Learn Why You Should Cut Back on Sugar
Sugar – who doesn’t love it?
We all have our favorite sweet foods or sugary drinks, but we should be careful not to have too many of these. Sugar can be extremely damaging to your health!
There are a lot of reasons to reduce your sugar intake, from saving your teeth to boosting your immune system. Sugar is also one of your skin’s worst enemies as it can cause wrinkles and make acne and other skin conditions worse.
Harmful effects of sugar
1. It is bad for your teeth.
Sugar is directly connected to tooth decay. When you eat foods that contain sugar, these molecules combine with saliva and bacteria present in the mouth. The combination leads to the formation of plaque on teeth, which can turn into cavities if left untreated.
If you want to control bacteria and plaque on teeth, brush them as soon as possible after eating.
2. It affects your weight.
One of the top reasons to cut back on your sugar intake is because it can help you lose weight. A small amount of sugar contains a lot of empty calories. When you start reducing your sugar intake, you should begin losing weight.
3. Sugar Doesn’t Contain Nutrients
While sugar can be good for adding flavor to certain dishes, it doesn’t have any nutrients that your body needs. You won’t be missing out on important vitamins and minerals just by cutting out sugar.
4. It is harmful to Your Immune System
Cutting back on sugar can help give your immune system a nice little boost. Sugar adds to inflammation in your body and can make it harder to fight off infections, it can also play a role in cardiovascular disease. Less sugar means less inflammation and a stronger immune system.
5. It interferes with your concentration
Too much sugar in your diet interferes with your ability to focus, concentrate, and make connections between concepts. When you don’t have a lot of sugar in your system your memory and ability to learn are better and you will likely have more energy. One study even refers to this condition as “metabolic syndrome in the brain”.
6. It’s a Wrinkle Maker & Skin Wrecker
To better understand how sugar can affect your skin, you should know that eating an excessive amount of foods with a high glycemic index can lead to inflammation in the body, which also affects your skin. When you eat a lot of sugar, it goes directly to your gut and gets processed. Then, when it enters your bloodstream, it can lead to inflammation.
The inflammation caused by sugar and high glycemic foods produces enzymes that break down collagen and elastin. These enzymes are called Advanced glycation end products (ages) which attack your skin at the cellular level and cause a lack of elasticity, wrinkles, and can aggravate skin conditions like acne and eczema, as cell turnover slows down.
Eating foods with a high glycemic index raises your insulin levels, subsequently increasing the inflammation in your skin. And given the fact that inflammation plays a strong part in the formation of acne, you can end up seeing an increase in the amount of acne on your face.
In addition, diets high in sugar can cause some people to develop insulin resistance which can cause dark patches of skin on the body and cause excess hair growth (hirsutism).
If you have any inflammatory issues, including skin conditions like acne and eczema, it is better for you to avoid the intake of excessive sugar and high-glycemic foods, like white bread, soda, salad dressings, candy, and other baked goods with processed sugars.
One other benefit you can get from reducing the sugar in your diet is related to aging skin. Diets high in sugar may accelerate skin aging, by increasing the breakdown of collagen fibers in a process called glycation.
It can be difficult to estimate the acceptable amount of sugar you can take if you have a skin condition. However, you can follow the guidelines set by The American Heart Association which recommends to women no more than 100 calories per day, and to men a maximum of 150 calories per day.
If you want to improve your skin’s health by reducing sugar in your diet, start with:
- Recognizing “hidden sugars”. Sugar can go by very different names on ingredient lists, such as high fructose corn syrup, barley malt, and maltodextrin. So, learning how to read labels and recognize “hidden sugars” will be very helpful for you to avoid them.
- Replacing processed foods with natural foods. Processed foods like cakes, cookies, and candies contain a lot of sugar. Whenever you are craving something sweet, try to choose foods with natural sugars such as berries, fruits, sweet potatoes, carrots, and other whole foods. Swapping milk chocolate for dark chocolate is also a good idea, as this one has less sugar and additional health benefits (like antioxidants).
- Eliminating sugary drinks from your diet. This will make a huge impact. Sodas, fruit juices, cocktails, and energy drinks contain a lot of sugar which damages your skin. Try to stick to water, coffee, and tea instead.
Nowadays, many people are trying to reduce the sugar and calories in their diets by replacing them with artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes. These can be found in a variety of food and drinks marketed as “sugar-free” or diet”.
You may be asking yourself what exactly these artificial sweeteners are. Well, they are just one type of sugar substitute, which you can use instead of regular table sugar (sucrose).
The possibly confusing part is that some manufacturers call their sweeteners “natural” even though they are processed or refined. One example you may know is stevia preparations. There are, in fact, some artificial sweeteners that are derived from naturally occurring substances. Sucralose is one of them, as it comes from sugar.
So, we can distinguish between natural and artificial sweeteners.
Natural sweeteners are promoted as the healthiest option. However, even these may undergo processing and refining.
Some natural sweeteners are:
- Fruit juices and nectars. 100% fruit juice or nectar is a good source of nutrients like vitamin C and potassium, but too much of it is an extra source of sugar in calories, so you shouldn’t have too much of it.
- Molasses. It is a viscous substance that results from refining sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar. This type of liquid sugar is not as sweet as table sugar and it’s usually more viscous than other liquid sweeteners, like honey, agave syrup, and high fructose corn syrup. Molasses is slightly more nutritious than refined granulated sugar.
- Honey. It is another liquid viscous sweetener composed of glucose, fructose, polysaccharides (natural carbohydrates), water, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. Considering the calorie and sugar content of honey and sugar, the differences are minimal. However, honey contains more health benefits coming from its potential antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Maple syrup. It is a syrup usually made from sugar maple, red maple, or black maple trees. Pure maple syrup is less processed than other added sugars and it has more antioxidants and minerals than table sugar.
- Stevia. Stevia is a natural sugar substitute made from the leaves of the stevia plant. It is 100 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar and has no carbohydrates, calories, or artificial ingredients. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved the purified form of stevia, called stevioside, as safe to use. It is yet the only form of stevia approved. The products that are considered safe contain in their ingredient list words like stevia extract or Stevia rebaudiana. This means that you shouldn’t buy whole stevia leaves or crude stevia extracts as it is not approved. The FDA doesn’t have enough information about their potential impact on your health, specifically on your kidneys and cardiovascular system.
- Monk fruit sweetener. Monk fruit sweetener or monk fruit extract has recently become more popular as it is more readily available. It is natural, doesn’t contain calories, and is 100 to 250 times sweeter than sugar. This sweetener is extracted from monk fruit, a small round fruit from Southeast Asia. Chinese medicine has been using it for centuries but it was only in 2010 that the FDA approved its use as a sweetener. The sweetness of this fruit comes from its unique antioxidants called mogrosides. It is not clear how much monk fruit sweetener affects weight. However, there is research suggesting that low-calorie sweeteners may help with weight loss.
Natural sweeteners can be used at home and in processed foods.
Concerning their health benefits, they may seem healthier than sugar, but their vitamin and mineral content doesn’t differ that much. To give you an example, honey and sugar are nutritionally similar, and your body processes both into glucose and fructose.
Natural sweeteners are generally safe, but you should be aware of possible health concerns. Consuming too much sugar, including natural sweeteners, can lead to health problems like tooth decay, weight gain, poor nutrition, and increased triglycerides. Honey, for instance, shouldn’t be given to babies younger than 1-year-old. It can contain small amounts of bacterial spores that can produce botulism toxins.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes. They can be derived from herbs or sugar itself and are known to be many times sweeter than sugar. One attractive thing about them is you only need a fraction of it compared to the amount of sugar you would use for sweetness.
Artificial sweeteners are widely processed in foods, such as soft drinks, baked goods, candy, puddings, canned foods, jams, jellies, and dairy products. They are also available for home use, for baking or cooking.
Some health benefits of artificial sweeteners are that:
- They don’t contribute to tooth decay and cavities.
- They can help with weight control. They have virtually no calories. So, products sweetened with artificial sweeteners may be an attractive option if you’re trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain. However, it is not clear how effective they are for long-term weight loss.
- They don’t contribute to diabetes. Since artificial sweeteners aren’t carbohydrates, they generally don’t raise blood sugar levels. If you suffer from diabetes, ask your doctor or dietitian before using any sugar substitutes.
On the other hand, there are possible health concerns linked with artificial sweeteners.
Critics of artificial sweeteners claim that they cause a variety of health problems, like cancer. This comes from research done in the 1970s that linked artificial sweeteners saccharin to bladder cancer in laboratory rats. But according to the National Cancer Institute, there is no scientific evidence that any approved artificial sweeteners in the United States cause cancer or other serious health problems.
Studies have also confirmed that artificial sweeteners are generally safe in limited quantities. To reassure you, the FDA must review and approve any food additive, including artificial sweeteners, before it becomes available for sale. The agency has established an acceptable daily intake for each artificial sweetener.
When choosing sugar substitutes, don’t forget that they should be used only in moderation. Yes, they can help with weight management, but they may still contain calories. You should also keep in mind that processed foods often contain sugar substitutes and don’t offer the same health benefits as whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
Why is sugar so addictive?
Much research has come up showing that excess sugar could be as addictive as some street drugs and have similar effects on the brain.
When you eat sugar there is a release of opioids and dopamine in your body. That is the link between sugar and addictive behavior. This is because dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a big part in gaining addictive behaviors. This mechanism consists in experiencing a certain behavior that causes a release of dopamine associated with the feeling of a pleasurable “high”, which makes you inclined to re-experience it and so repeat the behavior.
When you eat a candy bar, its containing sugar turns into glucose in your bloodstream. Then, your blood sugar levels spike. What happens after is that your body moves the glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells for energy. In the meanwhile, your pancreas makes insulin which results in a drop in your blood sugar levels. The rapid change in blood sugar levels makes you feel eager for more sweets and the “high” that comes with it.
The World Health Organization advises people to reduce their intake of “free sugars” to less than 10 percent of daily calories. By doing this, you can lower the risk of becoming overweight or experiencing tooth decay. To clarify, “free sugars” include both natural sugars that you can find in honey and fruit, and processed sugars that are added to foods and drinks.
The bottom line:
Sugar can have more impact on your health than you might have thought. Hopefully, you understand the addiction mechanism of sugar and you don’t feel bad about loving it and craving it. We all do! Simply, make sure you include it in your diet in a balanced way and consider some sugar substitutes as healthier alternatives.