The Deal On Sugar

Abigail Smith

Most of us know that sugar is bad for us. We’ve been told that it rots our teeth and makes kids hyper. But with new diet trends eliminating sugar completely in all of its forms, we are beginning to really see that many people are aware of the greater negative implications of consuming the sweet foods on a regular basis.

So what really happens to us when we eat too much sugar?

Weight gain

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When we eat sugar, it is metabolized by the liver and either used as energy, or converted to fat and stored to be used as energy later. Most sweet foods have far more sugar than our bodies can actually use as immediate energy. When this much sugar is consumed on a regular basis, it can easily lead to weight gain.

Insulin resistance

Diabetics know firsthand what insulin resistance is like. After the liver converts the sugars from our food into glucose, the pancreas secretes insulin to carry the extra glucose to the fat cells. Eventually, if there continues to be too much glucose, insulin rises to dangerous levels.

Insulin protects our bodies from too much glucose, which is toxic. Insulin, though, in massive amounts, is also dangerous.

Inflammation

Sugar, specifically processed sugar, is toxic to the body. Inflammation occurs as the natural process to deal with this, but inflammation also has its own long list of undesirable side effects. Some of these include compromised gut health, joint pain, and higher risk of cancer and heart disease, to name a few.

Blood sugar swings

Blood sugar regulation is an important job of insulin, but when insulin can’t keep up, we experience the high and crash that we’ve all felt after an especially high carb meal. This leads to mood swings (hangry, anyone?), higher likelihood of depression, lethargy, and a greater risk of developing type two diabetes.

Unbalanced hormones

Did you know that sugar kills testosterone? And did you know that testosterone is very important for women, as well as men? Imbalanced insulin also affects female hormones, creating a greater risk of female issues like polycystic ovary syndrome and irregular cycles. In both men and women, too much sugar has also been linked to fertility problems.

So, to sum it all up, too much sugar negatively affects our mood, our eating habits (it is very addictive), our weight, our ability to fight  disease, our hormones, and really, every system of the body. It is, after all, a toxin. And we all know toxins are very bad!

So how much sugar is too much?

Before we can answer that, we need to look at the different types of sugars. Because, as you probably already know, not all sugars are created equally!

The Types of Sugar

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Sugar, unfortunately, comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and varieties. Dextrose, sucrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose - not to mention just normal sugar like the white granulated variety! We also have honey, agave, corn syrup… It can be a bit overwhelming for the person who is trying to truly be sugar- free.

Then we have the sugar alcohols: xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol. Although these are not true sugars and don’t have the same effect on blood sugar, they are sweet to the taste and therefore used as common replacements to sugars.

We also have the artificial sweeteners like aspartame, which are so bad for us that I’m not going to even give them a place in this discussion! Good bye, aspartame...

And there’s stevia!

And of course, carbohydrates, whether simple or complex, are sugars as well, because of how the body metabolizes them (they are converted to glucose in the liver).

How Much is Too Much?

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It depends on what type of sugar we are talking about, as well as your activity level, genetic predisposition, and current health status. For example, if you have heart disease or diabetes, you will have to limit sugar much more than a healthy, fit athlete will.

Experts disagree on exactly how much sugar is too much. There are the keto promoters who say keep it pretty much at zero. There are the carnivore diet people who say only eat meat and fat. Ever. (Side note: too much protein can convert into sugar as well.)

So where is the sweet spot for you? Well, it is safe to say that avoiding refined carbohydrates altogether is best. Sugar alcohols, while they don’t appear to have a negative effect on insulin, can sometimes be hard on the digestive system, and also provide no nutrient value; so unless you desperately need a sweet treat and want a safer option, they are probably better to stay away from in general.

Stevia is a natural herb that can be a great choice for people who don’t mind the sometimes-bitter aftertaste. Just be sure to check when purchasing for an option with no added sweeteners.

The best options, though, are nutrient-dense, complex carbohydrates. Fruits, berries, ancient whole grains (because they have not been as tinkered with as wheat), and root vegetables like beets and carrots are all great options.

If you want a real sugar that is also healthy (in moderation), try raw, local honey. Raw honey contains antioxidants and enzymes that are very beneficial to our immune systems, and buying it local ensures that you are getting some of your local pollen into your system. This helps prevent allergy symptoms and also strengthens the immune system. Note however, that honey is not an option on many low-carb diets such as keto.

To sum it all up, sugar, in general, is bad. Refined sugars are definitely bad. But depending on who you are, you may be able to get away with small amounts of healthy, nutritious sugars at times. Just be sure to make sure you are getting enough physical activity so that your body burns it rather than stores it!