Apr 22, 2015

The War on Sugar: Here’s Why You Should Cut Back

Ah, sugar. The highly addictive, delectable poison that’s killing us all softly with its candy-coated song. Too harsh? Way dramatic? Think again. There exists a plethora of fad elimination crazes on the market from gluten to paleo. The ever-in-flux topography of nutrition trends can be overwhelming and, at times, tedious. No matter how lax or strict your diet is, cutting sugar out one spoonful at a time is guaranteed to cause significant spikes in overall health and body performance. Keep reading to discover why your sweet tooth really isn't all that sweet.

Refined sugars deplete essential minerals and vitamins within the body. The amount of effort the human body expends on digestion, detoxification, and elimination of sugar alone ends up leeching nutrition and energy from nearly every bodily function.

In particular, magnesium and B vitamins take a big hit around sugar. When refined sugar is consumed daily, the symbiotic healthy bacteria in our intestines actually is lost, depleting our stock of vitamin B. As a result, low vitamin B affects your ability to calculate and remember.

Most people, even with a clean diet, are already mineral deficient. Chocolate cravings in women are often attributed specifically to magnesium deficiency. A daily magnesium supplement helps the body absorb calcium and cuts back on cravings.

Overall, sugar is one of the single most inflammatory substances. When the body’s system consistently experiences an inflammatory response, it leaves you wide open to disease and aging. Heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, cancer, and digestive conditions are all linked to inflammation in the body. Over time, excess sugar will eventually come to affect every organ in the body. Upon initial intake, it's stored in the liver as glucose, and too much of it throws the liver into overdrive. Once the liver maxes out its capacity for glucose, excess glycogen is returned to the blood stream in the form of fatty acids. The body carries these to every part of the body, storing them as fat. 

Insulin is the hormone created in the pancreas and responsible for the storing and processing of sugar. When you consume meals high in sugar, the body’s demand for insulin increases. If insulin levels remain consistently high, your body’s sensitivity to the hormone becomes numbed, causing glucose to build up in the blood. In order to keep the body in equilibrium, insulin levels should remain within a safe zone throughout the day. Spikes and dips lead to a litany of health issues, from fatigue to kidney failure. If your blood sugar dips too low, the body’s cells become energy-starved, and depending on the duration of the dip, minor or major complications can arise. 

Normal body pH falls between 7.35 and 7.45. Even marginal deviations on either side of the spectrum can lead to major side effects. When consumed every day, sugar produces a continuously acidic environment within the body’s system, meaning more and more minerals are required to offset the imbalance. Disease loves an acidic climate. Obesity, cancer, heartburn, even signs of aging can be linked to acidic buildup in the body. Chronically acidic diets (more than achievable with the ubiquity of high fructose corn syrups and fructose overloaded products on the market) lead to serious health risks and affect all cellular function, from the beating of your heart to the neural workings of your brain. An alkaline diet—one that's high in water-dense vegetables, good fats, and fiber-rich foods—will rid the body of toxins and keep you feeling younger, leaner, and stronger. 

Find it hard to kick sugar all together? Don’t beat yourself up. While some studies insist sugar is "non-addictive," sugar intake spikes dopamine levels in the brain, giving you a consistent rush that will have you wanting more. The good news is you can actually rewire your brain. Seven days with a new pattern has been known to create new habit-forming pathways within the brain. One week cold turkey without the sweet stuff will ease you into a solid regimen going forward. Tough it out and bask in the long-term benefits. 

Cancer cells thrive on sugar. In fact, research shows sugar not only feeds existing cancer cells, but it is also a primary driver in oncogenesis, the initiation of cancerous characteristics in healthy cells. High-sugar diets are strongly linked to pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, the thread between high-sugar diets and acid buildup, obesity, and diabetes all raise the risk factor for certain types of cancer. So just how much is too much? The debate wages on. The World Heath Organization previously recommended no more that 10 percent of daily calorie intake should be derived from sugar. They are considering lowering that percentage to five (25 grams for the average adult). A single can of soda contains 39 grams. It’s true the dose makes the poison. It’s also true the dose in a “single serving” might prove to be too generous.

Think you have a sugar addiction? Head over to Byrdie to learn how to kick it.

Have a favorite sugar-free alternative? Tell us in the comments below. 

Opening Image: ELLE South Africa

Victory Belt Publishing Danielle Walker's Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple: Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes to Make Anytime ($21)

Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple: Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes to Make Anytime by Danielle Walker ($21)

Filled with most delectable paleo meals, star blogger Danielle Walker’s cookbook offers recipes that are as decadent and surprising as they are simple to execute. Complete with shopping lists, as well as 30-minute meals and ideas for transforming leftovers, it's a goldmine of fresh, easy-to-prepare dishes.

Explore: Health, nutrition, sugar