Sweet But Sour: The Icky Truth about Sugar
Is a vegan diet healthier, or a paleo one? Is fat good or bad for you? Should you be restricting carbs?
You’ll find experts on all sides of these and other diet-related issues. Equally informed people can hold wildly differing perspectives on nutrition – and the prevailing views change over time. But while some of these debates will probably never be settled, there’s one thing nearly everyone agrees on: the incredible damage caused by sugar.
Most surgery foods have little nutritional value.
Think about common surgery foods: soda, candy, cake, and cookies, for example. It’s no secret that these foods are low in nutrients, if they have any at all.
Sugary foods are high in calories.
Not only do they not provide the nutrients you need, surgery foods also tend to be high in calories. And that doesn’t only apply to foods that are obviously desserts. For example, many dressings, sauces, breads, cereals, and granola bars are high in both sugar and calories.
Excessive sugar consumption raises the risk of diseases.
While diabetes is the disease most clearly linked to sugar consumption, it’s far from the only one. Excessive sugar also increases the likelihood of heart disease, kidney disease, and certain cancers, as well as heart attack and stroke. As if that wasn’t enough, the high blood pressure and obesity that often result from sugar consumption are correlated with many other health problems.
Sugar is addictive.
Eating sugar releases a surge of dopamine into your brain. What else triggers a dopamine release? Highly addictive behaviors like drinking beer, using cocaine, and gambling. Even though we don’t often talk about being addicted to sugar, it functions in the same way.
That’s why people often experience cravings for sugar, not unlike cravings for alcohol or drugs. As with other addictions, you also build up a tolerance to sugar. You eventually need more and more in order to trigger the dopamine release and get those pleasant feelings.
There are better alternatives.
Limiting sugar can be a challenge, especially during the holidays. But it doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of sweets and treats. To get your sweetness fix without the sugar, opt for fresh fruit, dark chocolate, or herbal tea. When these options aren’t available, limit yourself to a small portion of the surgery foods on offer. Or have one glass of punch and then switch to water.
If you aren’t already, try to get in the habit of checking nutrition labels as well. You may find that you could replace some high-sugar products with a different brand or a less processed version.
Lastly, experiment with natural alternatives like honey, maple syrup, dates, and unprocessed fruit juice. These are all still forms of sugar, so don’t treat them as health foods. But they are less processed and more nutritious than refined sugar, which makes them a better alternative. Treats with these ingredients also tend to be less sweet and more satisfying, so you’re likely to eat them in smaller quantities.
No matter how you go about it, reducing your sugar consumption can be hard at first. But the good news is that it gets easier as your body becomes less accustomed to having it.
About the Author
Jen is a freelance writer, blogger, and yoga teacher who left her office job in Boston to travel the world with her husband. She previously worked in international development and academic research, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda. Some of her biggest passions include promoting responsible and mindful travel and helping her students develop their personal yoga practice.