Depression, chronic disease, addiction—these are words you might not identify with sugar.
But it’s true, sugar has a bittersweet reputation when it comes to health. Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy. Plant foods also have high amounts of fiber, essential minerals, and antioxidants, and dairy foods contain protein and calcium, which balance out the natural sugars.
Since your body digests food slowly, the sugar in them offers a steady supply of energy to your cells. Meaning, the right sugars (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) are necessary for our bodies to function properly and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
Processed sugars are everywhere and in everything
In the US, processed sugars can be found in soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. But added sugars are also present in items that you may not think of, like soups, bread, cured meats, and ketchup.
A study published in 2014 by JAMA Internal Medicine found an association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease. Over the course of the 15-year study, participants who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories as added sugar.
It’s not completely understood how sugar affects heart health, but it appears to have several indirect connections. For instance, high amounts of sugar overload the liver, since your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat. Over time, this can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease, contributing to heart disease and diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2020 a shocking 26.9 million people were diagnosed with diabetes in the US.
Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease. Excess consumption of sugar, especially in sugary beverages, also contributes to weight gain by tricking your body into turning off its appetite-control system, because liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories from solid foods.
The sugar addiction is real
We’ve become addicted to the sweetness of sugar. Sugar confuses our brain’s reward pathways by spiking dopamine, releasing opioids, making users dependent, increasing neurochemical and behavioral evidence, and showing that sugar can be just as addictive as nicotine or cocaine. Scary, right?!
Ready to kick the sugar habit?
It can be done! With The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) food protocols such as the Core Food Plan or the Elimination Diet, you can reduce your sugar intake. However, withdrawals and cravings can trigger relapse and impulsive eating. Working with a Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach (FMCHC) can help guide and educate you throughout the process, so you can learn to kick the sugar habit for good, and regain your health!
Published: October 29, 2021