Like it or loathe it, sugar has detrimental effects on our body and mind. Here's why
Let's face it, we are a nation of sugar addicts. Few of us manage to make it through the day unscathed without reaching for that biscuit, bit of chocolate or hazelnut latte. But we all know that in excess, it damages our health and here are some examples of how it does so:
1) It's addictive
We’re drawn to sweetness like bees to honey. The fact is, the stuff is addictive - researchers in France recently found that given the choice between sugar or cocaine, rats chose the sugar. When we taste sugar, the same areas of the brain are activated as an alcoholic with a bottle of vodka. This is down to the release of dopamine, the reward chemical, in our brain. When dopamine is released, it feels good and leaves us wanting more.
2) It makes you fat
Fairly obvious this one, but how? Well, sugar is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream as your digestive system doesn’t need to do much to break it down. This leads to a blood sugar spike, where your body is left with excess fuel it doesn’t need. Insulin then kicks in to restore the balance and turns this into fat. Don’t even get us started on what diseases obesity can cause…
3) It’s responsible for those energy and mood highs and lows
You think it’s the coffee? You could be mistaken. The insulin levels which spike so high when we eat sugar drop off suddenly, leading to that characteristic “crash” which leaves us exhausted. Those highs and lows place unnecessary strain on the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys and produce hormones that regulate salt and water levels as well as managing the stress response. These swings also make you moody, anxious and jittery, as your body wonders where its next fix is going to come from.
4) It causes inflammation
In our bloodstream, sugar attaches to proteins and lipids to form Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs), which cause inflammation and damage to cell structure as they increase free radicals. Inflammation is a known factor behind the development of cancer and degenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis and osteoporosis, not to mention the more immediate impact on things like the skin and wound healing.
5) It steals our nutrients
It depletes our reserves of essential vitamins and minerals such as zinc (essential for immunity), B6 (mental health and nervous system), calcium (teeth and bones), magnesium (all round rock-star mineral for nerve function, protein synthesis, bone building and mood), vitamin D and antioxidants.
6) It ruins your skin
All the money you spend on the cleansers, toners, moisturisers, serums, exfoliators, not to mention the treatments, all goes to waste if we feed our body with the wrong things. Increased insulin is known to increase sebum production. This sebum gets trapped in the pores, becoming a breeding ground for bacteria and making us more prone to spots. Sugar also jams the repair mechanism in our skin cells, which over time leads to reduced amounts of collagen and elastin needed to keep our skin looking young.
7) It causes brain fog
Recent research has shown that sugar forms free radicals in the brain’s membrane and compromises nerve cells’ ability to communicate. Scary huh? This has implications for memory, mood and our ability to engage with the world around us.
That’s not to say that we should eliminate sugar completely, as we should enjoy everything in moderation. However, we should try to stick to our recommended daily allowance of 30g, or 5% of total calorie intake per day. If you do have a sugary treat, perhaps try to have it after lunch or dinner, where the lower sugar content of the meal will help to balance out the effect on blood sugar. Also look out for “hidden sugar” in everyday foods (more on that later) – check the labels on things like drinks, sauces, bread and breakfast cereals and remember, pure is always best.
Take a look at our personal consultation offerings on how to fuel your body well, either covering nutrition specifically (Fuel), or as part of our wider Wellbeing MOT