To understand why reducing sugar is important, you have to start by knowing that two hundred years ago, our biggest challenge was getting enough to eat (and avoiding getting eaten by a lion). Calorie-dense foods were important to provide energy and keep humans alive during dire times; sugary foods were a matter of survival.
Flash forward to today and we have a very different challenge: avoiding the surplus of food that is constantly surrounding us so that we don’t gain weight. While our bodies may no longer be threatened by starvation, our brains and hormone regulation haven’t caught up.
Our brains react and respond to sugary foods even before they enter our mouth. Just seeing a picture of high sugar foods excites our brain’s reward center. As soon as that food touches your tongue, your taste buds begin to send signals to your brain, which triggers a rush of dopamine. Dopamine = pleasure, so your brain starts to think sugar = pleasure. The more sugar you eat, the more your brain gets flooded with dopamine. So while one or two cookies used to satisfy you, over time if you overeat sugar foods, you’ll need to eat more and more cookies to get the same sense satisfaction. The more sugar you eat, the more sugar you’ll crave.
While small amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugar are okay, overeating them consistently is a problem. Your body then releases lots of insulin which causes your blood sugar to crash back down within an hour or two, leading to more hunger and cravings.
Added sugars don’t provide any nutritional benefit outside of calories. While some sugar is okay, eating too much will start to displace other, more nutritious foods.
Foods that contain naturally occurring sugar, like fruit or dairy foods, also provide you with other nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Added sugars on the other hand only provide calories, with no other nutrients. Another word to describe this is “empty calories”. There is no protein, vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants in sugar, just calories. Added sugars are found in sweets and sugary foods like cookies and cake, as well as most savory packaged foods too. This includes many foods that are marketed as “healthy” or “natural”. Bread, pasta sauce, granola bars, flavored yogurts, green smoothies – these all can have added sugars. 74% of packaged foods contain added sugar, so even if you are skipping the sweet treats, you may still be consuming more added sugar than is recommended.
Unfortunately the current food labeling regulatory system does not differentiate between natural and added sugars (though we will see this change in the next few years), so you have to do a little investigative work.
Different Names for Sugar:
– Barley malt – Beet sugar – Brown sugar – Cane juice – Cane juice crystals – Cane sugar – Caramel – Carob syrup – Castor sugar – Coconut palm sugar – Coconut sugar – Confectioner’s sugar – Corn sweetener – Corn syrup – Corn syrup solids – Dehydrated cane juice – Dextrose – Evaporated cane juice – Fructose – Fruit juice – Fruit juice concentrate – Glucose – Glucose solids – HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup) – Honey – Invert sugar – Malt syrup – Maltodextrin – Maltose – Mannose – Maple syrup – Molasses – Palm sugar – Powdered sugar – Raw sugar – Rice syrup – Saccharose – Sorghum Syrup – Sucrose – Sugar (granulated) – Syrup – Turbinado sugar
While artificial sugar substitutes don’t add any calories, they do still flood your taste buds with a very sweet taste. Some research suggests that these artificial sweeteners can lead you to crave more sugar since your brain tastes sweetness but doesn’t get the dopamine rush as it does with actual sugar.