Sugar tastes good and, especially to those who consume it regularly, is extremely tempting. But there’s nothing sweet about the effects it has on your health. Sugar has been linked to a whole slew of health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, tooth decay, accelerated aging, and more. This is bad news, given that the average person consumes hundreds of extra calories each day from added sugars.
It’s true that banishing sugar from your diet means doing without some of your favourite treats, scrutinizing food labels, and cooking more of your own food – but the payoff in improved health and vitality is well worth it. Check out these 15 great reasons to ditch sugar immediately.
Have you ever eaten a chocolate bar or a muffin, only to find yourself craving something sweet an hour or two later? Many people believe that sugar addiction is an emotional disorder, but, in fact, it’s a biological disorder driven by neurotransmitters that make you crave sugar. When you consume sugar, your body releases serotonin and beta-endorphin, both of which elevate mood and lower anxiety. It should come as no surprise that you’ll crave this lift again and again – and this is the foundation of any addiction. It’s a vicious cycle, but the good news is that when you stop eating sugar, the cravings will stop after a while.
We spoke to practicing psychologist DR Steven Rosenberg of quititnow.com who told us: "Sugar activates the opiate receptors in our brains and affects the reward/pleasure centre, so we actually feel pleasure. This feeling is very addictive. When we eat sugar the enzymes in our bodies break it down to glucose. The glucose is then released into our bodies. The pancreas monitors the amount of glucose and releases insulin to control the sugar level. If the body stops producing insulin, then the result is diabetes. Keep sugar intake as low as possible. Read labels as almost everything contains sugar."
Sugar makes weight loss (and even maintenance) difficult in a couple of different ways. For starters, it encourages you to eat more because of the addiction cycle mentioned previously. But this isn’t the only way sugar causes weight gain. Excess sugar consumption forces the pancreas to produce more insulin than normal, the result being that other hormones, such as those which regulate weight and metabolism, are neglected. An imbalance in these systems can cause mood swings and fatigue, both risk factors for overeating. The body also produces cortisol when stressed, and over time, cortisol encourages the creation of excess belly fat. As you can see, there’s more to the sugar-weight link than just too many empty calories.
Studies may not conclude that sugar directly causes cancer, but what the research does say definitively is that sugar indirectly causes cancer by promoting obesity, a well-known cancer risk factor. It’s important to note that the body can’t tell the difference between white sugar, brown sugar, and honey as regards body weight or insulin response – all of these forms of sugar provide lots of calories with little nutritional value. Foods high in sugar, such as desserts, sweetened cereals, and fizzy drinks clearly contribute to obesity and, by extension, to cancer risk.
When most people think of heart health, they think of managing their intake of salts and fats. However, sugar may be just as bad for your heart. Diets that are high in sugar have been linked to an increased heart disease risk. Too much sugar can cause elevations in blood triglycerides and reductions in “good” HDL cholesterol. The World Health Organisation recommends that individuals drastically lower their sugar intake to reduce the risk of heart disease as well as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
It’s impossible to avoid sugar altogether because foods such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products contains certain amounts of naturally-occurring sugar. These natural sugars, such as fructose and lactose, are essential components of any well-balanced diet. But the typical diet contains far too much sugar thanks to packaged items such as cereal, fizzy drinks, and snack foods. And when you consume sugar in excessive amounts, the result is weight gain, heart disease, mood swings, and, yes, type 2 diabetes. All types of added sweeteners cause blood-sugar spikes and contribute to weight gain – and both of these events contribute to decreased insulin sensitivity (insulin resistance) and diabetes.
In the digestive tract, sugar is broken down into two substances: glucose and fructose. Glucose is necessary for life; if you don’t get it from food, your body will produce it. Fructose is another story. Your body doesn’t produce it, and there’s no biological need for it. Fructose is potentially problematic because the liver can only metabolize it in certain amounts. If the liver becomes overloaded, it is forced to turn the fructose into fat. And fatty liver is a serious problem with all sorts of health ramifications. If you’re inactive and eat too much sugar, the liver suffers even more (since exercise helps the liver process sugar). One important note is that this does not apply to the naturally-occurring fructose found in fruit. It’s almost impossible to ingest too much fructose by eating fruit.
Remember your parents telling you that sweets were bad for your teeth? They were right! When you eat /drink sweets or drink fizzy drinks or juices, the sugar combines with the bacteria that are naturally always present in your mouth. This combination produces acid that damages the teeth. Fizzy drinks are particularly bad because it not only contains lots of sugar, but it also contains citric and phosphoric acid. When it comes to your teeth, less sugar is always better.
It’s largely a myth that high-sugar foods are cheaper to buy and eat than healthy, natural foods. True, it may not cost much upfront to buy a five-kilogram bag of sugar, and products that contain added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, such as fizzy drinks, tend to be cheap. But sugar comes with a lot of hidden expenses. For starters, sugar prompts you to eat more, so you’ll spend more money on food – and more money on clothes when you gain weight. Also, people spend billions on diet products, exercise equipment, and gym memberships every year. And it’s not just money you’ll spend; you’ll also spend more time in the dentist’s chair and the doctor’s office. That’s because sugar causes numerous health problems, from tooth decay and gum disease to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Adding a little bit of sugar can make a healthy food taste better (such as a teaspoon of honey in a little Greek yogurt). However, foods containing sugar too often have little to no nutritional value, such as fizzy drinks, sweets, and cakes. If your diet is too high in sugar, you’re probably replacing healthy, nutrient-rich foods with those that offer nothing but calories. When you cut back on added sugars, you can make better use of your “calorie budget.” Make those calories count with foods such as vegetables, fruits, lean meats, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. These foods protect your health while giving you all the energy you need.
It’s natural and normal to enjoy sweet-tasting foods. Fresh fruits (when available) and certain vegetables such as carrots have always provided a source of natural sweetness. But when we eat a typical high-sugar diet full of packaged foods with added sweeteners, our taste buds become accustomed to sweet foods and beverages. Even foods that weren’t sweet in the past are now, such as meats (with seasonings and glazes) and breads. These foods along with other sugary products such as chocolate bars and fizzy drinks “spoil” your taste buds so that fresh fruit doesn’t taste as sweet or satisfying anymore. You may be hard-wired to like sweet foods, but you can make sure you’re choosing foods with natural sweetness and high nutritional content instead of junk food.
Do you want your skin to be smooth, healthy, and young-looking? If so, sugar is not your friend. The studies are controversial, but there is evidence that sugar may cause acne, whether directly or indirectly. High-sugar diets may promote acne and breakouts because sugar causes inflammation in the body, and skin problems are often one symptom of this. Furthermore, sugar may break down collagen and elastin in the skin, resulting in a loss of skin firmness and elasticity. Avoiding added sugar can help you minimise visible signs of aging.
Many people who cut back on their sugar intake are surprised to discover that their mental capacity increases and they feel “sharper” throughout the day. This is partly because you become better able to focus, and your memory and work performance are likely to improve when your blood sugar and energy level remain more stable and constant. Spiking and dropping blood sugar cause you to feel sleepy and ‘foggy’. A less obvious reason your mental clarity improves when you quit sugar involves your liver and pancreas. These two organs work much harder to metabolize excess sugar, exhausting energy reserves that would have otherwise been available for various uses throughout the body. The bottom line: Sugar makes you feel sluggish and tired, physically and mentally.
Many cases of insomnia and other sleep problems are caused by blood sugar issues. Consuming sugar and refined carbs, especially right before bed, causes a rise in blood sugar levels that can keep you awake for hours. And there’s more: following every rise is a drop, and this drop causes your body to release hormones that regulate glucose levels and stimulate the brain. This can cause you wake up easily. When you avoid this pattern of spiking and dropping sugar levels, your sleep improves significantly. If you need a snack before bed, try some whole grain carbs such as oatmeal. These promote quality sleep by maintaining consistent blood sugar levels and increasing serotonin levels.
Most people are familiar with the mid-afternoon energy slump, and many reach for a can of fizzy or a latte to combat it. Sure, these drinks give you a quick energy boost, but just as quickly, that energy drains away. You’re left tired, irritable, and craving another boost. When you need energy, healthy fat is a much better source than sugar, because fats are the most energy-dense nutrients. In today’s world, however, most people have developed the habit of reaching for sugar when they need pick-me-ups. But sugar burns very quickly and often leaves you more tired than you were before. If you’d prefer to see those frustrating energy highs and lows disappear for good, replace the sugar in your diet with healthy fats, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates.
One final reason you should “quit” sugar is because sugar is practically everywhere. Even if you completely avoid all added sugars all the time, you’ll still gain all the sugar you need from fresh, whole foods. Sugar hides under a multitude of names on food labels, including fructose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, fruit juice concentrate, lactose, sorghum, sorbitol, maltodextrin, mannitol, turbinado sugar, and many more. Even more nutritious sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, and molasses all still contain the same thing: sugar. So if you aren’t actively trying to avoid added sugar, chances are you’re consuming way too much of it.
Remember, you don’t have to have a sweet tooth to overdo it on sugar. The body breaks down bread, pasta, chips, and other starchy snack foods into simple sugars just like sweets, with the same health-harming result. Try cutting sugar out of your diet for a few weeks and see how you feel. The first few days can be tough, but the payoff is finally being free of sugar and healthier and happier than ever.
Despite the benefits we’ve learned about protein powders, not all of them are keto-friendly. Just like any product for people on a low-carb diet, you need to read the label closely to make sure you’re not consuming added carbs and sugars.