Image by Jennifer Pallian via Unsplash
Anyone who knows me, knows I love me some sweets. Butter tarts and mini eggs, and iced cappuccinos. Donuts and ice cream and fresh apple strudels. Brown cinnamon rolls topped with cream cheese icing – These are a few of my faaaaaaaaavourite things!
But alas, the time has come for me to say auf wiedersehen to the sugary delights. We all know that sugar just ain’t good for you. But until I started looking into what exactly to change in my diet, I didn’t realize just how bad sugar really is.
What it is, and what it isn’t
Sugar doesn’t start off as the familiar white crystals we sprinkle on our Cheerios. Far from it. The white stuff is the super-refined, highly processed product of (most commonly) sugar cane and sugar beet.
I remember being in Haiti. We were driving east from Port-au-Prince to a small community called Anse-a-veau. I enjoyed people-watching during the drive. Often I would see children walking around chewing on these greenish-brown stalks. I asked our interpreter what they were eating. His response? Sugar cane.
Call me naive, but that’s when I realized the sugar we eat is processed beyond recognition from its natural source.
So anyone claiming sugar is a “natural” food, might want to reconsider their statement. Cocaine is “natural” too. But it’s the processing and how very concentrated these substances are, that makes both of them dangerous.
How bad can it be?
Robert Lustig, leading expert in childhood obesity and pediatric hormone disorders at the University of California, San Fransisco, School of Medicine considers sugar toxic, a “poison” if you will, and has even been quoted saying that high-fructose corn syrup is “the most demonized additive known to man.” (Watch his lecture here).
A little extreme don’t you think?
There is sugar in the birthday cake we baked for our child’s birthday. It’s present in the frappucino you just got from Starbucks. Not to mention in ketchup, salad dressing, mayonnaise, and all of the add-ons you don’t even consider as sugar. So to call it toxic, is that not going a little far?
The price of sweetness
Image by Viktor Forgacs via Unsplash
The more I research this topic, the more confident I am in my diet choice. I’m cutting out the sugar. There is too much of a price to pay for all the sweetness that sugar brings.
Our dentists have been telling us for years that too many “sugar bugs” can rot our teeth. Ration your Halloween candy kids. No one wants tooth decay. And it’s common knowledge that sugar and candy are empty calories and will help you gain wait. Okay got that – but toxic? A poison? Surely you can’t be serious? (I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley!).
Obesity. Too much sugar can make you fat. Sorry for being blunt. How does this work? Sugar is high in calories but contains no proteins, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre etc. Eating sugar can displace foods that are high in these elements, thus causing nutritional deficiencies. The added calories serve only to increase weight gain.
Diabetes (type 2). According to WebMD, obesity can cause insulin resistance. The job of insulin (a hormone created by your pancreas) is to turn glucose from your food into energy. Insulin resistance occurs when your cells are no longer able to use insulin like they should. You can see how this could cause a problem. Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes include fatigue, mood issues, thirst and excessive urination, numbness, blurred vision and wounds that just won’t heal.
Liver Damage. The calories from sugar are metabolized differently than calories from other foods. Fuctose in sugar is metabolized primarily from the liver, whereas glucose is metabolized by every cell in the body. This means more work for your liver. When you drink sugar, say in pop or juice, it will hit your liver fast, causing it to work ever more quickly. The extra stress can seriously overload this important organ, and opens the door for liver damage.
Heart Disease. Diabetes and heart disease are intertwined. As the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases puts it, “Over time, high blood glucose from diabetes can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and blood vessels. The longer you have diabetes, the higher the chances that you will develop heart disease.”
Skin Conditions. The effects of too much sugar consumption are extensive. The folks at Prevention.com explain what it can do to your skin:
Sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. These unwanted invaders attack nearby proteins, damaging them, including protein fibers in collagen and elastin, the components that keep your skin firm and elastic. The result of too much sugar? Dry, brittle protein fibers that lead to wrinkles and saggy skin.
There’s more! AGEs promote the growth of fragile collagen and deactivate your body’s natural antioxidant enzymes. This opens the door to more sun damage, which, as we all know, also damages and ages your skin.
Cancer. I’ve read through the research on this, and it’s not to say that sugar causes cancer exactly, but rather sugar exacerbates other problems, which can lead to cancer. For example, having constantly elevated insulin levels (worsened by sugar consumption) can lead to cancer. Inflammation can lead to cancer. Metabolic problems associated with sugar consumption can worsen inflammation.
Highly Addictive. This makes sense for me. I’m a bit of a sugar junkie (okay, more than a bit) so I understand this one well. Your so-called sweet tooth may actually be the result of massive releases of dopamine (the neurotransmitter that control’s the brain’s pleasure centre). In the same way abusive drugs work, sugar causes the release of dopamine and makes you feel happy, happy, happy. Authourity nutrition puts it like this: ”
For this reason, people who have a susceptibility to addiction can become strongly addicted to sugar and other junk foods
The “everything in moderation” message may be a bad idea for people who are addicted to junk food… because the only thing that works for true addiction is abstinence.
In my research, these are the harmful effects that popped up again and again. There are more that I read about, but these are the ones that had solid peer-reviewed studies backing them up (see in-text links).
What am I to do without sugar! I feel like I might go through withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, I’ve found some alternatives.
- Fruit. I love fresh fruit. Fruit smoothies, fruit salad. Fruit in my cereal, or on my pancakes. So I’m going to be sure to stock my fridge with an abundance of fresh fruits to counter any sugar fix.
- Raw honey. Though honey is still a sugar (80% by weight), it will be my alternative for cooking and baking, as well as a tasty teaspoon in my evening tea. I emphasize raw honey as opposed to pasturized and processed honey. It’s straight from the bees, and, in limited amounts, is not without benefits. I actually get mine from a farmer down the road so I trust where it comes from. (This being said, if you go to town and cover everything in honey, your body won’t be too happy. It’s still a type of sugar – just unprocessed).
- Dates. I ate dates when I was pregnant to try to induce labour. I remember trying to choke them down. Yuck. However, when used in cooking or baking – so delicious! I just made date spread for toast and some chocolate-date energy bites that are to die for.
Some of you might ask, what about maple syrup? Agave nectar? Fruit juice? Sugar substitutes (stevia for example)? Organic cane sugar? Well guys, the honest truth is that these are all processed, all refined in some way, and are all still sugar. Just because cane sugar is organic doesn’t mean it’s better for you. And maple syrup needs to be boiled down 30:1 before you get that sticky sweet Canadian icon. So for these reasons, all these options are off the table (pun intended) for me.
I’m also not going to just sit with a massive bowl of fruit and just eat that. I intend to add more vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds to my diet too. You know what they say, variety is the spice of life.
Do you have any great sugar-free recipes you would like to share with me? Post them below in the comments section!