Since January 2017 I have been ‘refined sugar free’. I have unknowingly made a couple of slip ups (thanks Baxters for changing your lentil and veg soup recipe), but I have tried my best to not consume anything that has sugar as an added ingredient.
I had already, long before this, begun my quest to a much healthier lifestyle and reduced the amount of junk food and sugary snacks I was consuming, but I was probably still eating a small amount of chocolate daily and a sugar filled pizza takeaway once per week.
Plus we had ‘treat night Friday’ when we’d have this pizza delivery and then gorge on chocolate and crisps for the rest of the evening. The very thought of it now makes me feel a little sick to the stomach!
So what’s the problem with refined sugar? It’s something I will address and make clearer in this blog post.
What’s wrong with refined sugar?
I’ll be honest. I never felt great when I ate junk food or junk snacks. Sure, they tasted good as I ate them and I craved them, but soon after I always felt guilty for eating them, stuffed and usually a bit sick.
I started to question why I always continued to eat these foods if they had such negative after effects.
I’m sure if I ate a banana and it made me feel like that, I’d stop eating bananas. Yet with junk food I always wanted to eat it again, even with the bad feelings!
Sugar is addictive
The problem is, it’s all addictive. Junk food and high sugar foods are addictive. You’ve probably seen the headlines claiming sugar is as addictive as cocaine and I believe it is. In fact I think some headlines go as far as saying it’s even more addictive than cocaine. I don’t doubt it. You’ll realise this if you cut our anything with added sugar in. You crave it for days! Sometimes even weeks. It’s serious. It’s an addiction and it’s ruining the health of humans all over the planet as we eat the wrong foods day in day out.
I started seeing more headlines about sugar and started researching myself. It sparked something inside me and after watching Robert Lustig’s Sugar: The Bitter Truth video, I realised not only is it addictive, but it’s a poison too. It’s processed the exact same way in our body as alcohol and yet I stopped drinking alcohol as I didn’t want poison in my body. I want only the healthiest foods in my body and I want to be in as healthy a state as possible.
Sugar causes so many issues in our body. I’m not talking about natural sugars; those are sugars that are naturally present in foods. I’m talking about added sugars to foods, namely refined white sugar which is added to all sorts of foods (you wouldn’t believe) and we also sprinkle it over our cereals, mix huge quantities into baking and sweeten our tea with it. That stuff. That is the stuff that I believe is pure evil and causing no end of problems with people’s health today.
I’ll admit, even unrefined sugar is addictive and bad for you
At first I just concentrated on cutting out refined sugar. I stopped buying anything with it in and I cook almost everything from scratch using fresh veg and I make my own sauces with tomatoes and spices, for example. At first I thought unrefined ‘natural’ sugars were fine such as agave syrup or coconut sugars, but even those are addictive and not as good for you as the health companies make out. I discovered Booja Booja ice cream for example which is delicious, the best ‘sugar free’ ice cream I’d ever found, but shortly after I found its main ingredient is agave syrup which is filled with fructose. The one reason I was trying to avoid refined sugars. Yet agave is often touted as a healthier alternative to refined sugar! It’s a minefield.
Basically I’d now say any added sugars are bad. Naturally present sugars are good for you. Fructose in whole fruit is fine. It’s in small quantities and it’s in the presence of fibre and everything else so it’s broken down and released slowly. Our bodies can deal with the fructose naturally found in fruit. Added or ‘free’ sugars are let’s say, loose. They are not still in their original state and have been extracted and singled out. So they are released straight into the bloodstream when consumed, meaning they’re metabolised straight away, can overload the body with too much sugar at once and cause sugar spikes in the blood. It doesn’t matter where this sugar comes from, I think they’re all bad. In 2017 I cut out refined sugar only, but for 2018 I’m going to reduce and cut out all added sugars.
The only benefit to natural sugars such as coconut sugar, agave syrup and honey being they do contain some minerals and vitamins, so they’re better than regular table sugar for that reason. They also have a lower Glycemic Index in most cases which can be healthier. But, they still contain fructose which is the problem.
A great article from one of my favourite websites: Agave Nectar: A Sweetener That is Even Worse Than Sugar
The many problems of refined sugar
If you’re wondering why you should cut down your refined sugar intake (and many other sugars) then here are several reasons to inspire you:
Refined sugar is an ‘empty calorie’, but don’t let that term fool you into thinking it’s good for you. It can still cause weight gain and provides no health benefits at all. There are no vitamins or minerals. Below are all the reasons these empty calories are not good calories at all.
Don’t be fooled by ‘fat free’ labelled food products. Chances are, if they’ve taken the fat out that gives it a great taste, then they’ve replaced the fat with sugar instead. The sugar will bulk it up, make it taste great and make it addictive, because of course, they want you to crave it and want more so they can make more money. Problem is, ‘fat free’ doesn’t mean you’re not going to put weight on. If it’s full of added sugar then your body converts and stores this sugar as fat if you don’t burn it off or use it as energy quick enough. So fat free labels are really misleading, particularly to those trying to lose weight. it’s much better to eat a diet rich in healthy organic wholefoods full of fruits and vegetables, than ‘fat free’ processed foods.
It is possible to get non-alcoholic fatty liver disease from eating too much sugar (and fat). As the sugar is converted to fat if excess amounts are consumed and not used, as explained above, this can put your internal organs at risk as they become surrounded by fat and even contain fat when they shouldn’t. The liver should contain zero or very little fat. It’s estimated that up to 1 in every 3 people in the UK has early stages of NAFLD with small amounts of fat in their liver (source). Fat in the liver is also linked to an increased risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It’s not something to be taken lightly.
Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
Consuming excess fructose has been linked to insulin resistance, which in turn can cause type 2 diabetes, obesity and even cancer. Studies have tested giving people excess fructose can cause a 28% rise in insulin resistance in just 6 days! (source)
Sugar can cause and feed cancer
Whether it causes it directly is a topic of hot debate, but if your body is constantly overloaded with sugar and battling to metabolise it, using all its resources, I can see how something else might start and the body can’t deal with it. Insulin is also a hormone that regulates growth and so causing insulin resistance through excess sugar intake means you’re at higher risk of developing cancer. (source)
Amazingly the Cancer Research website claims the links between sugar and cancer are a myth, yet there are numerous studies that have found a link. Though their article mainly focuses on glucose. This study, however, claims that cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose which increases proliferation. Pretty scary stuff, considering almost 100% of fructose under normal circumstances is metabolised in the liver only.
This study finds a link between sugar consumption and breast cancer and also claims the sugar industry tried to suppress the findings. If you start looking, you’ll find lots more studies too. Sometimes it seems the large corporations or those that should care about our health give us the wrong advice.
Bad for teeth
This is probably one of the very first dangers of sugar we learn from a very young age. It’s bad for our teeth. Sugar from foods and drinks causes harmful bacteria to feed on the sugars in the mouth which produce an acid that can damage tooth enamel. If the enamel develops a hole this is called a cavity and without treatment it can penetrate past the enamel and into the tooth causing pain and discomfort and probably a tooth needing removal.
Leaves less room for healthy foods
If you’re eating too much refined sugar, then chances are your diet is pretty poor and you’re not making the right food choices. You’re choosing a chocolate bar over fruit or cake over carrot. You could be crowding your body with too much of the bad stuff and not enough of the good stuff, meaning you’re missing out on vital nutrients and antioxidants that your body needs.
It can cause anxiety and depression
‘Sugar interrupts the supply of important neurotransmitter precursors through the blood-brain barrier – and particularly ones that help produce serotonin and dopamine, which influence mood.
Too much sugar can increase the risk of anxiety and depression due to a mix of energy rushes after ingestion followed by subsequent sugar crashes.’ (source)
Consuming sugary foods is linked to high blood pressure. Shockingly, 1 in 4 UK adults has hypertension and though people have been advised to cut out salt for years, they probably should have been cutting out sugar instead. A study of 74 men with increased fructose intake for the duration showed their blood pressure to rise. (source)
The problem with sugar being addictive is it means we crave it and over indulge in sugary foods, which can lead to all the above health problems. Sugar causes dopamine to be released in the brain which gives us feelings of pleasure. The problem is our brains become desensitised to dopamine with ‘use’ and so to get that same feeling of pleasure we need more and more. Just like how drug addiction works. I don’t want to be a slave to something and addicted to something which is then out of my control. Do you?
Added refined sugar causes so many health problems like the above and then some. It’s best to seriously reduce your intake or consider quitting it all together to safeguard your health now and for the future.
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