At this time of year, when bags of leftover Halloween candy and gifts of cookies and homemade treats are seemingly everywhere…does your sweet tooth get the best of you? Do you find yourself reaching for another mini candy bar, even though you know you shouldn’t? You know they don’t make you feel great, but something compels you to keep eating them.
You might be somewhat relieved to know, it’s not your fault! Did you know sugar can “hijack” your brain? How does this happen? And more importantly, what can you do to get your willpower back? Read on to learn how sugars affect your body and mind.
Sugar addiction is real, and as it turns out, sugar causes the dopamine pathway in the brain to light up. This is the same pathway that is activated by food, positive social interaction, drugs, and sex. The dopamine release creates a feeling of pleasure that motivates you to repeat the event that caused the release. Thus, your body begins to desire and seek out the euphoria you experienced by that first bite of a candy bar. Further research indicates there may also be a dopamine pathway in the gut. Consider the idea that each time you eat sugar, your brain AND your gut begin to work against your willpower. How does that change your outlook on treats?
You might be saying to yourself, OK, but is it really that bad to just have one piece? Perhaps not, but the fact is, most of us are unable to stop at just one piece. In fact, there is research showing that people living with obesity can experience a loss of sensitivity to dopamine. The result is that they must consume increasing amounts of sugar to achieve the same high over time.
Other Negative Effects of Sugar
Most of us are aware that High Fructose Corn Syrup gets much of the blame, but why? Fructose is a sugar that occurs naturally in most fruits and some vegetables. High Fructose Corn Syrup, however, is a concentrated form of fructose that doesn’t contain any of the co-constituents that are found in the fruit. Its effects on the body can include Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, increased triglycerides, and the accumulation of Visceral Fat, which accumulates in the abdominal cavity surrounding the organs.
Complex carbs, like those found in vegetables like squash and sweet potatoes, feed our good gut bacteria. They encourage the increase of beneficial microbes, which in turn discourages the proliferation of bad microbes. But refined sugars and processed carbohydrates, like those found in candy, soda, cookies, and pastries are fuel for the harmful pathogens in your gut. They also promote an inflammatory state in the gut. The resulting dysbiosis has harmful effects on your immune function and contributes to chronic inflammation. This research outlines the negative effect of refined sugars on cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, altered platelet function, and much more.
So now that we’ve thoroughly vilified sugar…what’s the alternative? Artificial sweeteners abound in processed “diet” foods, and we are often told these alternatives are “diet-friendly” or “healthy”. These may include:
- Aspartame and neotame (NutraSweet or Equal)
- Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
- Acesulfame-K (Sweet One)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
These artificial sweeteners are hundreds or sometimes thousands of times sweeter than real sugar, and they often claim to help aid in weight loss. But research tells us that not only do they not aid in weight loss, but they may also actually lead to weight gain. Some artificial sweeteners have been linked to altered neurological function, hormone disruption that increases your appetite, and gut microbiome changes. At Body in Harmony, we do not encourage the use of artificial sweeteners.
If you are looking for a concentrated source of sweetness, a few natural sweeteners may be a better alternative:
- Stevia: This green herb is gaining popularity lately, but not all forms are created equal. Look for a version that is pure Stevia and has no filler ingredients. There is evidence that Stevia may have hormone-mimicking effects, so extensive use may not be tolerated by some individuals. Stevia is a non-caloric sweetener.
- Monk Fruit: This sweetener comes from a fruit native to Southeast Asia. It may also have a range of health benefits, such as being anti-inflammatory and lowering blood sugar and total cholesterol. Again, look for a pure version free from added fillers. Monk Fruit is also a non-caloric sweetener.
Please note, natural sweeteners may create stress in the body by not providing the sugar spike your body expects when consuming sweet foods, but this effect needs more research. If you choose to use one of these natural sweeteners, we recommend that you moderate your intake and that you pay close attention to how your body may react to the sweeteners.
Whole, Natural Sugars
Ultimately, we believe that whole, natural sugars are the best choice if you need to sweeten your food. Raw honey, maple syrup, and molasses naturally contain many vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and health benefits. Used within reason, they can give us the sweetness we crave without being just empty calories.
Phasing out your sweet tooth
Many individuals would benefit greatly from phasing out their use of sugars of all types. Those suffering from Insulin Resistance can see improvements in their quality of life by cutting out the sugar. Insulin resistance is essentially carbohydrate intolerance, meaning more insulin is needed to metabolize the carbohydrates you eat. For Type 1 Diabetics, less sugar consumed equals less insulin used. Insulin causes you to store fat, so the more you use, the more likely you are to gain weight. If you have Type 2 Diabetes, your medications can work more efficiently when they don’t have sugar to compete with. Patients that have been diagnosed with SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) should avoid all added sugars until their dysbiosis has been repaired. Those looking to lose weight may also benefit from cutting out sugars.
If your body is accustomed to regular sugar intake, it is not recommended that you “quit sugar” suddenly, as you may experience withdrawal symptoms. A person wishing to phase out their use of sugar may benefit from a Sugar Detox. At Body in Harmony, our nutrition staff can guide you on reducing your sugar intake, while replacing that sugar with sustained energy sources that will contribute to YOUR good health. Contact our office to schedule a nutrition consultation today!
Note: All dietary changes should be done in conjunction with a Licensed Healthcare Provider.
The statements made only in this Blog are meant for educational purposes only, were not evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and are not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Please consult with your Licensed Healthcare Provider before starting any supplement or dietary program.