By Nutritionist and Author, Sara Vance
Sugar. It is no wonder we love it so. It’s delicious and sweet, it makes us happy, and gives us a little burst of energy. We celebrate with it, and it is there for us whenever we need it.
At first glimpse, it seems like everything we could want in a relationship.
But everything is not all sweet when it comes to sugar….
Sugar hides behind the myth that “it is just harmless empty calories.”
I used to believe that myth too.
Sugar is definitely empty calories. But the part that is the lie is that sugar is “harmless.”
Friends. It is a BIG. FAT. LIE.
Now don’t get me wrong – a little natural sweetness for someone with a healthy metabolism is okay– a square or two of (70% or higher) dark chocolate, a deliciously rich and creamy cacao avocado pudding…
But the problem with sugar is most of us have a hard time getting just a little bit….because:
- Sugar is hiding in over 75% of all packaged foods, so it is sneaking into our diets all day long. Most people have no idea they are getting 3 times the amount of sugar they should have every day.
- Sugar is highly addictive – the more we eat, the more we want.
- The energy sugar delivers is short-lived – it is followed by a crash – so we reach for more of the sweet stuff to get another boost. I call that cycle ‘the sugar rollercoaster” – and the longer we are on that ride, the worst it is for our health.
Woefully, the real truth is that excess sugar has a dark side, a very serious dark side. Not only is excess sugar the #1 reason for a sluggish metabolism and stubborn weight gain, it is making billions of people sick….including our children.
Chronically elevated blood sugar raises the risk of almost every major disease. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons you might want to consider a “break up”….
20 Reasons to Break up with Sugar:
- Causes Weight gain Especially weight gain in the midsection. When we say we want to “lose weight” what we really mean is that we want to lose fat. But when we are eating too much sugar – our metabolism is in what I call “sugar-burning mode” which means it is running on sugars – and storing the extra as fat (adipose tissue). So when the metabolism is in sugar burning mode – it is not burning fat, it is storing it. This is referred to as “insulin resistance” and leads to stubborn weight gain – and a host of other issues.
- Makes you Hungry Sweet foods and drinks stimulate our sweet tooth – so the more sweets we eat (even artificial sweetened foods and drinks), the more we want. So eating lots of sugar and simple carbs just makes us hungrier. Studies show that when meals are consumed with sugary drinks, more calories are consumed. Poor blood sugar regulation can lead to big swings – causing dangerous highs and lows – the drops in blood sugar can make you feel angry when you are hungry – sometimes called “hangry.” Plus, sugar is highly addictive, so the more sweets that we eat – the more we want.
- Lowers Immunity Studies show that sugar lowers the white blood cell count and therefore our immune system. So eating sugar and simple carbs all the time means our immune system is running low all the time.
- Mood Imbalances Like any other addictive drug, the sugar rollercoaster has a powerful effect on our mood and brain chemistry. When our blood sugar is high, it gives us energy and makes us feel happy. But when it drops, it can make us feel tired, sad and low. So we reach for more of what gave us that boost – that puts us on a rollercoaster ride that causes our mood to be very unstable. Over time, these sugar highs and lows can lead to more serious mood disorders. Sugar also causes an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria, which is tied to anxiety and other issues. Depressed Immune System: A 1973 study out of Loma Linda University found that consuming a glucose solution lowered the effectiveness of white blood cells to fight infection.
- Low energy/fatigue Sugar and simple carbs does not supply lasting energy – it spikes our blood sugar, which is then followed by a crash. When we crash, we are going to be looking for another energy boost hungry. So what do we reach for to get energy again – more sugar or simple carbs because it gives us a quick boost! I call that cycle “The Sugar Rollercoaster, and just like an actual roller coaster – the longer we are on that ride, the more likely we are to get sick.
- Inflammation The hallmark of most chronic diseases – is chronic and systemic inflammation. A diet high in sugars raises our inflammation, and this can raise our risk of many diseases.
- Digestion issues Sugars feeds yeast and fungus. So diets high in sugar can sometimes lead to chronic overgrowth of yeast, bacteria or fungus (often this will happen after a course of antibiotics that wipes out the good bacteria.) Other issues in the gut – including bacterial overgrowth, dysbiosis, leaky gut can also be linked to excess sugar intake.
- Tooth decay and cavities One of the most obvious things we are taught from a very young age about sugar – is that too much of it is not good for our teeth. The dentist warns our kids about it around Halloween time. But Halloween is not the only time of year that we eat too much sugar. The average person gets at least 3 times the added sugars every single day!
- Diabetes (or ‘diabesity‘) When we spike our blood sugar over and over, our body eventually becomes less effective at lowering it. This can develop into Insulin Resistance, which is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes (and possibly Type 3, see Alzheimer’s disease below). Insulin resistance makes our body less able to process sugars – which can lead to fatigue, hunger, and weight gain. But the tricky thing is that insulin resistance often has no obvious symptoms. Which is why many people have no idea that they have it. Insulin resistance can lead to pre-diabetes, and if not addressed – eventually diabetes. Poorly managed diabetes can lead to serious health issues like nerve pain & damage, kidney failure, loss of limbs, and blindness. Do you remember that Type 2 Diabetes used to be called Adult-onset until a few year ago? They had to rename it – because kids were getting it. Sugar is harming the health of the majority of our youth – and setting them up for a lifetime of health issues.
- Heart Disease/Stroke/Metabolic Syndrome According to this article on Dr. Chris Kresser’s website – “metabolic syndrome could more simply be called “excess carbohydrate disease”. In fact, some researchers have gone as far as defining metabolic syndrome as “those physiologic markers that respond to reduction in dietary carbohydrate.” The American Heart Association published a statement in Circulation, that excess sugar consumption increases our risk of heart attack and stroke. Having impaired blood glucose tolerance was found to increase the risk of stroke by 50%. Even a fasting glucose over 85 mg/dl (considered a “lab normal” level) was associated with an increased risk of cardiac mortality. The worst offender for heart health? Sodas. Studies have found that men who drink 1 soda a day increase heart disease risk factors by 20%. And before you pick up a diet soda – realize that drinking diet sodas are linked to a 44% increased risk of heart disease.
- Cancer: Ninety years ago Nobel Laureate Dr. Otto Warburg discovered that sugar fuels cancer cells. Since then various studies have demonstrated a potent link between sugar and cancer, including that malignant cells die when starved of glucose. Sugar molecules are present in high numbers near cancer cells, in fact – that is one way to test for cancer – you take a radioactive glucose solution, and using a a PET scan – they can see that areas that are cancerous take up more of the solution than non-cancerous areas. But a 2013 University of Copenhagen study found that sugar was not just present in cancer cells – but that it aided the growth of malignant cells. Researchers out of the University of Wurzburg in Germany, concluded that “significantly reducing the intake of dietary carbs could suppress or at least delay the emergence of cancer, and the proliferation of existing tumor cells could be slowed down.” According to the study, “many cancer patients exhibit an altered glucose metabolism characterized by insulin resistance and may profit from an increased protein and fat intake.” There is currently promising research underway at the Salk Institute in La Jolla led by Dr. Reuben Shaw, PhD. to study the link between diabetes, sugar metabolism, and cancer.
- Kidney Disease: A recent study found that drinking sodas caused elevated levels of protein in our urine, which can be an indicator of kidney problems. According to a researcher with the study: “There is no safe amount of soda. If you look at the recommended amounts of sugar we can safely consume every day, one can of soda exceeds the maximum level.” This is one example that shoots a big hole in the age-old adage “everything in moderation.”
- Fatty Liver: Research is revealing that diets high in sugar (particularly fructose), strains the liver, and is contributing to the development of non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) . The American Liver Foundation estimates that one quarter of Americans have NAFLD, but since there is often no symptoms, these estimates could be too low. Fructose, one form of sugar – is processed differently than glucose. It does not require insulin to get into the cells. It bypasses the pancreas (which releases the insulin) and instead goes directly to the liver to be processed. So because fructose does not spike our bloodsugar like other sugars do, it was originally thought to be a healthier option – because it is lower glycemic. And when taken in small amounts by healthy people – there could be some truth to this. However – because our liver only has a limited capacity to handle fructose and sugar – and we are eating loads of fructose (often as high fructose corn syrup), we are overwhelming our livers – causing them to get fatty. Dr. Hyman refers to fatty livers being like “fois gras.” Perhaps the most disturbing part of this is that an estimated one in 10 kids has NAFLD, and 40% of obese kids having it.
- Osteoporosis: Scientific studies reveal that elevated blood sugar and oxidative stress are contributing factors in the development of osteoporosis (Clarke 2010, Confavreux 2009, Lieben 2009; Zhou 2011). Advanced glycation end products (AGE’s), the by-products of high blood sugar were shown to impair bone mineralization. AGE’s also activate a receptor called RAGE, which diverts calcium from the bone, into vascular smooth muscle cells, which can lead to hardening of the arteries/ heart disease. (Study by: Tanikawa 2009; Franke 2007; Hein 2006; Zhou 2011).
- Hormone Issues: A study conducted at the University of British Columbia found that a diet high in sugars, especially fructose, could interrupt our sex hormones, leading to fertility issues, PCOS, and endometriosis. One reason sugar can interrupt hormone imbalance is in part the strain that is put on the liver to metabolize the fructose. The liver is very important for detoxing hormones. Another way that excess sugar affects hormones is through aromatization – which is the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Diets high in sugar and simple carbs can increase aromatization – leading to estrogen dominance conditions in men and women.
- Accelerated Aging – Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs): We all know that too much sun damage can make our skin look older, and smoking is a definite no no if we don’t want to look wrinkled and have lackluster skin. But one lesson I really wish I had gotten when I was in my teens or 20s to help keep your skin looking baby soft? Skip the sugar. Sugar creates something called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs), which damages the collagen and elastin in our skin, and causes our skin to sag and look more wrinkled. When there is sugar in our bloodsteam, they attach to proteins to form molecules that are called Advanced glycation end products (appropriately the acronym is AGEs). The more sugar you eat, the more of these AGEs develop. AGEs are known to damage the collagen and elastin proteins in the skin, which is what gives the skin it’s elasticity, and volume, and helps to prevent wrinkles. Sugar affects our skin in 3 ways: When AGEs come into contact with collagen it changes the normally elastic and fluffy collagen and makes it brittle and dry, and that is what leads to sagging and wrinkling of the skin. There are 3 types of collagen – I, II, and III. The strongest and most resilient type is III. Sugar changes type III collagen into type I, which is more instable. Sugar interferes with the delivery of antioxidants in the body, so it can leave the skin more vulnerable to damage from the sun. “As AGEs accumulate, they damage adjacent proteins in a domino-like fashion,” explains Fredric Brandt, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Miami and New York City and author of 10 Minutes 10 Years. The good news? Although some of the wrinkles are here to stay, a little bit of the damage caused by sugar can be reversed when you give sugar the ole’ heave-ho! I have experienced this myself personally. When I gave up sugar a few years ago, I remember noticing some pretty remarkable improvements in the quality of my skin. Not enough that anyone thought I went out and got plastic surgery or anything. But enough that I noticed improvement.
- Brain fog, poor memory, Alzheimers: Insulin resistance can lead to lower levels of insulin in the brain, which over time could lead to memory problems, dementia, and Alzhimer’s or Type 3 Diabetes. According to Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the New York Times best-seller, Grain Brain – “sugar, carbs, and wheat are the brain’s silent killers.” A recent study out of UCLA, indicates that added sugars affect memory and brain function – with researchers coming to the rather bold conclusion that “sugar makes you dumber.” Fortunately, the study also revealed a magic bullet that can make your brain work smarter, even reversing some of the negative effects of sugar…omega 3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish, fish oils, nuts, and some seeds like hemp and chia). High sugar diets seem to be linked to poor learning, memory, and recall. But there is mounting evidence that it is also linked to more serious brain conditions – like Alzheimers. According to a study published in August 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine, “even subtle elevations of fasting blood sugar translates to dramatically increased risk for dementia.” Many researchers are calling Alzheimer’s disease “Type 3 Diabetes,” because they are finding plaques in the brain that look very much like the diabetic plaques.
- Sleep issues Poor blood sugar regulation can cause your blood sugar to dip in the middle of the night, causing you to wake up. Some people will also feel shaky – and will need to go get something to eat to stabilize their blood sugar in the middle of the night. Some people with more advanced blood sugar dysegulation might find that they need to get up and go to the bathroom several times at night. This could be a signal that the kidneys are working overtime due to elevated blood sugar levels.
- Thyroid issues According to thyroid expert Dr. Izabella Wentz, poor blood sugar regulation can cause thyroid antibodies to spike, and can also weaken the adrenals (which work in conjunction with the thyroid). She says that researchers from Polland have found that up to 50% of Hashimotos sufferers have impaired carbohydrate metabolism. According to Chris Kresser, “studies have shown that the repeated insulin surges common in insulin resistance increase the destruction of the thyroid gland in people with autoimmune thyroid disease. As the thyroid gland is destroyed, thyroid hormone production falls.“
- Death of all Causes: A study published in JAMA in 2014 linked sugar consumption to an increased risk of death of all causes – in both normal weight and overweight individuals. Those whose diet was comprised of 17-21% added sugars had a 38% higher risk of dying from a coronary event. The risk was doubled for those who got more than 21% of their diet from sugars.
Nope, it’s definitely not all sweet when it comes to sugar.
Because of the increased risk of heart disease from excess sugars, the American Heart Association has come up with recommended limits for added sugar for women & men:
- Women should get no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day (24 grams).
- Men should get no more than 9 added teaspoons of sugar a day (36 grams).
Keep in mind – one 12 oz. soda has on average 10 teaspoons of sugar.
The type of sugar we eat also matters. Fruit sugar is naturally occurring sugar and comes paired with fiber, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins – we can’t say that for a soda or a Slurpee. So sugar from whole fruit is better than processed added sugars (which are empty calories). Choosing natural sweeteners that come paired with minerals – like yacon and coconut sugars are better choices than high fructose corn syrup or beet sugars. But we can even overdo natural sugars. And when there is insulin resistance, it is good to limit all sugars for a short time to reset the insulin response.
One of the best things you can do for your health is to take back control from sugar!
If you are getting too much sugar – you are not alone. Most people are getting at least 3 times too much sugar in their daily diets – that doesn’t even take into account all the flour and simple carbs.
The biggest issues that most of us have – is that sugar is highly addictive (as addictive as a drug), and we are eating it often without even realizing it – because it is hiding in most packaged and processed foods.
Just remember that nutrition and lifestyle changes can be very powerful tools to help you change your health and reduce your risk of future diseases.
Chapter One in my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan provides numerous tips for “Breaking up with Sugar” – including some surprising foods that spike the blood sugar, as well as nutritional tips and supplements that help to balance blood sugar, some good alternatives, and more.
If you are wanting a more in-depth program – consider my Break up with Sugar Online course – 21 days to sugar freedom! The next group starts up on Monday, August 8th!! You will get actionable and sustainable tips to break old habits and form new ones, a support network, over 60 pages of delicious recipes (yes, they are delicious – I am a foodie – I don’t do bland), and the best of all….your tastebuds can even change!! Mine did!!
I used to LOVE my sugar and simple carbs – I was a bonafide sugar junkie for years. But since breaking up with sugar about 6 years ago – the idea of eating a super sweet caramel sundae no longer appeals to me at all!! Ick! I’d rather have a square of 70% or higher dark chocolate instead now (yes, you can have some sweetness in your life – even if you break up with sugar!!).
ABOUT SARA VANCE
A nutritionist and the author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan, Sara Vance used to be a picky eater, a sugar junkie, and was overweight as a child. She suffered from a long list of chronic health issues, and aches and pains for decades.
Not getting answers at the doctors’ office, Sara finally found the answers right at the end of her fork, and is passionate about helping others find their answers too.
Sara created The Break up with Sugar program because she knows that getting control of our blood sugar is the #1 thing we need to do to heal our metabolism, but it is also one of the hardest things to do too. Her next group starts up Monday, August 8th!
Visit: landing.breakupwithsugarprogram.com to find out more.