Can you believe that Americans eat 50lbs more sugar per year than in the 1950s? So what's going on? Turns out, the biggest culprit is all the processed foods we're eating. They're filled with hidden sugars.
Whole fruits, vegetables, and grains have Natural Sugars. Almost everything else has "Added Sugars," including:
Take a look at most products’ lists of ingredients and you’ll find sugar hidden everywhere: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), invert sugar, cane sugar, dextrose, molasses, fructose, and maltose....even “healthier” ingredients like organic cane sugar, agave, organic honey, invert sugars and evaporated cane juice. These all just different names for added sugar.
Sugar on its own is just a simple carbohydrate, without much nutritional value besides providing quick energy. Whole foods with natural sugars have fiber, antioxidants and vitamins/minerals which give them major health value … processed foods are seriously lacking in these kinds of nutritional benefits.
Added sugars can wreak havoc on our brains. When we eat sugar, a chemical called dopamine is released, which controls the reward and pleasure centers in your brain. With chronic sugar overconsumption, your brain can become desensitized to dopamine. In other words, to feel the same satisfaction from sugar, you need to consume more and more of it -- an easy way to develop a sugar “addiction”.
Carbohydrates like sugar can be categorized in two ways: by glycemic index and glycemic load.
Glycemic index is a 1-100 measure of how fast and how much a type of carbohydrate raises your blood sugar. A high glycemic index means that the food is digested rapidly and causes major ups and downs in your blood sugar. Low glycemic index foods are generally better for your body - they’re digested slowly, and the changes in your blood sugar are more controlled and gradual.
Glycemic load is more specific, taking portion size into account - it’s a measure of how much of a food raises your blood sugar, depending on the amount of carbs they contain.
Foods that are highly processed or have added sugars or that are low in fiber often have a high glycemic index and load. When they enter the body, they’re absorbed very quickly and make your blood sugar shoot up. Foods with natural sugars often have low glycemic index and are high fiber - slowing their digestion and making you feel full.
Your body wants to keep your blood sugar levels within a very narrow range - it causes more strain on your body for your blood sugar to be spiking and plummeting all the time. Insulin is one of our hormones responsible for controlling blood sugar levels. When we eat foods with sugar, they are broken down and enter the bloodstream as glucose. When glucose levels in the blood increase, the pancreas produces and releases more insulin, which signals our cells to take up the glucose. Insulin’s role is crucial, because glucose is our cell’s main source of energy.
When you regularly consume excessive amounts of sugar and foods with high glycemic index and load, our bodies have to produce a lot more insulin, more often. This is dangerous, because in surplus amounts, our cells become resistant to the effects of insulin. They may stop taking up glucose in the bloodstream, even when insulin is present and blood glucose levels are high. Eventually, under these conditions, your body may be unable to make enough insulin on its own, leading to Type 2 Diabetes.
This science can even explain why consuming excess amounts of sugar, especially added sugars, is connected to risk for higher cholesterol, more belly fat, type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain types of cancer and other serious health problems.
Want to keep learning more? Stay tuned for the next post in this series when we'll share some great tips and tricks to help you kick your sugar habit!