I hate to feel like I'm calling someone out all the time...but truthfully, SUGAR deserves to be public enemy number 1. Or put another way, our ABUSE of sugar deserves to be called out and explained.
Earlier this year, the USDA released their new dietary guidelines which recommend that folks consume less than 10% of their total calories from added sugars (however they still seem to recommend low-fat and avoidance of saturated fat...more on that in another post). Reducing sugar intake is definitely a step in the right direction since these guidelines have such an impact on how dietary programs are run throughout this country.
Additionally, this article reported that according to Google trends, "low sugar" diets are starting to become more popular in searches than "low fat" diets. That's definitely a win!
However, the media and public love to demonize: first it was fats, then it was carbs...and now it seems to be sugar. So I do hope this is not another trend...but at least this one is legitimate. Plus, sugar ISN'T an entire macronutrient, which are all necessary for our survival - protein, fats, AND carbs! You don't need to try and get a certain amount of sugar each day.
What's so bad about sugar anyway?
#1. Added Sugar contains NO essential nutrients.
"So what? I didn't think I was eating sugar because I was getting vitamins and minerals."
Perhaps that is true, but this is dangerous because your BODY is seeking nutrients from the foods that you eat. This is why you may have heard the term "empty calories" in the past. Love it because its 100% true!
Sugar provides no protein, no fat, no vitamins, no minerals...it is just pure energy. Energy is great, right?
Not when the energy doesn't come packaged with other nourishment. When someone eats a large part of their calories without any substaintal nutrition, it leads to nutritional deficiencies, especially in this case of very important minerals like magnesium and zinc.
For example, according to nutritiondata.self.com:
If you are looking to lose weight or improve your health, the truth is you can't afford to eat calories that do not nourish your body at the same time.
#2. Added Sugar leads to Insulin Resistance...and many other diseases.
Understanding how this process works in the body is really critical...and doesn't have to be overly complicated.
Insulin is the hormone in your body which regulates the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. It is produced by the beta cells of your pancreas.
When you eat carbohydrates or something sweet, like sugar (whether it is calorie-dense or not), insulin is released to escort the glucose to where it is needed. Glucose will be directed to a few different locations in your body:
Your brain or red blood cells for immediate use
Storage in your liver (as glycogen) *limited space
Storage in your muscles (as glycogen) *limited space
Storage as fat (adipose tissue) *seemingly unlimited space
Let me put this in a way that may make more sense to you...since most of my readers are women, let's chat about shoes :)
Let's say your closet has a shoe rack (seriously, wouldn't you die if you had this one pictured?!). When you first purchase your shoe rack, it may not be completely full, but as you continue to buy shoes, the rack continues to fill up and eventually will be at max capacity...unless you get rid of some old pairs of shoes. OR you just keep buying and piling the shoes on top of one another or stashing in other parts of the house and you end up with a big mess. #dontiknowit
So let's apply that situation to glucose and insulin! The more carbohydrates you consume, the more insulin you need to help find space for the glucose to go. Eventually, that space runs out in your bloodstream, your liver, and your muscles (the shoe rack is full). When your body doesn't use up the carbohydrates that you eat (through exercise/activity) and there is no more storage, the glucose gets converted and stored as FAT. And while we have limited space for carbohydrate/glucose storage (the shoe rack), we have an unlimited amount of space for fat storage (under the bed, in other closets, the garage, etc). In our bodies, however, it ends up as triglycerides or adipose tissue (body fat).
Don't mistake that carbohydrates are the enemy here. This is a natural process for the body but with TOO MUCH carbohydrate and too little nutrition, this becomes a big problem. With the proper amount and nutrient-dense carbohydrates (like the sweet potato listed above), this becomes a healthy process for the body.
So what is insulin resistance?
IR happens when your body stops responding appropriately to insulin, meaning there is an abundance of glucose in the bloodstream, which leads to chronically high blood sugar. The body gets confused because remember, insulin SHOULD be removing glucose from the system. So the pancreas keeps pumping out insulin in an attempt to lower the blood sugar levels...this can lead to burn-out of the beta cells in the pancreas and result in other diseases like type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.
#3. Added Sugar causes weight gain and obesity.
"In 2000, each American consumed an average 152 pounds of caloric sweeteners... That amounted to more than two-fifths of a pound—or 52 teaspoonfuls—of added sugars per person per day in 2000." (Resource).
Although these numbers are from 15+ years ago...let's chat about them. From a caloric standpoint, there are over 800 calories in 52 tsp of sugar. And remember what we discussed in #1...sugar is just energy, NO nutrition. And in #2, we discussed how glucose transforms into fat when there is no more storage available...and I assure you that we are not nearly active enough to metabolize over 800 calories of pure sugar each day with our more sedetary lifestyles.
Imagine eating 2000 calories a day...800/2000 or 40% is going to come from pure sugar/carbohydrate - no nutrition?!? No wonder we have so many health & wasitline issues!
Sidenote, I was surprised to find a stat that stated, "In 2012, Americans consumed an average of 765 grams of sugar every 5 days, or 130 pounds each year." (Resource) This averages to be around 600 calories of added sugar a day! (Still ugh!) But a decrease...
The math teacher in me also begs to remind everyone that this is an AVERAGE. I do NOT eat 600 calories of added sugar a day...which means that someone else out there is making up for my deficient...meaning they are getting MORE than that.
This is a natural transition to understanding why added sugars would cause weight gain, specifically as fat. Although, I truthfully cannot JUST blame the consumer...Points #4 and #5 explain why it SO HARD in our culture today to avoid these sugars.
#4. Added Sugar is hiding in your food.
Knowing how to look for added sugars is one of the most beneficial results of completing the 21-Day Sugar Detox. Whether you make it through the 3 weeks or not, I teach my participants how and what to look for when trying to find added sugars in their food products. Many participants in my groups become frustrated in the beginning, "Why is there sugar in my taco seasoning?!?" - "UGH, why is there Sugar in EVERYTHING!" And I don't blame them!
But I'm all about teaching and awareness, and once you learn it, it is hard to "un-learn" it (and hopefully you make better choices in the future!)
Sugar is hiding in just about every packaged product (okay, maybe like 80%?!) And it doesn't have to be "sweet" to be in there...spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, wheat thins, barbeque sauce, salad dressings...you name it!
Watch this short video about it:
#5. Added Sugar is just as (if not more!) addictive than drugs.
This was one of the statistics that just shook me to the core...because as I've written in my story, I honestly felt I was addicted to sugar in the past. When I realized that was intentional, I was angry. I always felt it was a lack of self-control or willpower...which was somehow easier for me to accept since that would have been my fault. The fact that it was deception and calculated realllllly made me upset.
In this research study, they found that SUGAR and COCAINE stimulate the same area of the brain.
"Our research supports the theory that high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do. It may explain why some people can't resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them." (As a side note: Oreos were used in the above experiment because "We chose Oreos not only because they are America’s favorite cookie, and highly palatable to rats, but also because products containing high amounts of fat and sugar are heavily marketed in communities with lower socioeconomic statuses.”)
We have made it so hard for ourselves. The grocery store is overwhelming...the number of choices, the claims on the packaging...and now we have products that are just as addictive as drugs.
We are declaring war on ourselves.
An alcoholic can avoid the bar and alcohol, a drug addict can avoid hang-outs where drugs may be used, but a food addict? Well, we have to eat. That's one of the reasons it's so difficult to break free of this sugar monster.
Breaking free of sugar is not only amazing for your health, but it's fantastic for your mind, your waistline, and your life. It's not JUST about giving up sugar...it changes your whole relationship with food to one of nourishment and appreciation. When you remove added sugar, you are left with real, whole foods (for the most part) and you start to really fulfill your bodies needs vs just caving to your immediate wants.
This is why I'm a huge fan and certified coach for The 21-Day Sugar Detox but also love other programs that remove surgar (like JJ Virgin's The Sugar Impact Diet, and Dr. Mark Hyman's The Blood Sugar Solution). I don't care HOW you get sugar out, just that you do it!
live life well,
nutritional therapy consultant
21-day sugar detox certified coach
co-host of the ladies dish podcast
content coordinator for diane sanfilippo