This blog post is also available in German.
Some of you might already know, that I made an experiment at the beginning of this year by going completely refined sugar* free for one entire month. The experiment actually also included cutting back on sugar alternatives as much as possible. The results of these four weeks are disturbing and quite frightening. The first 14 days there was a constant feeling of hunger and I suffered from severe ravenous hunger attacks, which I tried covering by stuffing my face with tons of dried fruits, like dates and apricots for example. Not really ideal I guess, but it helped me pull through and after two weeks it became better. The facts are on the table as you can obviously see by my example, sugar is highly addictive! And it`s incredible how quickly the human being tends to get used to consuming sugar on a regular basis. A small spoon of sugar in the morning coffee, a fruit yogurt here a piece of cake there. Sugar is omnipresent and sometimes we are not even aware of it!
Let me straighten out something from the beginning. I don`t want to demonize sugar or trying to convert you into a no sugar eating person. The main aim of this article is to make you aware of a consciously sugar consumption. As Paracelsus used to say “It`s the dose that makes the poison!”. That rule actually applies to a lot of things in life, one of them is sugar. It`s pretty damn fine to consume a bit of sugar from now and then. A delicious piece of that chocolate from the best chocolatier in town or a piece of Granny`s cake, it`s all good, as long as you eat sugar deliberatly. More attention should be dedicated to not buy products that contain unnecessary sugar and to minimize sugar intake in general. At the very best, daily consumption of sugar containing foods should be avoided.
For now I have been talking a lot about personal experiences and opinions, but I also would like to give you the scientific facts on the impact that sugar can have on your body. I`m also going to cover a few food groups that tend to contain “hidden” sugar. Now you might ask, what alternatives do I have, if I want to stop eating sugar? Well this topic will be covered in a separate blog post.
What is refined sugar?
The chemical term of refined sugar is sucrose, which consists of one part glucose and one part fructose (fruit sugar). Sucrose is mainly obtained by refining sugar beets, sugar cane or sugar palm. During this process the sugar loses the majority of the minerals and vitamines the plant originally contained. People will sometimes tell you: “Why don`t you switch to brown sugar/cane sugar? It`s way healthier!” Let me tell you something. Brown sugar is the same exact thing like white sugar, they just differ in color, but chemically they are identical. Another difference is that white sugar originates from the sugar beet and brown sugar from the sugar cane. Same goes for beet sugar, icing sugar, coarse sugar or demerara sugar.
The fact that sugar is just empty calories with few up to no benefit should be clear by now. But what other effect does sugar have on our bodies?
Sugar and it`s effects on our bodies:
- Weight gain/Overweight: High sugar intake on a regular basis, or in other words if you consume more sugar (carbs) than you actually need, you are feeding your body more calories and energy than it`s able to burn. Besides that your body will convert the excess sugar into fat. Both will result in weight gain, which can result in overweight.
- increased risk of diabetes type 2: Type 2 diabetes, sometimes also called age-related diabetes, mostly starts showing up in the second stage of your life. One of main reasons which is causing diabetes type 2, besides insufficient excercise, overweight and unhealthy eating habits, is high sugar intake on a regular basis. Consuming sugar leads to a rise in blood sugar, which then results in your body releasing the hormone insulin. The task of this hormone is to signalize your body that there is sugar in the blood stream which needs to be metabolized. In other words insulin is responsible to lower your blood sugar after sugar intake. Thusfor a regular and high consumption of sugar results in a frequent stimulation of this hormone, which over time can lead to a insulin resistence. Or let me say it this way if you constantly and/or regularly stimulate this hormone over a long period it can result in a reduction or completely effect loss of insulin. And what happens if insulin doesn`t work properly anymore? Right, you get high blood sugar values, or in other words diabetes. Diabetes on the other hand can cause other diseases over the time, especially if it`s not treated properly, for example diabetic neuropathy or kidney problems.
- risk of addiction: Sugar often results in ravenous hunger attacks, but also can get you addicted, which I experienced myself when I started getting rid of it. The addictive potential of sugar is caused by the release of dopamine in our brain after it`s consumption. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is linked to the reward system of our body. This substance can be linked directly with addictive disorder.
- sugar harms our gut: By nature our gut is populated by different bacteria, which live in a symbiosis with us. The equilibrium of these bacteria is crucial for our health and digestion. A high sugar intake on a regular basis can harm this very equilibrium and can cause the growth of certain fungus, as they need glucose to grow.
- causes caries: Our dental plaque contains bacteria which feed on carbs. Sugar obviously is a carb and will be consumed by these bacteria with great joy. When fed with carbs these bacteria will metabolize the sugar into acid, that acid on the other hand will harm our dental enamel. Over time the dental enamel will get erosive and other harmful bacteria will find a way in to attack our teeth.
These are only a few of the negative effects that sugar consumption can have on your body. But most astonishing is the fact that a lot of products in our supermarkets contain sugar, which we wouldn`t even expect. Here`s a list of different food groups that very often contain sugar.
sugar in groceries:
- instant meals, also the frozen ones
- spices, especially spice mixtures, as sugar acts as a flavor enhancer, bouillon as well
- packet sauce, all kinds, also dips, pasta sauce & salad dressings
- pre-packed smoothies & juices
- breakfast cereals, as well as storebought granolas
- soda, ice tea, some alcoholic drinks (champagne, alcopops)
- pickled & canned foods
- spreads & jam
- sweets, obviously
- some of the storebought bread & ready to bake bread
It`s quite a list right? In case you would like to ditch the refined sugar as well, I don`t have good news for you. There is no easy way to achieve this! At the beginning you will have to check every single product for sugar. You will have to read tons of ingredient lists. But believe me it will get easier every time, as you will learn which products you can buy and which you shouldn`t. Just be aware of these things; Just if a packaging says something is sugar-free it doesn`t always mean that exact thing. Often sugar-free means the company used an artificial sweetener to sweeten their product and let`s be honest, although it`s said that artificial sweetener don`t cause cancer in the consumed amount, who wants to put something artificial into their bodies? Then I would actually prefer real sugar! Also keep in mind that only because you might not find the wording sugar on the ingredients list, it doesn`t always mean a product is sugar-free. There are other terms for sugar like sucrose, glucose, glucose syrup and so on.
Now I have been talking in extend about sugar and it`s effects, as well as about products that tend to contain sugar, but what about the alternatives and are they even better? This type of questions will be answered in a separate blog post, as this one is quite huge already. I will link to the sugar alternative post as soon as it`s online.
With that said, I hope this blog post was sufficient informative. In case you have any questions feel free to send me an email or write a comment down below.
Read you soon
*If I`m talking about sugar in this blog post I always mean refined sugar or sucrose.