What is so BAD About Sugar?

My first article in this category, What is so BAD about Sodium, was a real eye-opener for many people. This week I’m going to try to accomplish the same with the next big hitter – Sugar.

History of Sugar

The history of sugar is rather intriguing. Back in the eighteenth century, sugar wasn’t available to just anyone like it is today. The extraction process of simple sugars from plants was a very difficult task and only the rich and noble could afford it.

Sugar was a luxury.

But things quickly changed with the invention of machinery that could drastically simplify the extraction process. Sugar quickly became the cheap commodity that it is today. It was also the ideal fuel for cheap labor workers in European factories and its consumption exploded as it became a household item.

That being said, it was also 200 years ago that doctors first noticed the negative effects sugar had on the human body.

Sugar Consumption

Back in the eighteenth century, the average individual consumed roughly 4 pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average American consumes a ridiculous 2-3 pounds of sugar per WEEK!

It also happened to be that back in the early 1900’s, cardiovascular disease and cancer were virtually unknown. Today, they are two of the leading causes of death in the US.

Maybe there’s some correlation here…

In fact, the American Dietetic Association and American Diabetic Association have both stated that sugar consumption is one of the three major causes of degenerative disease in the US.

I was surprised to find that there is no official Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) listed for sugar. Thankfully, the US Department of Agriculture advises that adults who eat a 2,000 calorie diet should not consume more than 40g of added sugar per day.

Note that 40g is roughly 10 teaspoons and that “added” refers to refined or processed sugars. There doesn’t seem to be a limit on natural sugars so if you get a craving for something sweet, grab some fruit.

A 240ml bottle of Coke contains 27g of sugar - that's already more than half of your daily recommendation!

What is so BAD About Sugar?

Sugar Addiction

Did you know that your brain uses half of all the sugar energy in your body?

Certain studies have found that sugar affects the brain chemistry in a way that causes addictive behavior – kind of like a drug.

It looks a lot like cocaine, but acts more like heroin when it hits the brain. It appears that sugar, and even the taste of sweetness, activates beta endorphin receptor sites in the brain – the same receptor sites activated by heroin.

No wonder you want another coke!

How Sugar Affects Your Body

I could write an extensive novel describing the thousands of negative effects habitual, over-consumption of sugar has on your body. But here I’m only going to discuss what I find to be the major issues.

Some scientists and researchers have classified refined/processed sugar as a poison. Maybe a little bit drastic but you can’t deny their reasoning. When consumed, sugar provides what nutritionists call “empty” calories – all vital, natural nutrients and minerals that were present in the original plant have been stripped away during the refining process. All that’s left is a highly addictive, body-damaging substance.

So what happens to your body when you consume sugar?

Let’s say you just chugged a can of coke. (Please don’t) The massive dose of sugar you just consumed races into your bloodstream and causes your blood sugar levels to skyrocket. Your body quickly triggers the release of insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels and keep them at a nice, safe level.

Now, let’s say you chug one can of coke every day (PLEASE don’t!). Your blood sugar levels go through one hell of a roller coaster ride causing your insulin levels to fluctuate accordingly.

But wait, doesn’t insulin also promote the storage of fat?

Let’s just say sugar won’t get you ready for beach season.

The liver can only hold so much glucose. When it reaches its max capacity, it releases excess glycogen back to the blood in form of fatty acids. These are then inconveniently taken to the most inactive areas of your body – butt, breasts, belly and thighs. (Not cool!)

If staying thin and sexy isn’t your thing, then hold on. Once those inactive areas are completely filled, those fatty acids are subsequently distributed to your active organs – you know, like your heart or kidneys (kind of important).

This guy should be more worried about the latter.

Here’s something I found really interesting.

We all know that when a cold strikes, our white blood cells are there to protect us. Like little soldiers, they will fight to the death to keep us healthy. So to help them out a bit, we arm them with some Vitamin C.

But then you eat something sugary.

As research shows, Vitamin C and glucose have a very similar chemical structure. It just happens to be that the same thing that controls the entry of glucose into the cells also controls the entry of Vitamin C into the cells. What this means is that the two will have to duel it out for which one gets to enter the cell. And the cell can only hold so much.

Long story short, if there is more glucose present, less Vitamin C will be able to enter the cell and so consuming excess sugar drastically weakens the immune system.

And that, my friends, is the real deal.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about a stuffy nose or cancer, the root is always going to be at the cellular level and excess sugar plays a big role.

How you can Fight Back

Understand the Glycemic Index

I think we’ve all heard of the Glycemix index – a simple measure of how a certain food affects blood-sugar levels. Each food item is assigned a numbered rating, with sugar being at the top.

The lower the rating is, the slower the absorption and digestion process and thus the slower the infusion of sugars into the bloodstream. A slower infusion of sugars into the bloodstream is a healthier infusion. For instance, complex carbohydrates have a lower glycemic index than simple carbohydrates and are thus easier on the body.

The higher the rating, the more quickly the sugar gets absorbed into the bloodstream and the faster (and more often) insulin is secreted to stabilize blood-sugar levels. These rapid fluctuations cause excess stress on the body.

How high and low rated foods affect your blood sugar levels.

Choose foods with a lower glycemic index rating. The Online Glycemic Index Database is a great resource to help you pick lower rated foods.

Learn to Read Food Labels

This was one of my big tips for sodium, but it’s a valuable tip for every nutrient. Learn how to read and understand the food labels.

NutritionData is a great resource for finding all the nutritional data on any food item. You can use the information here to analyze foods before going to the grocery store.

Eliminate the Junk

This is the easiest tip and the one you need to implement immediately. Go to your fridge and throw out every can of pop you can find. I’ll wait here.

Next, get rid of the juice.

Go to your pantry. Throw out all processed ‘goodies’. Anything that is in a box and is sweet needs to go in the garbage.

Use common sense. If it’s junk, throw it out and stay away from it. This is the easiest way to get a head start on the fight against sugar.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt about it – sugar makes our lives a little bit sweeter. But before you let your sweet tooth take over, remember that heavy consumption of sugar may lead to a bitter end.

Are you a sugar fiend? Do you have any interesting methods for lowering sugar consumption? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

23 thoughts on “What is so BAD About Sugar?”

  1. Great article on why sugar is so bad. The best thing I did was eliminate refined sugar for 6 weeks. It allowed me to really gain control of myself and eating habits. Now I only allow myself to indulge in sugar on the weekends. It’s a nice balance so I can still enjoy some nice tasty sweets and ice cream but it keeps me away from too much of it over the course of a week.

    1. Dave, eliminating refined sugars from your diet isn’t as hard as people may seem to believe. Personally, I think it’s important to be aware of the what you’re putting inside your body and the potential effects it can have. From there you can make more informed decisions. I think you’re doing a great thing and hopefully others can follow!

  2. Great article here, I think that sugar and carbohydrate have their place in our diets, but aren’t supposed to make up our diet. Like Dave and you said, eliminating sugar isn’t as tough as many make it out to be, and the benefits for me were completely worth it.

    1. Ahmed, I think eliminating sugar is more of a mental battle than anything. I think it’s simple in theory but when it comes down to the daily sugarless grind, people are quick to give up. Information is powerful, but without necessary actions it is useless.

  3. Hey, that picture above is me before I started intermittent fasting! 😉

    I think the advice to not eat anything that comes pre-packaged is good advice. Not so easy to follow all the time, but good advice. I am slowly starting to clean up my diet in between fasting. I can get lean through fasting but I still want to be healthy. Thanks for the info.

    -Kelly

    1. Haha I thought the guy looked familiar! But you’re absolutely right – cleaning up your diet is not easy. Even intermittent fasting becomes ineffective when you make poor decisions on your non-fasting days.

  4. It’s shocking finding how many foods have sugar. Practically everything that is packaged has it and so the question is, “how do I avoid it?”

    The best thing to do is avoid that which is sugar laced and some of those things are sodas as well as junk snacks. Making small changes by eliminating some of the most harmful foods will take anyone far in eliminating sugar from their diet.

    -Sam

    1. That is a difficult question to answer Sam, but I completely agree with your solution – begin by making SMALL changes. Eliminate the junk – this is by far the easiest step you can take. Throw out the foods you KNOW are loaded with sugar and that have zero nutritional value to add.

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. I was totally a sugar fiend in my early years. I still have a bit of a sweet tooth, but it is much more controlled. Just curious if you were a sugar dude or have you naturally been inclined to exclude it from your diet?

    The reason I ask is because I had a roommate in college that never ate sugar, but it was the way he was raised (he was ripped by the way). I used to rationalize that he was just lucky to look that way….but I started to notice his habits, and it started to make sense.

    Unfortunately my mother was a great baker and dessert was a big part of my upbringing, so I think I developed a sugar addiction quite early. Since I drastically reduced my refined sugar consumption I look a bit more like my roommate and that’s a good thing! Overconsumption of sugar is a silent killer….and a hard habit to kick….

    Thanks for the great post.

    Cheers,
    Jordan

    1. Thanks for the comment Jordan. I think, like all kids, I loved satisfying my sweet tooth back in the day. But things quickly changed when I had some health issues at the age of 13-15. I saw many specialists but it was a homeopathic dietitian that really helped me out. I was told to eliminate sugar from my diet and things started to change for me for the better. Ever since then I’ve stayed away from (refined) sugar as much as I can.

      So ever since the beginning of high school I’ve stayed away from refined sugars and maintained a lean frame – even to this day. Maybe there is some correlation there?

      I understand your point though – both my mother and my aunt are amazing bakers and it has taken A LOT of sacrifice and willpower to turn some of those goodies down. But in the end it was worth it for me. Over-consumption of sugar really is a silent killer, but I think becoming aware of the situation is a great first step.

      Thanks for the comment.

  6. Srdjan,

    Honestly, it’s the stuff like bread and pasta that I crave more than sweets. This can be dangerous because foods like this are just as harmful as sweets, if not more so. I just try to keep myself in check and do something similar to Dave where I restrict refined sugars and carbs to cheat meals, usually on the weekends.

    Alykhan

    1. Alykhan, I know others who have similar cravings. But I wouldn’t say that they are just as harmful as sweets. Bread and pasta are complex carbohydrates. They have a lower glycemic rating meaning that they aren’t absorbed as quickly as simple sugars (sweets). A slower absorption means less of a spike in blood sugar and thus less of a spike in insulin (to balance things out). This results in less stress on your system.

      Don’t get me wrong, complex carbs can cause a multitude of problems, especially when it comes to weight management. We just have to be aware of how these nutrients affect our body and learn how to moderate our consumption of both simple and complex sugars.

  7. I like your article. One of the first and most important steps to changing a habit is knowing and embodying why you must change that habit.

    Here is what I do to reduce sugar…

    [+] I combine*pure* stevia with 1/4-1/2 the amount of sugar. I find this combination to reduce the bittersweet aftertaste of the stevia, as well as give the lessor amount of sugar more mileage.
    [+]When possible, I replace sugar with xylitol, not because it is better for you calorie-wise, but it’ supposed to be good for your teeth. That can’t be said for sugar. I also still use a small amount of stevia.

    I have experimented with many combinations of herbal sweeteners from lo han kuo to blue agave extracts, and I find the the stevia/xylotil mixture to be the best combo for terms of low collateral damage vs. desired sweet effect.

  8. Really enjoyed the read, it’s not always easy to get the science type message across, especially when it’s not a fun one. Good job!

    I have a family member who is diabetic and it’s uncomfortable to see where sugar addiction (which so many people suffer from) ends up leading. It’s a shame that even the threat of disease won’t always work, and even if it would it’s often too late in the day.

    You really have to make a conscious decision to ditch it (great tips btw) and once you do it’s actually easy, especially when you start to notice just how bad you felt on your past high sugar diet!

    Michael

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post Michael. Diabetes is only one of the roads over-consumption of sugar can take you down. There are so many negative effects that you sit there and wonder what is it that’s driving them to continue this degenerating process…

      Like I mentioned to Ahmed above – it’s more of a mental battle than anything else. I think people need a reason to make a chance. If there is no source of motivation then there is nothing pushing them to act.

      I’m hoping this information will be the source of motivation that is required to take that first step to making a change.

  9. In addition to weight gain sugar also causes dental problem. Sugar does not have nutritional value only lots of calories. According to Princeton University Professor Bart Hoebel and his research team, rats were given sugar in high dosages and then denied it for a long period of time, during which they showed symptoms of withdrawal. Upon being reintroduced to sugar, the rats were shown to work harder to obtain it, and consumed it in higher amounts than they had before. Because rats and humans share similar genes, this suggests that humans also may find themselves addicted to sugar if they aren’t careful about how much of it they ingest daily.

    1. Thanks for sharing that Dr. Suarez. It kind of makes more sense why we crave sweets so much.

      Do you by chance have the link to the source of this study? I’d like to check it out in detail.

  10. I always see many bad things about sugar, sodium, wheat flour, gluten… I think the way out is produce what we eat. Wish i could have a place to plant, know everything i put into my body.

    The problem is the food industry, today they don’t care about quality and health, they just think the cheapest way to produce, and many times we don’t have a choice.

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