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Kicking the habit

What really happens to your body when you stop consuming sugar?

Kicking the habit

For many years, fat was the word du jour when it came to unhealthy eating and conscious nutrition, but now, a new danger is presenting itself in the form of sugar.

Society’s unhealthy obsession with unnecessary sugar consumption is steadily seeing an increase in diabetes, childhood obesity, heart disease and more health related issues.

Read more about how sugar is affecting our health here. 

Like drugs and alcohol, our brains can become tolerant to sugar. This in turn causes our bodies to demand more and more of the sweet stuff to attain the same “high” that sugar provides to the reward centres in the brain.

Our affinity towards high sugar foods can be traced back to our ancestors. Our mesolimbic pathways reinforced the “safety” associated with sugary foods by determining that sour meant “not ripe” and bitter was linked to “poison”. These markers became paramount to humans navigating the first stages of evolution.

Now sugar has taken on a far more sinister role in society. Recent studies have pointed to our overconsumption being as high as 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day and in Britain, the average person consumes 238 of teaspoons of sugar each week.

So what does this mean for our health?

“An analysis of 175 countries over the past decade showed that when you look for the cause of type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes, the total number of calories you consume is irrelevant. It’s the specific calories that count. When people ate 150 calories more every day, the rate of diabetes went up 0.1 per cent. But if those 150 calories came from a can of fizzy drink, the rate went up 1.1 per cent. Added sugar is 11 times more potent at causing diabetes than general calories,” says Professor Robert Lustig of paediatric endocrinology at University of California.

But avoiding labels that contain ‘sugar’ as an ingredient is only half the battle. Hidden nasties like high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners are present within most foods and are not just contained to sweet foods either. Did you know that just half a cup (one serving) of simple Newman’s Own Tomato & Basil sauce contains 12 grams of sugar?

It’s these hidden sugars that account for so much of our daily intake without even realising it.

We know that sugar is causing all manner of health related issues, but what actually happens to your body with you quit sugar?

Energy levels increase

While you might associate energy with sugar and high-fructose foods, the sudden spike in insulin levels, caused by sugar, actually leads to shocking lows in blood sugar after the ‘quick fix’ wears off. By weaning yourself off sugar you are stabilising your natural blood sugar levels keeping them at a constant, healthy level – this keeps energy under control and stops you experiencing damaging crashes.

Skin is clearer

Sugar is highly inflammatory. One study found that the consumption of just one soft drink a day, for three weeks, was enough to raise inflammation levels by 87% per cent. By removing sugar from your diet you will be surprised how much a reduction in inflammation can improve your complexion.

Your sleep will improve

The crash you experience from consuming sugar often leaves you with an unshakable urge to sleep or nap in the afternoon or early evening. By overloading your body with sugar, the insulin spike causes an increase in the hormone cortisol which can interfere with your natural sleep cycle. By giving up sugar, you are taking control of your energy levels during the day, preparing your body for when it needs to sleep.

Your memory can improve

Studies have suggested that overconsumption of sugar can hinder learning and memory in the brain. Continuous overindulgence may actually damage communication between your brain’s cells, leading to long term issues with memory retention.

You will discover a palate you never thought you had

“Your palate adjusts significantly and quickly when you delete sugar. You can suddenly experience a whole range of flavours that either you didn’t know existed before or were muted by the presence of sugar,” according to David Gillespie, a Brisbane-based lawyer turned researcher whose Sweet Poison books chart his own decision to stop eating sugar.

“One thing people often remark on after they’ve been off sugar for a month or so is that suddenly they can smell it. They can tell you where the confectionery aisle or the breakfast cereal aisle is in a strange supermarket by smell alone.”

Read about how just nine days without sugar can dramatically improve your health here.

Whilst removing sugar from your diet can be a difficult task, especially if you are used to consuming high levels of it, it can be done. Three months ago I began removing sugar from my diet. Without realising it, I was consuming such a high amount that when I first started with a “cold turkey” approach, I felt withdrawal symptoms. I was irritated, had colossal headaches and felt hunger pangs like never before. These initial symptoms lasted about three days until my body became accustomed to the exclusion of sugar. Since then I have noticed huge differences in my mood, sleep, eating habits and general wellbeing. Needless to say, I haven’t looked back.

Read more about the health benefits of giving up sugar here. 

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2 Comments on Kicking the habit

  • Alexis
    January 13, 2016 9:19 am

    I’m 37, vegetarian, have been overweight for a while with a serious chocolate habit, and am the daughter of a diabetic. I stopped eating added sugar three and a half months ago, but have kept eating fruit (and very occasionally – once a week or so – honey (I keep bees, so honey’s not something I can give up)) and have made no other attempts to reduce calorie intake (being vegetarian, I eat quite a lot of complex carbohydrates, in the form of pulses, whole grains, etc). I imagined I’d turn into Gwyneth Paltrow in a week, but it hasn’t quite worked like that. Giving up sugar, I haven’t noticed any change in my ability to concentrate or sleep. My waist/hip ratio has gradually been moving in a healthier direction, but it’s not like I lost 5kg in a fortnight. I’ve certainly become much more aware of the ubiquity of sweetened foods in our everyday lives: I hadn’t noticed before, but also every day presents me with a social situation in which I’m being encouraged to eat something sweetened (here’s looking at you, Christmas). I think media can tend to overstate the benefits of giving up additional sugar, which makes the fact that doing so doesn’t work instant miracles a bit discouraging. For me, I’ve decided to give up on instant miracles and think more in terms of a lifelong commitment to moving healthwards in my eating.

    October 14, 2016 2:05 pm

    I’ve not consumed excess sugar in years. I don’t avoid it “at all costs”, but my Easter bunny from my Mum is still in the wardrobe. I read labels religiously, and buy very little processed food. The taste of sweet foods literally makes me want to gag, and if combined with high fat content, generally will have my heart rate elevated, and my felling like I’m going to faint.

    Poisonous stuff, and mostly unnecessary in the diet, except as a preservative, and even then I make my own jams, chutneys, dressings and etc. with minimal levels of the stuff.

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