Part 3: Sugar
Let’s talk sugar.
I have a long history of making the excuse “I have the biggest sweet tooth,” to let sugar run my life. From wanting that “something sweet” after almost every meal, to just plain ol’ emotional eating, sugar has ruled my eating habits (and therefore has impacted ALL areas of my life) for almost my WHOLE life.
I want to share with you the top three reasons why I have stopped making excuses for my sweet teeth and why decreasing sugar intake can (and WILL) transform your health and increase your longevity.
Before we dive right in, it’s important to discuss WHY is sugar so addictive, and is it really addictive or is we just weak in the self-control department?
No, we aren’t weak. Yes we are addicted.
One of my favorite doctors to follow for health and wellness research is Dr. Danielle Lamirande. She quotes “Sugar is a drug. You’re not weak, you’re addicted.” And it’s TRUE! I like to think of sugar as the socially acceptable addiction. It’s ok to “treat yourself” with a sugary donut, but not ok to treat yourself with opioids, even though the same chemical reaction occurs in your brain, and therefore we become just as addicted. Sugar causes the body to release the "feel good" chemicals in our body such as dopamine, which turns on the reward center in our brain, just like in drug addiction. In fact, some of the same medication that has been used to treat opioid addictions has also been used to treat sugar addiction in humans.
“According to animal studies, sugar triggers the same reward centers in the brain as cocaine and is in fact, 8x more addictive than cocaine.
8X MORE ADDICTIVE.
The food industry knows this, and they use it to their advantage. Food is chemically designed to create pleasure and addiction in the people who consume it.”
-Dr. Danielle Lamirande
The added sugar I’m talking about isn’t just the sugar found in sweets like cookies and donuts, it’s added the fries at our favorite fast food restaurants, it’s in the juices and nearly ALL the breakfast foods we’ve been taught were “healthy” our whole lives. It’s in almost every packaged item at the grocery store. This sugar is added to nearly everything we consume on a Standard American Diet, and therefore, keeps us on the Standard American Diet by ways of addiction. Sounds grim, but it’s the truth.
“Non-food or food like substances (which is about 60% of American’s diet) is out. This is where I agree with Nancy Reagan. Just say no! It will unhook your brain and palate from highly addictive, health destroying food. We are being inundated with ads and marketing for the worst possible food under the guise that it is healthy—low fat, high fiber, whole grains, low sugar, etc. It’s all bad.”
- Dr Mark Hyman
SUGAR IMPACTS YOUR WHOLE SYSTEM NOT JUST YOUR BELLY OR YOUR HIPS!
There’s so much more to what sugar does than create just a little more fluff around your “problem areas.” It affects our liver function, which affects almost EVERY process in our body at a cellular level from blood pressure control to hormone regulation, to speeding up the aging process.
Here’s what I have found to be the top three most shocking truths about the sugar we are eating on a DAILY basis.
1. Sugar slows our liver’s ability to effectively detox our blood supply. This is why you may not have had a sip of alcohol in your whole life yet still wind up with symptoms of “fatty liver.” Our livers are one of the body’s most important organs, and yet, most of its health is associated with alcohol consumption. I would argue everything about our lifestyles effect our livers- especially the consumption of processed food. With the decreased ability to function appropriately, the liver is then unable to regulate other processes of the body such as blood pressure control, hormone (such as thyroid) regulation, vitamin and mineral distribution and so many more processes that keep you going on a day-to-day basis. One of the best ways we can transform the functioning of our livers is to complete a Functional Medicine Liver Detox. CLICK HERE for more info!
2. Increased sugar consumption can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Here’s what happens: As the liver gets backed up with processing everything from the food we eat to the products that are put on our skin, it begins converting the excess processed sugar into triglycerides. According to the Cleveland Clinic, thyroid function, uncontrolled blood sugar levels, and impaired liver and kidney function are all linked to increased triglyceride levels, which increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. Liver health is everything! In a study reviewed by Dr. Stephen Cabral in 2018, people who get ¼ of their calories from sugary snacks, compared to people who got about 10% of their calories from sugary snacks, are TWICE AS LIKELY to die of cardiovascular disease. I no longer can view the daily, after-dinner, processed dessert as something “cute” and something I deserve. I cannot knowingly practice something on a daily basis when there is hard evidence that it is decreasing my overall health and longevity.
3. An increase in sugar consumption speeds up the aging process and can increase risk for age-associated illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia and cancers. An increase in consumption of processed sugar creates an increase in free radicals within the body. What are free radicals? I am by no means claiming to be a chemistry professor, but here we go: Free radicals are unpaired electrons (typically very unstable molecules) that result from splitting of oxygen molecules (not good) within the body (due to continuous oxidative stress). These unstable, unpaired electrons roam the body searching for another molecule to be paired with. As they search and wander the body, they wreak havoc on other cells, proteins and DNA. The result? Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Dementia, and many other diseases of the body that have been linked to an increase of free radicals within the body. (Szalay, 2016). Free radicals increase systemic inflammation in the body. Inflammation, especially chronic inflammation (say from eating a highly processed diet over a lifetime) is one of the leading causes to so many chronic diseases that we face today (to include autoimmune disorders and cancers). (Cabral, 2017).
Ok, I know the information above is a lot to digest and is by no means meant to instill fear- but I believe we all should be aware of the research and make the most informed decisions about our health.
The truth is that the foods we have been taught our whole lives are healthy are actually packed with added sugars disguised as names like “malt extract,” various syrups (such as high fructose corn syrup and maltitol syrup), “natural flavors,” and almost any name ending in “-ose.”
These sugars are increasing our risk and the risk of our loved ones of living with chronic diseases. We have so much more control over our health than we were originally taught, and I believe so much of that control and power lies in reading the labels of the food we eat. This includes reading the ingredients of our favorite fast-food restaurants. If it has a package, read the ingredients- I think you will be surprised at how many foods, including “sugar free foods” actually contain some form of added sugar.
It's also important to keep in mind just because someone isn’t “fat” doesn’t mean they are healthy. Skinny does not equate to healthy. Sugar affects everyone differently, but sugar works very similarly at a cellular level, creating hormone-based addictions that are hard to break, decreasing the livers ability to detoxify your blood effectively, increasing insulin resistance, increasing free radicals in the body speeding up aging process, increasing production of triglycerides which increases risk of cardiovascular disease, and SO MUCH more.
Is there good news around sugar addiction? YES! It usually takes about 7-14 days to really break the chemically addicted cycle, and a solid 21 days to break the habit for going back for more. In fact, completing a 21-Day Functional Medicine Detox is what jump started my ability to put my sweet teeth in their place. They no longer control the way I eat and what I eat.
It IS possible.
Do I still enjoy a sweet treat on occasion? Yes, in fact probably once or twice a week because I have worked on balancing my system and have created an overall healthy and balanced environment where my body can take the insult of a “treat” about a once a week without major detriment. I also make sure that the sweet treats I do have are made at home, where I control the ingredients. I use real forms of natural occurring sugar that my body can process a little easier such as organic pure maple syrup and apricots. NOT ALL SUGARS ARE CREATED EQUALLY. When in doubt, stick to the sugars that nature has created (fruits, honey, 100% pure maple syrup...sweet treats with one ingredient that nature created, not a laboratory).
Education is the key, not perfection. There will always be voices that say it isn’t possible. I am here to tell you it is possible to live a full, healthy and balanced life without consuming processed, sugary, health-deteriorating food.
Much of the reason Ikaria was chosen as the place my Integrative Health coaching practice is modeled after is due to the fact that the people living there go about their every day lives without the processed, sugary food-like the substances that make up 60% of the Standard American Diet. They eat REAL food, and live in such a way that enables them to have the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s and Dementia across the planet.
Cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cancers are some of this country’s leading causes of death. Processed foods are the most consumed foods in this country. So, what if we can adopt Ikaria’s dietary and lifestyle habits to eat our way out of such horrifying statistics? I think it’s definitely worth a try!
Please don’t hesitate to message me with any questions regarding this topic, or if you’d like to work with me to break away from a socially acceptable sugar addiction, and to establish a healthy, sustainable lifestyle that promotes longevity and prevents disease!
Cabral, S. Dr. (02Jan2018). The Top 10 Toxic Side Effects of Sugar. Retrieved from (https://stephencabral.com/podcast/697/).
Cleveland Clinic (2019). Triglycerides and Heart Health. Retrieved from (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17583-triglycerides--heart-health).
Hyman, M. Dr. (07Feb2018). The Most Damaging Food Lie We Have Ever Been Told. Retrieved from (https://drhyman.com/blog/2018/02/07/damaging-food-lie-ever-told/).
Hyman, M. Dr. (18Feb2019). Beating Emotional Eating. Retrieved from (https://drhyman.com/blog/2019/02/18/beating-emotional-eating/).
Lamirande, D. Dr. (10Oct2018). The Truth Behind Sugar Addiction. Retrived from (https://www.risechiroseattle.com/the-truth-behind-sugar-addiction/).
Szalay, J. (27May2016). What are Free Radicals? Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/54901-free-radicals.html).