These days, sugar is everywhere, and in practically every processed or packaged food. According to a study done by the University of California San Francisco, the average American consumes approximately 66 pounds of sugar each year. This is leading to disease, obesity, mental health issues and illness.
“But sugar makes everything taste so much better!” – your brain
“Yeah, but I’M the one suffering!” – your body
Sugar affects nearly every department of our well-being – our hormonal balance, mental health and mood, energy levels, sleep and taste buds. So, shouldn’t we be careful of how much we’re consuming?
There are two different kinds of sugar – “natural” and “added” – and although there is a big difference between the two, are either of them truly benefiting you and your health? Let’s dive in.
Added sugar is exactly what it sounds like: sweetening agents that are added to foods and that need to be processed (either minimally or highly) in order to reach their form. This includes brown rice syrup, brown sugar, cane juice and cane sugar, raw sugar, maltose, agave syrup, corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrose, confectioner’s sugar, tapioca syrup, and a list of others that you might see on the back of food labels (including artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame, saccharin and sucralose).
Natural sugars, on the other hand, are naturally found in real foods. This includes fructose and lactose. These natural sugars are encased in fiber, and therefore are absorbed by the body more slowly, which helps your body metabolize the sugar better and keeps you from hitting that “sugar high.”
Although natural sugars are definitely better than added sugars, we have to be careful about how much we consume of both.
When we ingest sugar, natural or added, our bodies create glucose, which in turn gets used as energy – and if not expended as energy, gets stored for later. But, if we don’t end up using that energy (or glucose) that’s been stored for later, then our body stores it as fat. This “energy” relationship that our bodies have with sugar affect our hormones, mental state, and more.
When we consume sugar in large amounts, it throws our blood sugar out of line, and this can really harm hormone levels – especially as a woman! Hormonal expert and author of WomanCode, Alisa Vitti, has a very helpful article about how sugar affect hormonal balance. Read it here for more in-depth information!
The roller-coaster of high blood sugar followed by a crash can correlate to mood disorders, along with depression and anxiety. Think – when your body is out of balance in any sense of the word – you don’t feel quite like yourself, right? Sugar can make you feel a bit funky when consumed in high amounts or too often. Furthermore, it’s addictive! The same reward centers in the brain that are activated by cocaine are also activated by sugar; and a study in 2007 showed that rats actually prefer sugar water over cocaine when given the two to choose from.
Our energy levels and sleep are also affected by our sugar intake. With a blood sugar spike comes a crash. You might hit a “high” and peak in energy for 20 minutes, but you’re sure to feel lethargic and sluggish in the end. Sugar and glucose don’t offer a sustainable energy level like healthy fats and protein do. Additionally, if you are someone who enjoys a bowl of ice cream at night before bed – you might want to think twice. When we consume sugar before bed, it’s even WORSE for us because it will be converted straight into fat. The glucose will have nowhere to go (because you’re not expending energy while you sleep) and therefore will stick around instead.
Isn’t it crazy how much sugar affects our day-to-day well-being? Almost everything is directly impacted by our consumption of it! And, unfortunately, the more that we consume it, the more that our taste-buds and brain want more of it.
Although sugar isn’t providing us with any nutrients or healthy calories, we don’t have to give up ALL things sweet! Here are some alternative sweeteners that you can use that won’t spike your blood sugar and are okay in moderation!
- Pure Stevia Leaf (extract or powder)
- Raw, organic honey
- Raw, organic maple syrup
- Organic dates
- Organic applesauce
- Banana puree or bananas
- Organic fruit juices
- Monk fruit
- Coconut sugar + nectar
Of course it’s fun to treat yourself every now and then, but making a habit of saying “no thanks” to added sugar a majority of the time is going to greatly benefit your health down the line. Let’s find ways to be intentional about our sugar consumption – by choosing products and foods that don’t include sugar (or use natural sweeteners instead), and opting for nutritious meals and snacks that are full of healthy fats and proteins in its place!