Is sugar addictive? It seems like it’s in everything these days!
It sounds paranoid to blame the “sugar industry” for the growing obesity epidemic, and it might be unfair to place the onus entirely there. The truth is, however, human are hardwired to crave sugar – our body’s basic metabolism runs on the stuff. The problem comes in when we’re bombarded by huge portion sizes and the fact that sugar is added to most processed foods.
Even things like beef jerky, which should be pretty much dried meat, has sugar added to it, which is pretty insane.
It’s here that I’ll start my preaching, because the first step to losing fat and reclaiming your body is admitting that sugar is a problem, and then addressing that problem.
To that end, this list should serve to help clear up some of the most prevalent misconceptions about sugar; lies we tell ourselves and lies we’re told that are keeping us fat, unhappy, and sick.
Lie #1 – “Natural” Sugars Are Somehow Better Than Table Sugar
There is a war about high fructose corn syrup, with one side saying it’s fine – “it comes from corn!” is the battle cry. Well yeah, that’s true, and corn is a plant (sorta…) and plants are nice, but then why does the other side say “it’s the WORST for you?” The “othersiders” advocate natural sources of sugar, like honey or agave nectar, which are supposedly so much better.
So why is high fructose corn syrup worse? It comes from corn! Agave comes from agave! They’re both plants(ish), right?
Well, the fact is that they are dissimilar, but not in the way agave or honey proponents would have you believe.
The fact is that fructose – whether crushed from corn, squeezed from a succulent, or barfed up by a bee – is the harshest type of sugar for our bodies.
There are studies that link fructose to increased insulin resistance, a major contributing factor to type 2 diabetes, as well as increased heart disease risk, and the main reason is that it can only be metabolized by the liver, which makes it much more likely to circulate until stored as fat. The only reason fructose in fruit isn’t as terrible is because it’s accompanied by vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, which slows the absorption of the fructose.
This also means that fruit juice is not the same as fruit, shouldn’t “count” as fruit in diets no matter what the government says, and isn’t something we should drink daily, especially not our children!
Lie #2 – Reading Ingredient Lists Helps You Avoid Sugar
Unless the ingredient list is of an apple, or you’re a food scientist, chances are good that food companies are pretty good at fooling you when it comes to added sugar.
There are, at minimum, 60 names for sugar that are approved for use on ingredient labels in America.
Just a handful you may have seen:
Barely malt, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane syrup, treacle, cane juice, beet juice, caramel, fruit juice, maple syrup, molasses, sorghum, turbinado…
In addition to these (and other) names that are not as easily recognizable, companies will often try to gussy up their labels, using healthy-sounding alternatives, like coconut, date, and beet sugars and syrups. It’s all the same, fructose and glucose.
Lie #3 – You Don’t Eat That Much Sugar
Even if you believe you eat pretty healthy, unless you really pay attention to your diet, or eat mostly whole foods and/or low carb, you’re probably getting more added sugar than you realize. Being that it’s snuck into everything processed, the average American now consumes about 66 POUNDS of added sugar per year.
Considering the American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 added teaspoons (which equates to about 36g) of sugar per day, we are, as a nation, eating FAR above what is considered healthy. In particular, the amount of sugar-laden foods marketed at kids is largely responsible for the explosion of type 2 diabetes in kids under 10. In fact, most of the world has a nutritional guidepost of no more than 12-15 teaspoons of sugar per day, but if you look at American ingredient labels, every single micro and macronutrient lists an upper or suggested limit, except sugar. That’s confusing, if nothing else, but honestly it’s dangerous.
Lie #4 – Sugar Isn’t Addictive
Anyone who has done Atkins, or a Whole30, or Paleo, or any other way of eating that advocates cutting sugar out of your diet, even for a restricted period of time, will tell you that it can be torturous.
Frankly speaking, sugar acts on the brain in the same way many drugs do, creating spikes of dopamine, triggering our reward center, but then requiring even more sugar for the next rush. If you’ve ever found yourself elbow-deep in a bag of Oreos and felt extreme guilt and a lack of self control, don’t be too hard on yourself – your brain is wired to make you want as much sugar as you can inhale. The good news is that getting over that three-day-hump of no sugar can drastically reduce cravings, and after two weeks, you should see a marked increase in energy and ability to resist eating sugar-laden treats.
Lie #5 – Sugar-Free Replacements are Completely Fine
While it is true that replacing sugary beverages with diet versions does cut calories, there’s a lot of information available that suggests diet sodas and sugar-free treats can be harmful in different ways.
Aside from the accusations that diet soda causes acidic blood ph and a myriad of other claims of questionable truth, there does seem to be an actual reason to avoid diet soda: it appears any sweet taste causes the brain to anticipate incoming glucose, and this creates a flood of insulin, which inhibits fat loss and causes your blood sugar to drop.
Even if there’s no calories coming in, this flood of insulin and the resulting hunger from your blood sugar flooring can cause you to binge eat or break your diet. There is also evidence that correlates diet soda consumption with increased type 2 diabetes risk. This is likely due to people eating more calories, thinking they’re able because of the calories they’re avoiding with the diet soda, rather than the diet soda directly causing diabetes, but it’s worth noting.
Cut the Sh..ugar
Ultimately, sugar can at best be OK in extremely limited quantities, but if you’re insulin resistant at all, overweight, or at risk of heart disease and diabetes, the FIRST thing to do before considering a weight-loss plan is to get your sugar consumption under control, otherwise you’re fighting an uphill battle from step one.
Have you ever tried to eliminate sugar from your diet?