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How Sugar Effects the Body

Most of us have a serious sweet tooth. But do you know the science behind it? Well let us explain!

First off sugar is a carbohydrate and it comes in many forms such as; glucose, sucrose, dextrose, raw sugar, corn syrup, honey, lactose, maltose, fructose and fruit juices. And don't let artificial sweeteners fool you. Some to keep an eye out for include; Acesulfame K (brand names: Sunett and Sweet One), Advantame, Aspartame (two brand names: Equal and Nutrasweet), Neotame (brand name: Newtame), Saccharin (two brand names: Sweet 'N Low and Sweet Twin), Sucralose (brand name: Splenda), etc. The more natural the better but keep in mind every source/kind of sugar will have the very similar biological effect on the body. If you have a sweet tooth, reach for the least processed or products that do not contain artificial flavors.

Sugars activate a signal to the rewards system in the brain. This happens within the cerebral cortex which processes taste such as; bitter, salty, umami, and sweet...

Sugar receptors in the gut get sent to the same part of the brain that tells us "I'm full" and produces what we are most familiar to as insulin. However, an overstimulated reward system is where we will find ourselves caught up in cravings.

When our reward system is activated our body produces the "happy hormone" called dopamine. This same reward system signals are activated during socializing, exercise sexual behaviors and drugs. When we eat sugar we are basically in a dopamine high similar as taking a drug such as cocaine - believe it or not.

When we eat a well balanced meal our dopamine levels peak, however they level out after the production of insulin and we return back to normal. This is why you may have a favorite healthy balanced meal but after you have repetitively eaten it, it no longer is as rewarding as it was when you fist started eating. With sugar that's not the case.

When you eat sugar your dopamine levels elevate; but in this case they stay elevated and do not level out. You can continue to eat sugar and your dopamine levels will always increase and your reward system will always be activated. This is why researchers compare sugars to drug addiction.

What you should know

Any form of sugar will spike your blood sugar levels and in turn spike your insulin levels. In moderation these spikes are OK. However when you continuously engage in this fluctuation you become what is called insulin resistant and your body will no longer be able to properly function in lowering your blood sugars.

Insulin is produced in the pancreas which sits snug behind the stomach and directly in front of the liver. Glucose is used throughout the body as energy, but when we have a surplus of glucose it is stored in other parts if the body including; fat cells, the liver and in muscles. Keep in mind that high levels of glucose in the body is toxic as it raises your likelihood of contracting diseases such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

When you eat foods high in sugars your blood sugar goes up and it signals the pancreas to release insulin in order to regulate blood sugars. Insulin fits like a key into a lock in fat cells. When you become insulin resistant this means your fat cells have become enlarged and its receptor(lock) that the insulin(key) fits into becomes dysfunctional and now requires high doses of insulin in order for the fat cells to regulate your blood sugar.

When this process goes on long enough your body cannot make an output of insulin large enough to regulate your blood sugar. This is when we see cases of people having to inject insulin into the body in order to regulate blood sugar levels.

Sugar and immunity

Elizabeth Leppart, MS, LN writes, "A research study done by Loma Linda University in which participants were fed different forms of sugar found that the effectiveness of white blood cells (our immune cells which fight infection) decreased up to 50% after 1-2 hours of eating sugar, lasting up to five hours!"

If you are already immunocompromised you should avoid sugar as research shows the effects of sugar are highly degrading to our immune system. 80% of our immune system is located in the gut. Our gut contains a microbiome full of beneficial bacteria that helps breakdown and metabolize foods as well as bad bacteria. The goal is to maintain the good gut bacteria as they help us break down and absorb the vital nutrients our body needs from the foods that we eat. Sugar can keep good microbes from colonizing your gut. They can also halt the production of proteins that foster the growth of beneficial gut microbes. Try incorporating more live and fermented foods that feed your healthy gut flora. This can be extremely beneficial in boosting your immunity.

How you can reduce likely hood of disease

Because sugar craving are so intense it may be hard for us to cut out sugars cold turkey. But here are some smart ways you can start lowering your intake as well as some alternatives that can be just as satisfying.

Keep in mind that if you are pre-diabetic or trying to loose weight, sugary foods need to be avoided at all costs. Even whole fruits and smoothies as they are considered healthy, they still contain high levels of natural sugars. All forms of sugar need to be avoided - natural or not.

  1. Stop drinking sugary drinks. This includes all soft serve beverages, sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, store bought fruit juices etc.

  2. Avoid sugar loaded desserts. If you are going to indulge, stop and rethink your serving size. Opt for a small serving of fruit.

  3. Avoid store bought sauces. Opt for making your own sauces.

  4. Check sugars in canned foods. You may be surprised on its sugar content.

  5. Try eating less packaged/processed foods. These contain all types of different sugars even if it reads "no sugar added" it may have an alternative sugar that you may not be familiar with. It's just as bad, if not worse.

  6. Avoid starting your day with sugar loaded breakfast as this will leave you in a sugar crash.

  7. Eat more healthy fats as this will help curb cravings

  8. Eat more whole foods

  9. Eat more fermented foods that help your healthy gut flora flourish

  10. Fruits are better than candy as fruit contains fiber witch helps regulate blood sugar as it metabolizes slower and doesn't create such a spike in blood sugar levels as compared to candy.

  11. Opt for sweeter vegetables such as yams or sweet potatoes to curb your sweet tooth. These will not spike your blood sugars as much as candies or cookies.

  12. Opt for more natural coffee creamers with bases such as almond or coconut milk

  13. Try avoiding dairy and making the switch to an alternative

  14. Make your own simple desserts that have no added sugars. Here is one of our favorite recipes!

Vegan fudge brownies

  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

  • 1/2 cup nut or seed butter

  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder

  • 1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips

Works cited

By: Shelbi Miller, Integrated Health and Wellness Coach

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