Sweetness. It’s something we all want and some of us can’t get enough of it. Whether it is literal or figurative, the very word exudes such joy and pleasure. It’s a sensation that like a high, not only elevates our minds and bodies, but also our souls. Unfortunately, when it comes to our food, not all sweet things are created equal. Some foods are deceptive in just how delicious they are. More often than not, the deception of deliciousness is by manufactured design. And it all comes down to sugar.
The sugar in our food not only makes it taste better, but it is meant to keep us coming back for more. It has been scientifically proven to be one of the most addictive substances. It is no different that any other substance that releases opiates in our system, increasing the dopamine levels in our body, and triggering the addiction for more when we come down off our high.
There is truth to the expression too much of a good thing. In this case too much sweetness or sugar in our foods can be detrimental to our health. In fact, it is one of the greatest culprits of illnesses and diseases, both physical and mental. It is a silent plague wreaking havoc on our systems, without us even knowing it. Most of us do not even realize that things we consume have any sugar at all.
Chronic inflammation, as opposed to acute inflammation resulting from a certain incident, is extremely detrimental to the body. Unfortunately, inflammatory conditions are on the rise and sugar is one of the biggest contributing factors.
There are certain types of sugars can cause more health problems. Refined sugars like: cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, molasses, caramel and most things ending in -OSE for example, are processed without insulin and through the liver. When excess sugar processed by the liver, excessive amounts of fatty acids can be produced, which have been linked to inflammation in the body. So, how can you be kind to your body and avoid an inflammatory response?
Added Sugar Vs. Natural Sugar
Fortunately for all of us who like to indulge our sweet tooth from time to time, we are not at a complete loss. Natural sugars that come from produce are good for you, and eating a diet high in natural sugars is not linked to any sort of inflammation in the body. While there is no recommendation for how many grams of natural sugar you should have each day, there is a recommendation for intake of added sugar.
When an excess of added sugar is consumed, the results are often seen as an increase in inflammatory markers in the body. One easy way to reduce this type of inflammation can be to look at food labels and especially avoid any food with -OSE in it. It is also best to avoid any processed foods as they will likely have much more added sugars.
Signs of Sugar Inflammation
Sugar inflammation can cause a few negative changes to happen in your body. These changes are usually caused by an excessive intake of added sugars. Some of the changes are the following.
Changes in Gut Bacteria
As we know gut health is pivotal to our overall health. Supporting our gut health is by extension supporting our whole system. When an excessive amount of added sugars are eaten, it can cause increased gut permeability. This means that undigested food, bacteria, and particles can move more easily into the bloodstream and cause inflammation. This inflammation triggers an entire chain of systemic breakdowns in our body. For those of us who already struggle with gut issues, being mindful of our sugar intake is crucial to keep our inflammation at bay.
Increase in Oxidative Stress
Antioxidants are crucial to removing potentially damaging oxidizing agents in our bodies. When we increase our sugar intake this can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation.
Antioxidants protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals, that increase oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can break down cell tissues and cause DNA damage which potentially leads to a whole host of issues like neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular conditions, diabetes and cancer.
Much to the dismay of millions, sugar does not fall into the category of antioxidants. In fact it is counterproductive and negates the bodies effort to removing the oxidizing agents that are harmful to our systems. Again, being aware of our sugar intake can be instrumental in decreasing oxidative stress in our bodies.
Weight gain in and of itself is its own topic that one could delve into deeply. There are so many factors that have been historically linked to weight gain. Drivers of weight gain include increase of calories, sugar consumption, gut health and inflammation. Weight gain is most likely to happen when excess added sugars are eaten.
Processed sugars have components in them that are more difficult for the body to digest. Circling back to role of insulin, when we consume large amounts of sugar, our insulin resistance shoots up making it hard to process and our bodies convert the fuel into fat storage. It creates this whole cyclical chain of events that not only leads to difficulty in burning fat, but only results in accumulating it.
In the midst of this vicious cycle, it becomes harder and harder to manage our weight gain. Over time weight gain can be linked to a whole host of diseases including type 2 Diabetes. Eliminating processed sugars is key to managing weight gain and the potential health hazards associated with it.
Long Term Effects of Sugar
In time, the signs of sugar inflammation can have long term effects causing more severe illness like Diabetes, Cancer, Heart Disease, and other chronic illness. It's important to manage your added sugar intake to reduce these long-term effects.
Ways to Reduce Inflammation
Ultimately, most of us cannot live without sweetness in our lives, nor should we have to. Ice cream will always bring me joy, so eliminating it is not something I want to do.
The intention is not to eliminate sugar all together but to crowd it out by inviting the positive sweeteners that are less detrimental to our health. There are many ways to invite sweetness in our lives that make our bodies feel healthy and our souls feel happy.
Natural sugars include fruit and starchy vegetables. It is also ok to have whole or minimally processed carbohydrates. Sugar that is found in milk and cheese, in moderation, is good too. Unfortunately, there are many sources of processed or refined sugars that should be consumed as minimally as possible. A great start is to focus on adding the natural sugars so there is less room for the processed ones.
As it is said knowledge is power. Creating awareness around our sugar intake and what we are consuming is an invaluable tool in keeping ourselves healthy. It’s a collective effort in which we can help each other be the best versions of ourselves living a life filled with sweetness.