Every winter, I tend to slip a little bit in my intention to eat less refined sugar. So here we go again: My goal is to make refined sugar a minimal part of my diet. Treats and special occasions, maybe, but definitely not every day. In this article, I’ll give you 9 good reasons why I think it’s worth the effort to skip sugar.
First, a little background about me: I have made huge strides in lessening the amount of refined sugar in my diet. I used to hold the sugar canister over my cup of coffee for 5 whole seconds. (Try counting that out next time you make coffee: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Yikes!) One day, I decided to try it without, and now that I’ve kicked my sugar addiction, I can’t stand the taste of sweetened coffee. The great thing about a sweet tooth is that once you put some real effort into taking sugar out of your diet, the cravings start to disappear. Things will actually start to taste disgustingly sweet to you! (Really. I promise.)
The problem with sugar isn’t just the empty calories and the tooth decay. It’s a whole host of other things. Here are 9 big reasons to cut sugar from our diets, dinner tables and break rooms, pronto.
1. Sugar impairs memory and focus
Research shows that a diet high in sugar can lower a chemical in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is needed to help the brain form new memories. BDNF plays a role in the health and functions of neurons, and can improve synaptic plasticity (learning new things and memory).
As if that weren’t enough to scare us, scientists are now looking into the possibility that people that are prediabetic or already suffering from diabetes (who have lower levels of BDNF) may be more at risk for dementia and Alzheimers. These are some pretty serious implications for sugar
2. Sugar (not fat!) may be the cause of weight gain
More research is coming out, revealing that different calories are metabolized differently in the body, and the way sugar is metabolized will cause more of those calories to be stored as fat. High blood sugar is dangerous, so our body releases insulin, a hormone that tells our body to sweep glucose into the cells for storage.
If you want to learn more about how this works, and you happen to have 90 minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching Robert Lustig’s video, The Bitter Truth, available for free on YouTube. Or if you just have an extra 10 minutes, check out Sean Croxton’s excellent summary of that video. Both are enlightening and inspiring.
3. Sugar wrecks your skin
Discover Magazine (among others) have reported on research that shows sugar in the blood can bind to collagen in a process called glycation, causing wrinkles. There was also a small but interesting study, reported by the American Academy of Dermatology, on acne and high school students who ate a low glycemic diet reporting clearer skin. Apparently, high insulin can stimulate hormone production that can increase oil production in skin. As someone who still breaks out in her 30’s, I can personally attest to the fact that eating more sugar makes me break out. Changing my diet has been the best thing I have ever done for my skin.
4. Sugar suppresses your immune system
Can’t quite beat that cold? Are you eating a ton of cough drops? Award-winning author and health expert Ann Louis Gittleman, Ph. D., writes in her book, Get the Sugar Out, that the ability of cells to kill off foreign invaders can be reduced up to 5 hours after we ingest sugar. Not only that, it reduces the production of antibodies, interferes with the transport of vitamin C, and makes cell walls more permeable to outside invaders.
5. Sugar disrupts your body’s mineral balance
When sugar is refined (as all white sugar is), nutrients such as chromium, manganese, cobalt, copper, zinc and magnesium are all stripped away. Not only are many of these the same minerals that help to control our blood sugar in the first place, but without them our bodies then have to use our own nutrients to absorb and metabolize sugar.
6. Sugar is not just “empty calories”…it’s an ANTI NUTRIENT.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “it’s just empty calories” but sugar is much worse than that. It pulls nutrients (that I would much rather keep) away from the body. Dr. Gittleman writes that it interferes with absorption of minerals and can increase the secretion of B vitamins and almost all minerals, but especially calcium and magnesium.
7. Sugar can feed cancer cells
According to a recent study from the University of Copenhagen, cancer cells feed on sugar. Also, with a continuous influx of sugar into the bloodstream, our insulin levels are chronically elevated and insulin can trigger the growth of cancer cells.
8. Overuse of sugar can lead to insulin resistance
According to the National Institutes of Health, overdoing the sweet stuff can lead to insulin resistance, which can lead to type II diabetes. The more you consume food and drinks that directly send sugar straight to the bloodstream (think items that are almost pure refined sugar, like soda), the more your body has to work to bring your blood sugar back down to a safe level. Blood sugar levels that are too high or too low are dangerous. If we consistently overwork by what we are eating, we’re putting ourselves at risk; our bodies may eventually just stop working properly as a result.
9. Unfriendly yeast in your body feeds directly on sugar.
Ladies, have you ever had a yeast infection? Unfortunately, they are quite common, and if you want to keep them away, it is imperative that you take the sugar out of your diet.
Men, you are equally at risk! If you’ve experienced jock itch or athlete’s foot, then you almost certainly have had an overgrowth of Candida, which is the yeast that naturally occurs in our body, but can run rampant if the conditions are right. An overgrowth of Candida can have all sorts of symptoms (those fun things like jock itch, headaches, brain fog, fatigue), so even if you never experience yeast infections, Candida can still run rampant. Men are also affected!
That’s just the beginning
There are many more things I could include, but these are some of the most important ones. As a nutritionist, it’s important to me to help the people I work with realize the far-reaching consequences of overindulging in refined sugar. It is not a harmless food. My personal experience is that once I start eating it, I start craving it all the time. It is extremely addictive.
The good news is that as we start to reduce sugar in our diets, we will lose our taste for it. For those looking to reduce consumption of sugar at the office, simple changes like selecting healthier options for meetings, employee events and snacks can go a long way. Changing up the contents of the office vending machines can have a huge positive impact as well by changing employees’ consumption habits. Removing high-sugar items for as little as one week can help employees break the sugar addiction they may not even know they have. I work with many people to cut sugar out for a week, and invariably they report craving it significantly less. So take heart; change is possible!
Those who dramatically reduce consumption are able to think more clearly, lose weight, enjoy more energy and more. It’s really as simple as that.
Interested in seeing what a nutrition-focused wellness program could do for your employees? Sign up for a free demo of our unique nutrition-focused behavior change program that gets long-term results.