Published on January 3, 2022
Last updated January 21, 2022
By Aly Walansky
If you crave sweet treats on a regular basis, you’re not alone — and there’s a neurochemical reason behind your desires. Whether you can’t stop thinking about a cookie after dinner, a caramel mocha latte in the morning, or an ice cream cone on a hot afternoon, there’s a reason behind your desire to binge: sugar has been found in studies to be an addictive substance, and has a similar effect on our brain neurochemistry as opioids. However, sugar isn’t just addictive — it’s also seriously bad for you. Here are some reasons you need to cut back on this habit-forming substance.
1. Sugar won’t make you feel full
Simple sugars are not very filling for the calories. “Calories aren’t the same in terms of how much ‘satiety’ each of the major macronutrients provides,” says Lawrence J Cheskin, MD, co-author of the forthcoming book Weight Loss for Life. “Protein is generally the most filling per calorie, and fats the least (this is counterintuitive, but well-demonstrated in experiments).” Simple sugars are also low on the hierarchy of satiety.
Sugars have a very high glycemic index, so they raise your blood glucose level quickly, but make you hungry again in short order. “They are particularly problematic for people who have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or a family history of diabetes,” says Dr. Cheskin. “The glycemic index compares the rise in blood glucose levels resulting from ingesting various carbohydrate foods to the effect of ingesting a standard amount of glucose. People with diabetes or risk factors for diabetes may have a high blood glucose level to start with, so simple sugars and refined starches are problematic.”
2. Sugar has no nutritional value
Regular sugar has no micronutrients (vitamins and minerals): just empty calories. “Empty calorie foods, sometimes called junk foods, have essentially nothing but calories,” says Dr. Cheskin. So they don’t contribute to the essential vitamins and minerals the body needs, but have plenty of calories that promote weight gain.
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3. Sugar can genuinely make you sick
This is a really big reason to eat less sugar. “Eating a lot of sugar and high fructose corn syrup has been linked to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease,” says nutrition specialist Melina Jampolis, MD.
Sugars and refined grains contribute to insulin resistance, which is when our cells “resist” the insulin our body produces and fail to effectively use our body’s glucose, which is the sugar the body uses for energy. “As a result, the pancreas makes more insulin to keep up with rising blood sugar levels, and eventually, the pancreas can’t keep up, which leads to diabetes,” says Dr. Jampolis.
Insulin resistance occurs when your body resists the insulin that is produced after a high-carb, sugary meal. “This insulin resistance is due to years of your body putting up with transporting too many carbs that eventually wear it out,” says Priscilla Blevins, MS RD/LD, owner of Keto Girl Nutritionist. This resistance causes that high-carb meal to be stored as fat instead of as energy, resulting in stubborn weight gain. “This is why I encourage clients to opt for a low-sugar diet and focus on increasing protein and healthy fat options.”
When insulin resistance leads to increased belly fat, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure, it’s called “metabolic syndrome.” But don’t worry: “Research shows that nearly 88% of cases of metabolic syndrome can be reversed by eating an anti-inflammatory diet and exercising — even if you don’t lose any weight,” says Dr. Jampolis.
4. Sugar causes inflammation
Sugary foods tend to be processed foods, and those are dangerous, as well. “Most of the foods we buy in stores are processed to some degree, but it’s the ultra-processed ones we need to significantly reduce from our diet. They include packaged snacks, candy, ice cream, refined grain breads, margarine, packaged baked goods, and packaged/powdered soups and noodles, as well as the sugary cereals made from refined grains,” says Dr. Jampolis, who explained many of these, especially those with a sugar glaze, also produce AGEs, which are “advanced glycation end” products that cause inflammation.
5. Sugar impacts your mood and energy
Too much sugar in your day-to-day diet can have a major impact on overall health. “Most of us consume as much as three times more sugar than recommended,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet. “Diets rich in added sugars can have a negative impact on energy, learning, and mood. My clients are always asking how they can better track the impacts of too much sugar, and in return how to start cutting it out of their diets.”
The good news: Eating less sugar doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor
Added sugars are everywhere you look, from snack foods to drinks and even condiments. But the good news is you don’t have to give up sweet foods to cut the sugar. “One piece of advice I have is to try sweetening your food naturally,” says Palinski-Wade. A great way to cut back on added sugar in a snack or breakfast is swapping out flavored yogurt (which can have as much as three teaspoons of added sugar per serving) for unsweetened yogurt, then topping it off with frozen berries and a dash of vanilla extract. “The juice from the frozen fruit will melt into the yogurt as they thaw, and in return will provide that same delicious, sweet flavor without the added sugar,” she says.
For more ideas on how you can continue to enjoy a sweet treat after dinner while eliminating sugar from your diet, check out the Further Food 10-Day Sugar Detox Challenge. Their Sugar Detox e-book is filled with so many great recipes — from breakfast to dinner — that can help you ditch sugar without making you feel deprived. Instead, the Sugar Detox Challenge focuses on filling your plate with delicious, satisfying meals and offering you encouragement and great info about leading a sugar-free lifestyle. The Sugar Detox Challenge is honestly the ideal way to kick-start good health in 2022 and start your New Year sugar-free.