Sugar; It's Really Bad For You

At In Balance Acupuncture & Health Centre we take our patient's whole health seriously. Patients often ask us what they can do at home to improve their health. Registered Acupuncturist Meghan DeSouza wrote this post about how bad for you sugar really is, and why cutting it out of your diet is so important.

Let's talk about sugar. We all love it, we all crave it. It's as addictive as hard drugs and we use it like a drug; we celebrate with it and console ourselves with it. We use it when we're happy to stay happy, we use it when we're sad or bored or mad or tired so we feel better. It's the most widely used mood altering drug, and it's freely available to everyone all the time.

We are biologically hardwired to crave sugar. Sugar is made up of glucose and fructose. Glucose is the nutrient that fuels our brains. The sweet taste was once what alerted us to the presence of glucose so we knew that food was safe, and would fuel our bodies physically and mentally. But we don't need nearly as much of the stuff as we eat now. The World Health Organization recommends getting only 5% of our daily caloric intake from sugar. For the average adult that's about 25g or 6-7 teaspoons. To put that into perspective a 590ml bottle of Coke has 65g of sugar that's 15.5 tsp of sugar! So what actually happens when you eat too much sugar? A lot of things, but in short your body becomes insulin resistant. 

Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas. Insulin's job is to help take glucose into cells to provide them with energy. But when there is too much glucose and insulin in your blood stream for too long cells become resistant and can't take in any more. So you get high blood sugar, or high blood glucose levels. Your body then stores the excess glucose and insulin in the form of fat, usually around the abdomen. All of this leads to something called Insulin Resistant Metabolic Disorder, which is also sometimes called Pre-Diabetes. People can have metabolic disorder for years and not know, though they will have a host of symptoms. Such as; brain fog, weight gain, difficulty losing weight, sore & stiff joints, increased inflammation, circulatory problems, increased anxiety, insomnia, increased sugar cravings, increased carbohydrate cravings, abdominal bloating, increased susceptibility to illness & lowered immune system function, sugar contributes to heart disease and is the leading cause of obesity & diabetes.

What about fructose? Fructose is bad for you in different ways- it gets processed by the liver and when the liver can't handle it anymore you get fatty liver disease, or non-alcohol liver cirrhosis, and liver cancer. So don't try replacing regular sugar with something like agave nectar- which is all fructose. Fructose is mostly found in fruits, but in it's natural state- fruit- there is far less than when it's been extracted to make sweeteners. So yes, be cautious about the amount of fruit you eat (2-3 small servings/ day is fine) but try to avoid fruit derived sugars whenever you can.

So what should you do? The most important thing you can do for your health is stop eating refined sugars and majorly reduce processed carbohydrates as they act like sugar in your body. This means cut out sugary drinks (juice pop, fancy sugary coffees, smoothies you don't make yourself, sports drinks) and cut out foods with added sugars- start reading labels whenever you shop at the grocery store and you'll be surprised. There's sugar in ketchup, soup, bbq sauce, pasta sauce, crackers, yogurt, chips & even bread. Start adding up the gram or two here, gram or two there and pretty quickly you're over the WHO's recommended limit. Stop eating cookies, candies, chocolates, cakes, granola bars, sugary cereals, pastries, puddings, fruity pre-sweetened yogurts & anything else that is super sweet.

What should you eat? Plain yogurt with your own berries added is a great alternative to the super sugary stuff at the grocery store. Use frozen berries and defrost them so there's some natural juice to stir in. Are you a pop drinker? Try club soda with a little lemon juice, or some berries/ mango & fresh mint muddled in the glass. Frozen grapes are surprisingly good! Herbal teas are great- especially ones with hibiscus or licorice (but read the ingredients carefully, many of the big name tea shops are adding a shocking amount of sugar!). Keeping full by eating more good quality dietary fats (like olive oil, avocados, salmon, tuna, hemp seeds) will help reduce cravings. For grains, focus on whole grains and drink plenty of water, and eat tons of veggies of course- about half your plate at each meal.

Cutting out sugar is really hard, but knowing and trying to avoid your sugar triggers helps a lot. The first week or so will be the hardest, you may even have flu like symptoms (headaches, shakes, sweats, irritability) but they will pass. For a lot of people cutting out all sugars and sweeteners completely for a month or so makes it easier. Once you get past the initial addiction and start reintroducing small amounts of sugar you'll probably be surprised how sweet everything actually is!

What do you do when the cravings are just too much? For many people cravings for sugar are really cravings for love & connection- so call a friend and have a chat, snuggle with your pet or partner on the couch, go for a brisk walk outside, have a cup of herbal tea, or brush your teeth! Whatever it takes!

Cutting out sugar is really hard, but it really is the single most important thing you can do for your health.

Meghan DeSouza