Sugar. Most people crave it — every single day. Unfortunately, research continues to build linking sugar consumption to major diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. We know we need to break up with the sweet stuff, but for many of us, it’s hard to do. Here are some compelling reasons to cut back.
1. It’s addictive. Sugar not only fuels your brain’s cells, it also lights up your brain’s reward system. When sugar levels run low, your brain sends a signal – in the form of a craving – encouraging you to keep the steady supply of pleasure coming. By constantly rewarding those cravings, you get stuck on the sugar roller coaster.
2. It increases belly fat. Many health professionals believe high sugar intake (most Americans consume 82 grams of sugar daily) is a major factor in rising worldwide obesity rates. When you eat sugar, it breaks down into glucose and fructose, some of which enters your bloodstream. Your pancreas produces insulin to move glucose from your bloodstream into your cells where it will be burned for energy or stored as fat. Fructose gets metabolized in the liver, where it can be used for energy or converted into glycogen, your body’s warehouse for storing glucose. When your glycogen stores are full, fructose gets converted to fat, which damages the liver, contributing to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
3. It hurts your gut microbiome. The microbes that live inside you, especially in your gut, are so important to your health that scientists consider them another organ! Your gut microbiome is made up of a mix of healthy and unhealthy bacteria, and it’s up to you to nourish the healthy ones. The community of unhealthy bacteria thrives on sugar and simple carbohydrates and is believed to contribute to increased inflammation in the body, which can manifest as obesity, hypertension or blood sugar instability.
4. It contributes to type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Eating the high- sugar Standard American Diet (SAD) is linked to a condition called insulin resistance, which causes blood sugar levels to remain consistently elevated, increasing your risk for type 2 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes are more than 60% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia than those who don’t have it.
5. It ages you. When sugar reacts with protein in the body, harmful compounds known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs) can form, and they can exacerbate skin aging (think wrinkles). AGEs damage collagen and elastin, which keep skin looking youthful and supple. Consuming high levels of sugar can also shorten the length of telomeres, structures at the end of chromosomes, the shortening of which can contribute to cellular aging.
6. It weakens the immune system. A steady intake of sugar can impact your immune system by weakening how white blood cells perform and increasing inflammatory markers. High sugar intake over time also can have a cumulative effect on your overall immunity because of how it increases the risk for insulin resistance, obesity (especially belly fat accumulation), inflammation and an imbalance of healthy and unhealthy gut bacteria.
The Weight-Loss Connection
In addition to ditching sugar, which we know is connected to an increase in belly fat, this plan boasts a number of weight-loss strategies. This plan is incredibly anti-inflammatory, removing pro-inflammatory foods (such as grains, dairy, and of course, sugar). When you eat inflammation-inducing foods, your body holds onto excess water; however, when you remove these foods and at the same time reduce the total carbs and sugar, your body will excrete the excess fluid being retained (goodbye, puffy fingers!). Plus, we’ve kept the calories of the plan relatively low to help accelerate weight loss.
Much of the sugar you encounter comes from foods where you might not expect it such as savory sauces, yogurt, bread, plant-based milks and coffee drinks.
Sugar goes by many different names: high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, agave, honey, molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, turbinado, dextrose, maltose, evaporated cane juice and coconut sugar.
In addition to sleuthing out sources of sugar on the ingredient list of a product, look to the Nutrition Facts
Panel to check out the total grams of sugar per serving. Some products will list total sugars only, while some will list added sugars as well (by 2021, it will be mandatory to list added sugars). In the meantime, if a product lists only total sugars, avoid foods with more than 5 grams total sugars, with the exception of dairy and fruit-based products that have more natural sugars.
Hold The Clean Sweeteners, Too
Quitting refined sugars cold turkey can be difficult, so it’s common to turn to natural sweeteners, such as raw honey, unadulterated stevia, pure maple syrup, coconut sugar, dates and yacon syrup, which are considered clean since they are less processed and some even contain trace vitamins and minerals.
Clean sweeteners have still been omitted in this two-week plan, however. Why? Because eating too much sugar – no matter the source – can contribute to tooth decay, increased triglycerides and weight gain. So for two weeks, in an effort to accelerate weight loss and promote overall health, we’re going to hold all the sweet stuff, even the natural varieties that we’d normally use in a clean meal plan.
Try These Recipes
- Best Fish & Chips with Lemon Caper Mayo
- Basil Cashew Salmon with Asparagus Tomato Sauté
- Chile Orange Chicken Wings with Ranch Slaw
- Spicy Coconut Chicken Soup