Your alarm goes off at 7:00 am. You roll out of bed, rush out the door, and head to work. You grab a muffin (sugar) and a coffee with milk and sugar (sugar) for breakfast. You’re starving by 10:00 am, so you grab a leftover bagel (sugar) in the office kitchen. At noon, you have a sandwich on white bread (sugar) for lunch. You have a date that evening where you have a few glasses of wine (sugar), pasta (sugar), and you can’t help but want dessert (sugar).
No wonder our society is addicted to sugar—it’s everywhere! It’s even in the seemingly less obvious places like yogurt, tomato sauce and “healthy” protein bars. To maintain healthiness, sustained energy, weight, cognitive health and hormone balance, blood sugar must be balanced throughout the day. But if you’re the example above, this is impossible to do. Your diet leaves you feeling frazzled, exhausted, and constantly hangry. Your hormones are in overdrive, and you are struggling to feel your best day in and day out.
While it may be obvious that eating too much refined sugar can cause weight gain, have you stopped to think about the effect it has on your hormonal health? It causes headaches, digestive trouble, PMS symptoms, cramps, acne, brain fog and more. And if you find yourself pining for a sweet snack just minutes after finishing a well-rounded meal, well, sugar addiction has caught you red-handed.
Sugar addiction is real. In fact, science shows that sugar addiction is comparable to cocaine addiction. Withdrawal symptoms, cravings and “relapse” behavior are similar to that of a drug addict. No, you’re not crazy, and it’s not all in your head. With the average person (probably unknowingly) consuming 82 grams of sugar (that’s 19.5 teaspoons) per day, it’s no wonder we’re a society of addicts. And the effects of sugar on your health are disastrous.
Our body uses sugar (in the form of glucose) for quick bursts of energy. Our ancestors used these quick bursts of energy do to things like run from a threatening animal. Their cortisol levels would rise (increasing the amount of glucose released in the bloodstream) only to quickly burn it off after they escaped the attack (sugar in their blood would get used up, and their blood sugar would return to baseline).
Back then, sugar was only found in the form of fruits and berries, and they were a rare treat—not a daily indulgence. We modern day humans consume sugar for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, thanks to the food industry seeping it into pretty much everything. So, what’s really happening in our bodies when we eat sugar?
When we consume simple carbohydrates or refined sugar (either sugar or carbs that have been processed, meaning their nutrients have been stripped from them) these “foods” spike our blood sugar, since there are no nutrients or fiber bound to them to slow digestion. Insulin, a hormone that regulates our blood sugar, goes into overdrive to clean up the mess in our bloodstream. Soon after, our blood sugar crashes dramatically, dipping below a healthy baseline. This, in turn, causes a craving for more sugar and carbs to bring our blood sugar back to baseline. If we continue to consume empty, refined sugars, the roller coaster continues.
When our blood sugar is spiked, insulin floods the bloodstream. Overtime, this can cause your blood sugar to stop responding to insulin. Because insulin is constantly in the bloodstream, sugars don’t get removed. This can lead to diabetes, brain fog, exhaustion, constant hunger and depression.
If cells are overburdened with stored sugar and can’t take in any more, insulin then carries the excess sugar to our liver, where it gets stored as glycogen. Once the glycogen stores in the liver are filled, this glycogen gets stored as fatty acids and triglycerides in our tissues (hello, weight gain!).
And that’s not all. After consuming sugar, your immune system is depressed for a few hours, meaning you are more susceptible to catching a cold or other illness while riding that sugar wave. Refined sugar is also known for stressing your adrenal glands (which regulate cortisol, the stress hormone, and aldosterone, which controls your blood pressure) and your thyroid (which secretes hormones responsible for maintaining your metabolism, cognitive function and body temperature.) Cortisol levels often rise when there is an increase in blood sugar levels, which means our stress levels become less manageable, and we’re likely to feel exhausted, wired and anxious.
Sugar also attacks collagen, the structural protein that’s responsible for elasticity and strength of skin and repairing dead skin cells. Thus, excess sugar consumption can leave us with premature wrinkles and an aging complexion.
Sugar also depletes B vitamins from our bodies’ stores. B vitamins are crucial to our mental health, hormonal health and overall energy levels. Without them, we feel increased feelings of anxiety and depression, have a higher likelihood of insomnia, our cortisol is out of whack, our sex hormone production declines (bye bye, libido!), and we are more likely to experience fertility issues. Excess sugar consumption is also linked to exacerbated PMS symptoms such as headaches, cramps, irritation and moodiness.
The key to keeping our sugar cravings at bay is to eat to stabilize our blood sugar. Eating a well-balanced diet of fiber-rich carbohydrates, quality protein and healthy fats will satiate you, free you from constant cravings, and keep your hormones in balance and blood sugar normalized. Regular exercise and sleep also decrease active blood sugar and lower cortisol levels. This will keep you keep you full and sane, kicking those sugar cravings to the curb.
Jamie Forward is a holistic health coach.