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Sugar is the enemy of your health

Have you taken a good look around your supermarket lately? The shelves are so riddled with ‘low fat’ alternatives to your regular grocery items that you’d be forgiven for believing one of the 20th century’s most pervasive myths: That fat is the enemy of your health. In fact, the myth that fat is a killer was perhaps the greatest PR and marketing success of its time. So successful that even now, with an incredible amount of research debunking the myth, it’s still widely accepted.

We recently uncovered the real enemy to your health in our article Why Your Diet Isn’t Working. In this article, we dive further into the hidden killer, and how the industry got away with it for so long.

As we covered in our recent blog, the sugar industry launched an all-out PR war against fat back in the 1960s. Historical documents released a couple of years ago found that scientists were paid to downplay the effects of sugar on health and to instead focus on the negative effects of fat on the body. As a result, the world was told that fat was the culprit for our expanding waistlines, and the sugar industry made billions by marketing low-fat products – which were higher in sugar.

Perhaps one of the most telling signs that fat was not actually the enemy is the fact that despite the huge uptake in low-fat products, the western world continues to see rising obesity levels, rates of heart disease, and other diet-related illnesses. Americans, for example, now eat an average of double the recommended daily intake of sugar.

It’s only in recent years that attitudes around fat and sugar have begun to shift, as the real harm of sugar is realised. The popularity of diets like the Keto Diet have helped to spread the word and debunk the myth that fat is what’s making us fat. But we still have a long way to go.

It’s been called a legal addictive substance by many health professionals. Some studies suggest that the effect that sugar has on the reward signals in the brain is akin to drugs like alcohol, nicotine or heroin.  By triggering the reward centres in our brain, sugar leads to enhanced levels of dopamine (the reward hormone), and results in strong, almost uncontrollable cravings. (For more on the addictive properties of sugar, check out this TED-ed video.)

But cravings aren’t where the damage stops with sugar. Some studies have linked excess consumption of sugar to depression in adults; this is believed to be triggered by the ‘sugar crash’ that occurs after your spiked blood sugar levels begin to dip. For those who are particularly susceptible, this ‘dip’ can constitute a very real and dangerous depressive episode.

The inflammation that sugar causes can also increase joint pain and is believed to increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation can also cause skin to age faster by damaging the collagen and elastin in your skin. More worryingly, too much sugar can result in a resistance to insulin, which means that your body can become less effective at regulating blood sugar levels and can eventually lead to Type 2 Diabetes.

And the bad news doesn’t stop there. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 found a strong association between excess sugar consumption and heart disease. Over 15 years, the study found that those who got between 17% and 21% of their total calorie intake from added sugar (that are not naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables, but added to foods and drinks) were up to 38% more likely to develop heart disease when compared with those whose added sugar consumption accounted for 8% of their total calorie intake. There are a few theories as to how sugar can lead to cardiovascular disease. These include the effect that sugar can have on the liver, effectively overloading it and resulting in irregular or ineffective metabolization of sugar.  It can also lead to fatty liver disease, which increases the risks of diabetes and heart disease, as unused sugar in the body is converted into fat.

“The effects of added sugar intake — higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke,” says Dr. Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of added sugar in our diets is that it can actually make us feel hungrier and less satisfied, thus increase our risk of overeating, consuming too much sugar, and opting for less healthy foods. The very nature of sugar means that its consumption can make it incredibly difficult to curb our eating habits and embark on a healthier lifestyle.

How to kick the habit

Spotting hidden sugars in your grocery items is an effective way to curb your sugar consumption. Look for the following in your dietary information labels:

  • brown sugar
  • corn sweetener
  • corn syrup
  • fruit juice concentrates
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • honey
  • invert sugar
  • malt sugar
  • molasses
  • syrup sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).

Avoiding purchasing foods with high levels of added sugars is a great way to immediately reduce your sugar intake. Of course, it can be difficult to give up your favourite foods, and you might find yourself with some pretty serious cravings. The best way to curb your cravings is to develop a healthy eating plan – with the help of an experienced nutritionist – which will help to keep you satisfied. Contrary to many people’s belief, fruit is NOT a bad sugar!  Mother nature’s sugar (fructose) is very good for us; packed with necessary nutrients for our health. So when you crave sugar reach for a piece of fruit instead, and you will be surprised how this can curb cravings whilst nourishing your body at the same time!  Although kicking your sugar habit can be difficult at first, there is good news: The less sugar you consume, the less you’ll find yourself craving it!

For help with kicking your unhealthy eating habits, developing a healthy and sustainable diet, and getting fit to start feeling great, get in touch with us at Integrated Health Specialists today. We’re experts in creating diet and lifestyle habits which change lives.

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen