Sugar, slow poison

Are you a sugarholic?

There is no doubt that most of us cannot resist something that tastes sweet.  So why is it that humans have this craving for sweetness, so much so that some people actually become addicted to it?

How could we not? It’s sweet and makes basically everything taste better. If you’re one of the many people who have tried to cut back on sugar, you know how difficult it can be. Some people may even experience withdrawals. This is all due to the fact that when we eat sugar, an overstimulation of the reward centers causes us to become addicted to it.

Reality Check

Sugar, in all its concentrated forms white or brown, is dangerous because when highly refined it can easily be consumed in great quantity.  When eaten as whole sugar cane, as the cane cutters do in the countries where it is grown, the natural fibre content means that one cannot eat much of it and it is absorbed slowly in the human gut.  However, when the sugar cane is refined to make crystalline sugar it is absorbed extremely quickly with no natural appetite check and is therefore all too often eaten in excess.  To equal the amount of sugar in say two teaspoons of crystalline sugar added to a cup of tea or coffee, one would have to eat two whole apples. Excess glucose (the form in which sugar is ultimately absorbed) is converted into body fat.  Over consumption is thus the principal cause of the widespread obesity, which inevitably occurs in populations eating refined carbohydrates, and unfortunately, along with obesity goes diabetes.

What Happens when we eat excess sugar?

When we eat foods high in sugar, the reward centers of the brain are activated. At the same time, a large amount of dopamine is released. This is what makes eating sugar feel so good. When we eat high-sugar foods often, we develop a tolerance, which in turn requires us to eat more sugar to get that same level of reward. Over time and with an overstimulation of those reward centers, we develop an addiction to sugar because it simply makes us feel good when we eat it. Due to the powerful effects sugar has on the brain, it can be thought of like a drug in that it functions similar to how actual drugs like heroin and cocaine do.

Just like drugs, sugar is not good for us. Because it can be quite difficult for most of us to cut out sugar, it may be helpful to understand why sugar is so bad for us in order to make better choices in regards to our diets.

Added sugar is also a poison.

It has no nutritional value and lacks any essential proteins, minerals and vitamins. There are two types of sugars in our diet: naturally-occurring sugars and added sugars. Added sugar is one of the worst and most toxic ingredients in the Western diet. It can have harmful effects on our metabolism and contribute to the development of numerous serious health conditions and diseases. Too much sugar is harmful to the body and promotes inflammation and disease. A recent study shows evidence linking sugar consumption and breast cancer. Sugar consumption is also a major risk factor for the development of other health conditions such as obesity and heart disease.

Hidden Sugar in Soft Drinks  

The National Diet & Nutrition Survey (NDNS) report, 26th June 2014, found that soft drinks are the biggest single source of added sugar for young people, with boys aged 11-18 getting 42% of their daily energy intake this way.  A 33cl can of regular Coca-Cola or Pepsi contains 35g, or almost nine teaspoons of sugar.  A study published in the BMJ estimates that sugar sweetened drinks may give rise to nearly 80,000 diabetes cases over 10 years in the UK. Processed food, cakes, biscuits and breakfast cereals almost all have too much sugar.  Frosted Flakes, for example, contain 8.9 teaspoons of sugar per 100 grams and even Special K, a supposed healthy cereal, contains 3 teaspoons of sugar per 100 grams.

Sugar is hidden in so many of the foods we consume every day. This is why it is important to look at food labels to know where sugar may be hidden. It may be found under many different names such as fructose, lactose, sucrose, maltose, glucose, and dextrose. One of the main culprits is high fructose corn syrup, which can be found in tons of foods you may not suspect, such as frozen dinners, some vegetables, peanut butter, pickles, salad dressing, soup, canned fruits.

So what can be done? 

The best plan is to try to cut down gradually on your daily consumption of sugar.  Reducing the amount of sugar in tea and coffee is relatively easy and try to avoid snacking between meals.  Add a crushed banana to stewed fruit instead of sugar.  Over time, instead of everything tasting of sugar, you will start to enjoy the individual taste of different foods.  Honey, while nutritious, is still a concentrated sugar food to be eaten only as an occasional treat.

Because it can be difficult to completely cut sugar out of our diets, the least we can do is eat the minimum amount and opt for natural alternatives. If you are going to eat sugar, make sure it is the natural kind found in fruit. It is better to get your sugar fix from naturally sweet fruits as opposed to processed foods. This way, you can satisfy your craving for sugar while still getting some of the nutrients your body needs to fight diseases like cancer.

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