I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the world is truly obsessed with sugar. In fact, the 2011-12 Australia Health Survey findings found that on average Australians are consuming far more than the World Heath Organisation’s recommended 10% of dietary energy from free sugars.
What are free sugars, you may ask? Well, according to accredited dietician Kiara Carmody, “Free sugar mostly comes from added sugar in processed products, as well as honey and fruit juice. The most common foods contributing to the higher than recommended sugar intake are ‘discretionary’ food and drinks like soft drinks and energy drinks, fruit and vegetable juice and drinks, cordial, cakes and muffins.”
So, if you’re guilty of tucking into the communal office cookie jar or smashing a Red Bull or two come your 3pm slump, you may be at risk. “The World Health Organisation’s sugar recommendation is set at 10% of energy intake to reduce the risk of diseases associated with high sugar consumption, like obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease,” says Carmody.
OK, so we know that too much sugar is bad news (no surprises, really), but what would happen if you were to give it up all together? Today’s added sugars are sneaky. In ways that drugs of abuse like nicotine, cocaine and heroin hijack the brain’s reward pathways and make users dependant, increasing evidence suggests that sugar is just as addictive.
According to Prevention, the ‘withdrawal symptoms’ you will experience off sugar are totally dependent on your sugar habit, but research has found that those who have a seriously sweet tooth can show addict-like symptoms including anxiety, restlessness and even depression.
The benefits of at least cutting down on sugar, however, far outweigh the negative side effects. Here are some of the best reasons for doing away with the sweet stuff.
#1 You’ll Keep Your Heart Happy
According to research conducted by a cardiovascular research scientist St. Luke’s Mid-Atlantic Heart Institute in Kansas City, “the predominant sources of sodium in the diet, processed foods, are also generally high in added sugars, the consumption of which might be more strongly and directly associated with hypertension and cardiometabolic risk.” The study found that a reduction in the intake of sugars, would help not only to curb hypertension rates, but might also help address broader problems related to cardiometabolic disease.
#2 Your Skin Will Improve
Struggling with wrinkles or a little adult acne? Well your sugar intake isn’t helping. According to dermatologist and nutritionist Dr. Nicholas Pericone, when you ingest sugar your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which raises your insulin levels. Simple carbohydrates, like refined sugar, white bread and soft drinks, cause your insulin levels to spike, leading to what Dr. Pericone referred to the Huffington Post as “a burst of inflammation throughout the body.” Apparently, inflammation produces enzymes that break down collagen and elastin, resulting in sagging skin and wrinkles. Digested sugar permanently attaches to your collagen through a process called ‘glycation’, which can further exacerbate skin conditions like acne and rosacea.
#3 You’ll Avoid Diabetes
Binging on sugar promotes the buildup of fatty deposits around your liver, contributing to insulin resistance and wrecking the hard work your pancreas is doing. In a study of sugar consumption in 175 nations, Robert Lustig, MD and author of ‘Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease’, found that eating 150 calories of added sugar is 11 times more likely to contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, compared with 150 calories from protein or fat.
#4 You’ll Stop Feeling Hangry
Apparently, one of the main symptoms of quitting sugar is being cranky, and it’s not much of a surprise considering how addictive the sweet stuff can be. A Columbia University study found that women who eat a diet high in added sugars and refined grains are more likely to experience anxiety, irritability, and mood swings…and we can only imagine it would be much the same for men. Plus, you won’t be feeling so hangry if you’re reaching for handfuls of fruit and vegetables instead of a chocolate bar at lunch time.
#5 You’re Memory Can Improve
On the 6th day of quitting sugar, Fast Company‘s Michael Grothaus said “The fogginess began to disappear along with the lingering headaches. The fruits I were now eating on a daily basis began tasting sweeter. By day 8 or 9, I felt more focused and clear-headed than I had at any time in recent memory.” According to nutritional therapist Rebecca Boulton, Grothaus was experiencing a high because “[His] blood sugars are balanced without the constant roller coaster of sugar highs and lows…which reduces your brain fog and increases mental clarity.”
#6 You’ll Sleep When You’re Supposed To
Did you know that blood sugar issues are said to be the second leading cause of insomnia? By ditching, or cutting down on sugar, particularly before bed, you’ll avoid a rise in blood sugar levels that keep you up all night. You’ll also avoid the sugar crash that ensues. According to Nutrition Secrets, this drop causes the body to release hormones to regulate glucose levels, while also stimulating the brain – something that can easily wake you up. By avoiding this pattern of rising and falling sugar levels, you’ll be sleeping like a baby.
#7 You’ll Lose Weight
It’s an obvious benefit from staying away from sugar, but if you’re looking to shed a few kilos, this could be key. Sugar is void of nutrients and crowds out other nutrient-dense food that your body needs to thrive. It also doesn’t fill you up or satisfy your appetite, leaving you hungrier an hour later. Finally, excess sugar consumption can spike your blood sugar out of the normal healthy range, causing you to feel hungry, have mood swings, store excess fat or end up with Type 2 Diabetes.
So quitting sugar sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? It’s no easy feat, though. Sugar isn’t just found in obvious culprits like cakes, candy and soft drink. It’s in healthier-sounding staples like salad dressing, pasta sauce and yoghurt, as well. So how can we change our sugar intake and get clued-up on those sugar-coated pantry devils?
“The ideal way to eat healthily would be to follow the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, which recommends eating mainly from the 5 food groups: grains and cereals, vegetables and legumes, meat, fish and poultry, dairy and fruit, and to have discretionary choices like alcohol, chips, lollies and soft drinks in moderation,” says Carmody. “If a diet is too high in these discretionary choices, it reduces the room for food from the main food groups, which all serve a different purpose to provide essential vitamins, minerals, fibre, carbohydrates, fat and protein.”
Might seem like common sense, but if you’re watching your waistline, it might be a good idea to stray from the sweet-toothed status quo and monitor your sugar intake.