Sugars have snuck their way into 74% of our food supply. Thanks to the addictive properties of sugar (even more so than cocaine) food manufacturers want you to keep coming back for more so adding sugar makes that pausable. Sugar also makes food taste more palpable by making food less bitter or less sour. While consuming some added or non-calorie sugars are not necessarily bad, the quantity in which we do, is. The recommended daily intake for sugars is less than 25 grams for females and 30 grams for males. According to the American Heart Association, the average American gets 77 grams of added sugar per a day which adds up to 60 lbs of added sugar a year. Considering every 4 grams of added sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon, that is around 19 teaspoons or a little less than ½ cup of sugar A DAY. Next time you find yourself in your kitchen, I dare you to find something containing added sugar and divide the grams by 4 and then measure out those teaspoons using either table sugar or salt to visualize exactly how much sugar that is.
How does Sugar Affect Your Body
- It’s no secret that people love to eat foods high in sugar, why? Because they taste good and make us feel good, but only temporarily. Sugar releases dopamine in our brain, which is the chemical that plays a huge role in how we feel pleasure. When large amounts of glucose are in the blood, this can make us feel jittery and energized like a sugar “rush,” but this effect only lasts a short amount of time and then causes a drop in mood and productivity.
- Destroys our gut microbiome. Bad bacteria feeds off of added sugar and can actually make you crave more sugar causing more bad bacteria to take over and starting a bad cycle for your gut. If you feel that you need a major gut reset, check out this 7 day gut reset guide!
- Sugar is an inflammatory that, when consumed in excess, leads to joint pain and can damage the keratin and elastin in your skin, increasing the effects of aging. Too much sugar consumption can also harm your liver if large amounts of fructose and corn syrup have to be broken down and eventually stored as fat. Your pancreas creates insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels, so if the pancreas becomes overworked and stops responding to insulin this can lead to type 2 diabetes, which then affects the health of your kidneys that filter out the waste in your blood. When consumed in excess, sugar affects just about every part of our body and is a huge culprit when it comes to weight gain and diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Added vs Naturally Occurring Sugars
As of 2020, nutrition labels have to differentiate added sugars from natural sugars (see picture below comparing the old vs new label). An added sugar is defined by the FDA as sugar that is added during processing, cooking, or before the food is eaten. This includes refined sugar (white sugar), honey, maple syrup, rice/corn syrups, agave, coconut sugar, concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. It does not include non caloric sweeteners such as stevia, splenda, artificial sweeteners or naturally occurring sugars such as lactose or fructose in unprocessed foods such as fruit, vegetables, or in plain dairy products.
Wait, I thought it’s ok if I trade out my refined sugars for honey, maple syrup, agave, or coconut sugar?
Sugar is sugar is sugar. Your body doesn’t know the difference between white table sugar or honey. All sugars are around 4 calories per gram, honey, agave and maple syrup being closer to 5 calories per gram due to them being more dense than their dry counterparts.
OK, what about non-nutritive sweeteners (ie the splenda and the stevia)?
The market continues to be flooded with new and improved low-calorie sweeteners, but are these the trick to reducing our intake of added sugar? Splenda, or sucralose, is about 600 times sweeter than table sugar and it maintains its properties under high heat, making it a great sweetener for baked goods. Most of this compound is not absorbed by the body, meaning it provides zero calories. The idea of foods being zero or low-calorie is extremely popular in the world of dieting and weight loss, but there’s a couple of catches.
First, once you consume a calorie free sweetener, your taste buds signal to your brain that it needs to get your body prepared to accept the sweetener and turn it into energy to be used to run your body. Except since there were no calories, your brain/body gets confused by the lack of energy and can make you hungrier instead, completely undermining any weight loss strategies you might have had. Also in the long run, these calorie free sweeteners don’t help with taming down your sweet tooth.
Secondly, the FDA reported that, in studies of mice, consumption of sucralose showed minor genetic damage and that these substances could cause slight mutations in the human body due to carcinogens. According to a research article on pubmed, an extensive study on lab rats found that healthy gut bacteria was significantly reduced after the consumption of sucralose. Overall, these zero-calorie sweeteners seem like a good option at first, but their long term effects on health are not fully understood, so as they may not increase calorie intake, they could also lead to other health-related issues.
Non-nutritive or zero calorie sweetness hide in the ingredients list past the generic names you may know, ie stevia or Splenda, as sucralose , acesulfame k, aspartame, saccharin, advantame, puravia, enlighten, neotame.
Why are sugars found in fruits ok, I heard those would make me fat?
First, all carbohydrates – fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, grains, even quinoa, dairy products, etc. have some sort of sugar in them to fuel our body and make sure our brains continue to function. Basically, fruit is 100% not an enemy and if available, should be eaten daily, if not 3x a day. The foods just listed contain micronutrients and fiber (which is only found in carbohydrates) that you would have a hard time getting from any other macronutrient. The benefits outweigh any sort of fear that may be lingering about fruit or potatoes. Also because these foods have fiber in them, they take longer to break down in your body releasing the sugars slower so that you stay full and fueled longer.
Where Sugar Can Hide
Sugar sneaks its way into just about every processed food you can think of, to the point where it’s difficult to find products in your pantry with zero added sugar. It’s not hard to believe that there is lots of added sugar in sweet foods such as candy, soft drinks, and baked goods, but there is even sugar added to savory foods as well like bread, pasta sauces, and ketchup, so it’s important to be mindful of the foods you put in your body, even if you don’t expect the food to be loaded with excess sugar.
Join Nutrition Preferred’s 10 day sugar detox starting March 22nd – March 31st (right before Easter celebrations start!). Why 10 days? Research has shown that some of your taste buds regenerate every 10 days so the hope is that either natural sugars start to satisfy your sweet tooth so you cut back on added sugar going forward and/or when you do eat added sugar, it tastes extra sweet so you eat less. Your gut microbiome can also start to change within 3-5 days of a change in diet but will do wonders after 10 days. What does NP’s sugar cleanse include? 10 days worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, grocery store lists, and recipes that are completely added sugar free. We will obviously be doing the cleanse at the same time so you’ll have support through instagram to stay motivated and be able to ask any questions you may have along the way.
Go here to sign up!