I’m not one who typically makes New Year’s resolutions. I’ve always felt they were kind of silly, and besides, a lot of people don’t stick to them anyway… especially unattainable goals, like losing 30 pounds in two months. But this year, after eating more sweets than I ever thought I possibly could, (in addition to overall non-stop gluttony over the holidays), I decided to make a resolution: to cut back on my sugar/dessert intake. Not cut it out completely, but cut back.
More and more research is showing just how bad sugar is for our health. And… how addicting it truly is (and I know all about that… I eat something sweet after every meal).
In the 90s, fat was the enemy and low-fat/fat-free foods were EVERYWHERE. The problem was, sugar just replaced the fat in the foods, and obesity rates skyrocketed. After the “fat-free” experiment failed, carbs became the evil macronutrient and diets like Atkins (a diet that almost eliminated carbs completely) were all the rage. Sure, lots of folks lost weight but we know now that not all carbs are bad. Now, in 2016, it seems like sugar is the nutritional “bad guy,” and from what I’ve learned, rightfully so.
New research is showing just how harmful sugar is for our bodies… and many of us consume way too much of it. First of all, it’s hard not to. Sugar (in its various forms, like high-fructose corn syrup) is found in a lot of foods, especially processed foods (naturally-occurring sugar found in fruits isn’t included and not nearly as dangerous). First of all, sugar fuels cells in our brains, and our brains “see” sugar as a reward; therefore, we crave more of it to get that “reward” (hence, the addiction). Sugar actually causes the brain to release dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter) and after time, you require more and more of it to satisfy your craving. It’s almost the same reaction as if you were taking a street drug.
In addition to those listed above, there are lots of other ways sugar can wreak havoc. So here’s a look at what sugar does to our bodies, besides give us the “sugar high” and insulin spike (which leads to fat storage), and then blood sugar crash, which makes us hungry again.
Sugar raises the risk for diabetes. One of the scourges of modern day life, type 2 diabetes is caused by poor diet and lack of exercise. When we eat too much junk food (including sugar), our bodies essentially become “immune” to insulin and thus require more and more of it to regulate blood sugar. This is called insulin resistance, which is a precursor to full-blown diabetes. And diabetes is a very scary disease. It raises your risk for heart disease and stroke, among other things.
Sugar is often stored in our organs as fat deposits. Ever heard of fatty liver disease? Well, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused when sugar triggers your liver to store fat more efficiently (which we DON’T want), and it’s often stored IN your liver! Not a good thing.
Sugar can make you feel hungry when you aren’t. In turn, you end up consuming more calories, which of course can lead to weight gain. It messes with the hormone leptin, which tells your body that you’re full and to stop eating. So you still feel hungry even though you’re overeating.
Sugar doesn’t give you much energy. I mentioned the “sugar high” previously, and that’s what it is. A very temporary spike in blood sugar that quickly falls, which in turn makes you feel sleepy. Having a candy bar for a mid-afternoon snack is simply a BAD idea. It won’t keep you full and will zap your energy!
High sugar intake has been linked to depression. One study in Public Health Journal found a link between a high intake of fast food and sugar and depression. So while initially eating the second or third helping of dessert might make you feel good in the moment, it might not keep you so happy in the long-term.
Too much sugar can affect your skin, so you’ll look older. And no one wants that! Sugar causes your body to create molecules that attack proteins in your body, including collagen, which keeps your skin soft and supple and firm. Too much sugar can cause your skin to prematurely sag and wrinkle.
So with all of those harmful effects, it’s an easy choice… CUT BACK ON THE SUGAR! First thing, pay attention to the sugar content in your drinks. I never drink regular soda drinks (and diet isn’t much better but that’s a topic for a separate article), I limit my fruit juice intake and don’t use sugar in my coffee. Watch out for smoothies too.. there’s often a surprisingly high amount in seemingly “healthy” drinks, including sports drinks. Read the nutritional labels of everything you buy… and pay close attention to how many grams of sugar are in each serving. And simply cut back on the amount of sweets you eat.
This resolution is going to be tough for me to keep… I have the BIGGEST sweet tooth of anyone I know. But I do know that after reading about all these horrible effects, it will be easier than I thought. I’ve decided to eat just small pieces of chocolate after meals (I prefer Weight Watchers pre-packaged candies, which have around 50 calories each), instead of a cupcake or large cookie. Hopefully by reading this, you’ll join me in cutting back on the sugar for better health!