Commit to giving up sugar!
Sorry – I know this is bad news if you’ve got a sweet tooth, but if hormone problems are making your life a misery then ditching sugar is one of the best ways to help your system to re-balance itself.
Understanding how sugar affects your health and hormones may give you the impetus to clear out your cupboards.
- The bittersweet truth about sugar
- Is sugar addictive?
- The science behind sugar addiction
- Why is it so difficult to give up sugar?
- Avoiding hidden sugar in foods
- How sugar affects hormone balance
- Sugar doesn’t just make you fat
- How to break the addiction
- Getting to grips with sugar
Refined sugar has gained a negative reputation and is now being seen as the culprit for many chronic conditions, taking the place of fat, which has historically been targeted as the ‘bad guy’ in the battle against obesity and ill health.
Health authorities around the world are continuing to speak out about their sugar addiction concerns.
Many feel that soft drinks should carry health warnings to let the public know how addictive and dangerous sugar can be – do you agree?
Well, we’ll let you make up your own minds but as the old saying goes - forewarned is forearmed, so in this article we’ll address the dangers of sugar addiction; how hidden sugars in food could be stacking up your sugar consumption and how sugar affects your general health and hormone balance.
Many studies have supposedly proven that sugar is addictive.
Claiming that people who eat sugar fall into a cycle of eating high sugar foods and drinks leading to uncontrollable cravings for more and more.
In the last few years, many scientists have been looking into the way that sugar affects the mechanisms in our brains and how our bodies are affected by it.
They are gradually reaching the conclusion that sugar is indeed highly addictive.
Could this be the reason why the Western world has slowly become more and more unhealthy?
An increasing amount of sugar has been introduced into our diets over time and large numbers of the population have become addicted, constantly choosing the sweet options.
Yet, with all this research and the knowledge that sugar is unhealthy in large amounts, how is it that people are not making healthier choices or being mindful of the fact that eating too much sugar will likely make you ill, form an addiction and crave it more often?
Scientists at Columbia University have already run studies on lab rats, which have shown that when rats are fed a high sugar diet their brains and bodies change over time.
The outcome of the study showed that rats displayed the same symptoms that are common in addictions to other substances.
Alarmingly researchers suggest that refined sugar hits the pleasure centre in the brain faster than cocaine and methamphetamine.
What’s more, according to Dr James DiNicolantonio a cardiovascular research scientist at St. Luke's Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City:
“When you look at animal studies comparing sugar to cocaine, even when you get the rats hooked on IV cocaine, once you introduce sugar, almost all of them switch to the sugar”.
Ok so you might be thinking we’re not rats, so this research can’t be relevant but actually, one of the reason rats are used for research is that they are quite close to us in evolutionary terms, which means their brains function in a similar way to ours.
Need more convincing?
Sugar is a general name given to carbohydrates and it can be found in almost every type of processed food and drink.
Names such as fructose, dextrose, lactose, sucrose, starch and glucose can be found on food labels and these are all types of sugar.
It’s in so many of your favourite foods its very hard to avoid it.
These are just a few of the unexpected places you might find added sugar:
- Cook in Sauces
- Stock cubes
- Low fat ready meals
- Baby food
- Cooked meats
- Salad dressings
- Nut butters
But how exactly does sugar affect your body when it’s ingested?
When you place sugary foods in you mouth, the sweet taste buds in the tongue are activated sending signals to your brain.
One area of the brain that receives signals is the cerebral cortex, where a chemical reaction takes place and the brain decides whether the activity is something that you should do again.
Of course, the positive feelings and effects on the body felt from the chemical reaction triggers the brain to persuade you that it’s good and wants more.
The same effects happen if you engage in other pastimes that you enjoy - a similar chemical reaction occurs within the brain causing you to repeat the same pleasurable activity.
Excessive activation of this chemical system in the brain however can lead to a loss of control and thus can lead to cravings and negative feelings and behaviour if your cravings are not satisfied.
An increased tolerance to sugar follows making it harder and harder to satisfy the cravings, which is what we call addiction.
The same applies to all kinds of addictions from cigarettes and alcohol to recreational drugs.
Historically, humans are attracted to sweet tasting foods.
This intuitive preference was a fortuitous way to avoid death for our early ancestors as most foods in nature that are sweet, aren’t poisonous.
The human body is also designed to use carbohydrates both simple and complex (monosaccharaides, disaccharides and polysaccharides) as primary fuel – which is broken down and released into the circulation as glucose. The energy required to fuel the brain is largely dependent on glucose.
You may be surprised to know that the brain uses around 20% of your daily energy intake.
Our ancient sugar lust may also be a built-in mechanism that ensures we satisfy the brain’s need for easy fuel.
In addition to this, evidence from Palaeolithic times, suggests that humans are biologically drawn to sugar, as it helps the body to store fat, and thus allows for better chances of survival during winter.
However, due to the increase in food availability and the wide range of processed foods we have access to – most people are consuming far too much refined sugar than nature intended.
According to the latest food survey from Public Health Nutrition, half of all the food bought by families in the UK is now “ultra-processed” and the average person in Britain consumes around 700g of refined sugar a week which equates to approximately 140 teaspoons.
These extra calories in refined sugar are hidden in processed foods and are purposely put there by manufacturers who wish to cater to our sweet tooth, our need for convenience and to extend the shelf life.
In fact, there is overwhelming evidence now that food manufacturers engineer food to reach a ‘bliss point’ using the perfect ratio of fat, salt and sugar to compel you to override your dietary self-control and over eat. Is it just a coincidence then that obesity and diabetes is so widespread?
The easiest way to avoid added sugar or to at least control the amount you eat is to eat a healthy diet and limit or avoid processed foods altogether.
Going back to basics and cooking from scratch using whole natural foods will cut down your sugar consumption hugely.
Remember the old days, meat and two veg?
Make that fish, tofu or meat and five veg and you’re onto a winner.
Get into the habit of making your own home-made soups, juices, muesli, curries, pasta dishes, coleslaw and casseroles, and throw plenty of raw or lightly cooked vegetables into the mix.
This way you can be sure that there are no added refined sugars lurking in there.
Tomato sauce, soups, even canned vegetables usually have high levels of sugar added to them.
Also, be wary of foods that show no fat or low fat on the labels, as these often have high sugar content too.
Yoghurts and cereals are typical examples that you might normally consider healthy foods.
The best advice is - always check the labels.
Remember, simple carbohydrates and any ingredients ending with ‘ose’ like dextrose, glucose, fructose etc are indications of sugars.
Most labels now also display how much a portion is in terms of your percentage daily allowance.
Refined carbohydrates are broken down into glucose very quickly and consequently released into the blood stream at a high rate.
Sudden surges of glucose prompt the pancreas to work very hard to release adequate levels of the hormone insulin, which the body needs to chase sugar into the cells.
When the body is constantly required to release insulin, it results in chronically elevated insulin levels leading to surplus energy which is deposited in the fat cells and stored.
A further problem is that high levels of insulin may cause blood sugar levels to fall too low which then triggers food cravings.
A state of low blood sugar will cause the brain to register ‘hunger’ no matter how much food has been eaten or how much body fat somebody might be carrying.
The cycle of sugar highs and lows results in constant peaks and troughs in energy as well as typical symptoms of low blood glucose otherwise known as ‘hypoglycaemia’.
Problems begin if this cycle is constantly repeated as over stimulation of the pancreas can lead to exhaustion.
As a result, the pancreas may struggle to produce sufficient insulin leaving high levels of glucose in the blood circulation.
The consequence of this are symptoms of ‘hyperglycaemia’ or abnormally high blood sugar levels, which may lead to a gradual deterioration in pancreatic function. Ultimately these unstable conditions can lead to diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity.
Other than extra calories, what damage does refined sugar cause?
Refined sugar has around 90% of its vitamins and minerals removed.
The overall impact of this is that your metabolism becomes inefficient, contributing to poor energy and poor weight control.
A recent survey carried out by Public Health Nutrition across 19 European countries examined the detrimental health effects of sugar.
The authors concluded that the consumption of ‘ultra processed’ foods is associated with an increase in the risk of diet related diseases particularly obesity.
However, as noted above a diet filled with highly processed sugary foods can create hormone imbalances and this can lead to numerous diseases not just obesity.
The prevalence of diabetes is growing globally, and many studies have attributed this to highly refined carbohydrate diets.
Chronic kidney disease has also been linked to the consumption of sugar sweetened fizzy drinks.
And there is convincing research to suggest that cardiovascular disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are also a result of a diet filled with sugary and highly refined foods.
While the repercussions of sugar on your waistline are well documented, the effect that sugar can have on your reproductive health is not as well-known. If your pancreas has to release extra insulin, it may impact on your ovaries, causing them to produce more hormones such as testosterone.
With a hormone balance that sways more towards testosterone production there’s a risk that it could influence follicular development in your ovaries, which can subsequently affect ovulation.
It may also trigger symptoms such as irregular periods, acne or excessive growth of bodily hair.
Poor insulin control is thought to be a major cause of PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) with a substantial number of PCOS sufferers affected by insulin resistance.
PMS sufferers may also be affected by see-sawing blood sugar levels.
Cravings for sugary foods around this time of month can cause significant spikes in blood-glucose levels that trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
The creation of cortisol requires the hormone progesterone which can be easily depleted resulting in an imbalance that might worsen PMS symptoms.
Cortisol is linked to inflammation, potentially increasing the pain and discomfort of menstrual cramps.
The best way to break sugar addiction is to try to cut it out altogether or at least limit it for a period of time - chances are by the end of your set period you will no longer crave it and will be more confident at selecting healthier foods.
Leading nutrition expert Patrick Holford recommends we focus on the Glycaemic Load (GL) of foods – According to Patrick:
“This really helps to even out your blood sugar, which means no dips, and less craving”.
The GL is based on the glycaemic Index (GI), which is a scale that measures how quickly foods raise an individuals blood glucose (blood sugar) level.
Foods with a low GI score (under 55) provide steady fuel to support energy levels and overall health, while those with a high GI score (70 and up) are likely to provide an unhealthy quick rush of blood sugar followed by a sharp crash.
Simply put GI tells you whether the quantity of carbohydrate in the food is ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ releasing.
At Amchara we aim to educate our guests on their relationship with food and offer tips on how to avoid sugar, choose nutrition with maximum benefits and regain optimal health.
Regular educational seminars delivered by qualified health professionals are a big part of Amchara’s gift to you and indeed many guests comment that their sense of appreciation for the right foods begins on retreat. Click here to find out more on our Personalised Health programmes.
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Catch up with the rest of the 'hormone' series:
- About Female Hormones
- How liver function affects hormone balance
- The truth about belly fat and your hormones
- Blood sugar imbalance and your hormones
- Stress causing havoc with your hormones?
- Give up sugar (to balance your hormones)
- Give up alcohol (to improve your hormonal balance)
- Caffeine and how it affects your hormones
- Dairy - time to give it up for good.