Why Going Sugar-Free Is Good For Your Health
Sugar, it seems so innocent. We consume it liberally without a second thought, enjoy celebrating with it, and many of us can’t imagine living without it. Yet by now, you’re clearly aware of the multiple harmful effects of sugar. And, we’re not only talking about white table sugar.
Angelique Panagos, a leading nutritional therapist and nutritionist in London, defines sugar as “more than just the crystallized white stuff.” She emphasizes, “White bread, pastry, pasta, highly processed carbs, and fruit juices all convert to sugar within minutes of being eaten, including brown sugar, which is just white sugar coated in molasses.”
Regular consumption of any form of sugar can cause negative effects to our skin, teeth, joints, hormones, sleep, brain, nervous system, digestion and gut health, and put us at risk of chronic disease, weight gain, cognitive and neurological issues, and much more.
According to holistic women’s health psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Brogan, “Sugar has direct inflammatory effects on the body that may be related to its influence on gut flora, its associated insulin spike, or glycation effects of circulating sugar on proteins. Inflammation is understood to be the major driver of chronic disease including mental illness, and is promoted by sugar, stress, food, and environmental toxins.”
Going sugar-free can reduce these adverse effects and risks, and allow your body to enjoy a range of important health benefits. Here are six top reasons why going sugar-free is good for your health.
Sugar enters our bloodstream pretty quickly thus causing insulin levels to spike. Whereas this spike might feel energizing initially, the resulting blood sugar crash shortly after can wreak havoc on our body, and even feel a lot like anxiety. Furthermore, when we continuously dose our body with sugar, we create more insulin than we need, which can prevent other important hormones from working correctly, such as leptin, the hormone that regulates how much we eat.
Dr. Ellen Vora, a board-certified psychiatrist, acupuncturist, and yoga teacher, explains, “When our blood sugar crashes, our body responds with a stress response. We secrete the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which tell our liver to make more blood sugar to keep us alive. The good news: we stay alive. The bad news: this hormonal stress response feels identical to anxiety,” and when we feel anxious, we are much more susceptible to using food to cope.
Eliminating sugar stabilizes and balances hormone levels. You begin to feel better and have more energy throughout the day, notice improved focus and concentration, and even mood. You also might notice that you eat less, feel full longer, and less apt to rely on food to cope with your anxiety.
Improved Brain Health
The insulin surges caused by eating sugar strains the pancreas. The drop in blood sugar that follows signals the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and the stress response chemicals responsible for increasing heart rate and fight or flight emotions, such as anxiety.
In fact, regarded as one of the most influential doctors in the UK, Dr. Rangan Chatterjee supports, “When your blood sugar crashes, your body can release its fight or flight hormones – adrenaline and cortisol. In this context, these hormones are alarm signs to your body – the foods that are “shocking” and “scaring” you.”
In other words, eating sugar causes a similar chemical response inside the brain much like when our safety or survival is threatened. Even worse, our reaction to this uncomfortable cycle is to eat more sugar and even include caffeine. This perpetual sugar cycle stresses the brain and increases our risk for a variety of neurological, cognitive, and mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
Clearer, Brighter Skin
Eating sugar can damage skin in a couple of ways. First, it causes the collagen and elastin in skin to become inflamed. These structural proteins help skin stay firm and youthful looking as we age.
When constantly inflamed, these important proteins become less effective which can cause skin to sag, appear dull, and even form wrinkles. Secondly, the inflammation caused by eating sugar has been shown to aggravate skin issues such as acne, eczema, and rosacea.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, “Inflammation can trigger everything from mild skin irritation to brain fog, aggressive behavior, anxiety, depression and more. Dermatitis, which manifests as eczema, acne and rashes, almost always signifies excessive inflammation.”
When you stop eating refined sugar, you reduce sugar’s damaging effects to your skin and begin to notice clearer, smoother, and brighter looking skin.
Easier Weight Loss
Sugar contributes to weight gain, period. Being labeled as a “fat-free” food does not mean that you can eat sugar liberally and not gain weight.
In fact, because sugar is void of nutritional value and passes through the digestive system very quickly, foods that contain a lot of sugar, such as soda, coffee drinks, and sweets, are not satiating or filling. They are loaded with empty sugary calories that increase our risk of overeating and even binging.
According to Chris Kresser, one of the most respected clinicians and educators in the fields of Functional Medicine and ancestral health, “Sugar and HFCS [high fructose corn syrup] are particularly detrimental when consumed in liquid form, because we don’t tend to compensate for calories we drink by reducing our calorie consumption elsewhere. This can lead to weight gain from overeating, along with elevated triglycerides, insulin resistance, and other indicators of metabolic syndrome.”
Going sugar-free allows our body’s natural hunger/full scale to balance, which leads to eating only when you are physically hungry and putting the fork down with you are comfortably full. Eliminating sugar also reduces food cravings because your body’s sugar withdrawals will cease. You’ll begin to naturally eat less, which means easier weight loss.
The hormonal surges and crashes caused by sugar are highly disruptive to our sleep patterns. Likewise, some sugary treat contain caffeine, which can add to sleep disruption. Both can make it difficult to sleep and have negative effects on our sleep quality when you do finally fall asleep.
Clinical psychologist and sleep expert, Dr. Michael J. Breus, stresses, “A regular sugar habit can set in motion a cycle of disrupted sleep and overstimulated appetite that is tough to break, and over time leads to weight gain, as well as prediabetes and diabetes.”
I personally experienced the effects of sugar on my own sleep quality. After going sugar-free over a year ago, I recently enjoyed a small bowl of ice cream before going to bed. I thought, “What could a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia hurt?” That night, I did not sleep well at all. I felt as if I was on caffeine and woke the next morning feeling hung over! Of course, multiple influences could have disrupted my sleep; however, cleaning up my sugar intake resolved my sleep issues almost immediately.
Going sugar-free helps reset your body’s sleep cycles and allows you to enjoy restful, better quality sleep. If you used to having a snack before bedtime, opt for a more balanced option such as apple slices and nut butter or full-fat yogurt and berries. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top for fun, satisfying flavor.
Stronger Immune System
Numerous studies show that sugar is a huge contributor to chronic disease. It causes inflammation in the body, damages blood vessels, and has a negative effect on vital organs, which puts us at risk for a wide range of chronic issues and diseases.
Chris Kresser asserts, “ . . . the alterations in the gut microbiota induced by refined sugar intake may set off an aberrant immune response, which in turn contributes to impaired immune function and chronic inflammation.”
Reducing your consumption of sugar eliminates its damaging effects to your body, allows it to heal naturally, and boosts your overall immunity.
Try this Green Goddess Smoothie recipe for breakfast and discover how going sugar-free never tasted so good!
GREEN GODDESS SMOOTHIE
1 cup fresh baby spinach
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup of unsweetened nut milk
Put everything in a high-powered blender. Blend on high until smooth. Enjoy.