestors (and therefore whose bodies we have inherited today) were accustomed to 20 teaspoons of sugar a year. Does it really come as a surprise that excessive sugar consumption will lead to health complications? By the way, anything more than 25 grams of fructose (equivalent to 2 ripe bananas) a day is considered excessive!
2 – it’s involved in metabolic syndrome & diabetes onset
In order to transport sugar out of our bloodstream and into our cells we need insulin. The more sugar we consume, the more insulin production and release is required. Chronic high levels of insulin lead to a condition called hyperinsulinaemia, which can lead to Type II diabetes. This scenario is just the tip of the iceberg and long before a diabetic diagnosis we can feel and see the effects of raised insulin levels.
3 – it has an androgenic effect in women
Only slightly elevated insulin levels can prompt the conversion of testosterone to its metabolite dihydrotestosterone or DHT. Too much of this androgenic hormone can have particularly disturbing effects on women. It is thought to be the main culprit of excess hair growth and anovulation we observe in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
4 – it messes with the male steroid hormone DHT
Excessive DHT should not be considered an advantage in our male readers and friends either. DHT should only be high during puberty, initiating important sexual changes like descending of the testes and maturation of sperm. Once the male specimen has reached sexual maturity, DHT should fall and stay low for the rest of his life. DHT levels above normal during adulthood can be a contributing factor to erectile dysfunction, male pattern baldness and enlargement of the prostate.
5 – it’s oestrogenic
High insulin in response to a high sugar diet can promote other, more drastic changes in the male physique. Insulin favours the conversion of testosterone to oestrogen and while many enjoy dressing up as the Ugly Sister on a stag do, actual enlargement of male breast tissue is no laughing matter!
6 – it elevates ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol
We have all grown up with the staunch believe that saturated fat elevates cholesterol and causes heart disease. In more recent times, we discovered that neither total cholesterol nor even consumption of saturated fats are predictors of cardiovascular disease, but that, more specifically, LDL (or VLDL) cholesterol is the ‘bad’ guy and sugar might be the very agent to make its levels peak. Overweight women who suffer from hormonal disturbances, elevated blood sugar and high insulin also often show an undesirable lipid profile in blood tests. The combination of these symptoms is often called Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X and the sweet nothingness seems a likely suspect in a still somewhat mysterious condition.
7 – it accelerates ageing
Sugar, or more specifically glucose, should long have been on the naughty step for those few women (and it really is the minority!) who are concerned with premature ageing, blemishes, wrinkles and other signs of deteriorating youth. Any excess glucose literally caramelises proteins in your body to form Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs). These AGEs dramatically accelerate the ageing process, spewing free radicals and effectively causing damage to cells and DNA.
8 – it increases inflammation
If you are suffering from an inflammatory condition such as arthritis or eczema, you might have already noticed considerable worsening after a sugar binge. Glucose, or more accurately, elevated levels of insulin actively shift the conversion of anti-inflammatory compounds from fish oil to pro-inflammatory chemicals. Washing down your capsule of highly anti-inflammatory omega-3 fish oils with a glass of orange juice (7 ½ teaspoons of sugar) might not be such a good habit to keep!
9 – it’s addictive
Sugar is an addictive substance just like alcohol, nicotine, cocaine or some prescription medication. Just because the consumption of sugar is not illegal does not mean that the habit is easier to kick! Dopamine is our pleasure hormone and it is released in response to intense sweetness (both natural and artificial). The more sugar and sweet tasting foods we eat, the harder it will get to reach a dopamine high. Your brain will start demanding more and more of sweet evil and your taste buds will become less sensitive. Breaking the sugar addiction can be just as difficult as giving up smoking but it is an essential step towards a healthier life!
10 – it comes in many disguises!
Do not, under any circumstances, replace table sugar with ‘healthy’ alternatives such as date syrups or processed honey. Don’t be fooled into believing that ‘natural’ sugars like fructose in fruit are harmless and I do hope I don’t have to outline the dangers of artificial sweeteners! In many ways, fructose and especially high fructose syrups found in most processed foods are far more dangerous and damaging than good old white sugar. In order to break a habit we have to stop looking for supposedly guilt-free replacements. Nicotine patches might keep you from reaching for a cigarette but they do not solve the actual addiction! Our taste buds need retraining and it is a wonderful surprise when finally, after several challenging weeks of sugar withdrawal, you realise how naturally sweet a red pepper is in taste!