Sugar has become the latest scapegoat for the obesity crisis but why is it so bad for us? And what exactly happens to the internal workings of your body when you give up the white stuff?
In neuroscience food is seen as a ‘natural reward’. In order for us to survive as a species things like eating, having sex and nurturing others have to be pleasurable to the brains sensors in order for the behaviour to be reinforced and repeated. Of course, not all foods are equally rewarding - most of us prefer sweet over sour and bitter foods because in evolutionary terms a bitter taste meant the food was poisonous or not ripe. Sweet foods were more desirable to our scavenger ancestors as they indicated a healthy source of carbohydrates for their bodies.
However, modern diets have taken on a life of their own and it’s suggested that the average Briton consumes 238 teaspoons of added sugar every week which is a whopping 3787 extra calories.
Sugar addiction follows a similar pattern to drug addiction, prolonged abuse leads to a greater excitation of the brain’s reward pathways and an even greater need for sugar to activate all the receptors. Perversely the more sugar you ingest the more receptors shut down leading to a sugar tolerance which means even greater quantities are required to achieve the same ‘sugar high’.
When you remove sugar from your diet you can expect some side effects but these vary depending on the person and how much sugar was in your diet to begin with. Symptoms can include agitation, hunger, cravings, headaches and mood swings but none of them last for a prolonged length of time and once the cravings have subsided you will have a much more harmonious body.
Your body has an inflammatory response to sugar overload and coats the internal organs with water, fat and cholesterol to protect them. This build up of fat is associated with metabolic disturbances and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery.
Once you take sugar out of the equation the inflammatory response is no longer needed and, as a result your blood pressure and cholesterol levels will be under much less stress.
After a meal, your pancreas produces the hormone insulin which moves glucose around the body to be used as fuel. When this meal is high in sugar your body goes into overdrive to produce enough insulin to cope with the ingested glucose. If the glucose isn’t used for energy by the internal organs, your body uses insulin to store the glucose as fat because it would be dangerous for it to remain in the bloodstream long term.
Not only does this combination of excess glucose and insulin act as a fat storing accelerant, excess insulin rushing around your bloodstream will also inhibit fat loss. Your body naturally uses fat as a fuel, but insulin blocks its release - instead prompting the body to use the glucose available in the bloodstream. Hence, the age-old saying you can’t exercise away a bad diet.
When you stop eating food with high refined sugar content your body will return to it’s normal processes and will be free to use the fat you have stored for energy.
Excessive intake of sugar leads to an excess production of glucose in the body. This glucose means that your body holds on to water instead of using it to flush out toxins and hydrate your cells properly. This starves skin cells of hydration giving them a dull appearance and giving the skin, in general, a bloated look as the body holds retains water.
Sugar also causes your skin to age prematurely. The sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins in a process called glycation to form glycation end products known, ironically, as AGEs. As you eat more sugar these AGEs build up and use natural proteins like collagen and elastin which keep skin firm and elastic. Once damaged these fibres go from springy and elastic to brittle and dry - causing wrinkles and sagging skin.
When you cut refined sugar from your diet you allow your body to return to it’s natural flow meaning that water can pass through your body and hydrate all areas properly giving you rejuvenated, healthy looking skin and your naturally occurring collagen and elastin keep your skin plump and wrinkle-free.
As mentioned earlier, your body has an efficient and highly responsive system in place to deal with sugar spikes. So when your blood sugar levels rise quickly from a sugar filled meal your body rapidly responds which causes you to have a shot of energy as the glucose courses around your body. However, this is a case of what comes in must come down and your blood sugar level will plummet giving you a feeling of fatigue.
When you eliminate this blood sugar roller coaster your body is able to regulate itself much easier, using the food you eat to fuel itself efficiently resulting in increased energy levels.
We all know sugar is bad for us and hopefully now you understand why. Knowledge is power and knowing what sugar does your body and the benefits of giving it up will give you the power to make an informed decision about your diet. If you have any questions we’d love to help you out! Let us know in the comment section.