You must have done it before: guiltlessly devouring an entire chocolate bar even though you have vowed to only eat a single cube, or you have indulged in that chocolate glazed donut after deciding that you were having fruit for dessert. Aside from its obvious side effects of adding layers of fat to your waistline, sugar is harming your body in ways you may have never imagined.
Nutritionist Rana Abdelnaby tells us that when your blood’s sugar level spikes, you will feel a sudden burst of energy. However, when it drops, so does your mood and your ability to concentrate. “This is your body’s way of communicating that it is craving the ‘sugar rush’ and consequently the short-term energy boost it previously experienced,” says Abdelnaby.
Yasmine Nazmy, certified vegetarian nutrition consultant and author of vegan recipes cookbook “Happy Belly”, explains that sugar induces a reward reaction in the brain. “You end up stuck in this loop and you keep craving more and more sugar,” she explains, adding that sugar does a lot of damage by feeding the harmful bacteria that live in the intestines and lead to their overpopulation.
The Sugar Addiction
Research has confirmed that sugar is as addictive as other drugs, such as cocaine, because it induces the same reaction in the brain, and it may even be just as difficult to quit sugar as it is to quit a drug.
“People who are on high-sugar diets and suddenly decide to go cold turkey are definitely going to experience withdrawal symptoms where they will feel cranky and anxious and will probably have powerful sugar cravings. The best thing to do would be to gradually reduce your sugar intake bit by bit to limit the negative symptoms,” Abdelnaby adds.
How Sugar Affects Your Sense of Taste
Abdelnaby illustrates that the reason behind why some people love sweets while others do not is how much sugar they are accustomed to consuming. “Someone who eats a lot of candy will feel that in order for something to taste good, it has to be sweet. They can’t, for example, enjoy the taste of coffee without adding sugar,” she says.
So if you are trying to cut down on your sugar consumption, the key is to get your taste buds accustomed to consuming less sugar. “This is how you will build your preference for food that is not too sweet. Your taste buds will eventually regain their clarity and other healthy foods will suddenly taste better.”
Nazmy adds that getting used to the taste of sugar in everything we eat is particularly unhealthy for children, who often can’t make themselves eat something that may not be very appealing to their sense of taste but that is good for their health. “If a child is always used to eating candy, chances are they will never voluntarily choose to eat an apple, because it would not provide the same buzz,” she notes.
White Sugar vs. Natural Sugar
Furthermore, Nazmy explains that the human body gets its energy mainly from carbs, which the body then transforms into sugar. “While we also get energy from proteins, sugar gets processed faster in the body, which is why athletes tend to eat more carbs because it is the faster way to re-energize after a workout.”
However, that is exactly the problem with sugar: it has absolutely no nutritional value and serves as nothing more than fuel. “Table sugar is not a whole food; it is processed. Whole grains and fruits, on the other hand, are also forms of sugar, but they are packed with nutrients, multivitamins, fibers and proteins. They do not just keep the body going; they actually nurture it. Honey is a natural sweetener that does more than improve the taste of food; it is actually very good for the immune system,” she mentions.
“Dates are also one of the best sweeteners, because they are packed with fibers that help control the blood’s sugar level. When you eat something that contains both sugar and fiber, such as a banana or mango, the fiber helps with the slow release of sugar into the bloodstream, so you do not experience a sudden sugar rush. The same applies to complex carbs, such as whole wheat flour and brown rice flour,” adds Nazmy.
Abdelnaby explains that processed sugar comes in different forms that may not always be recognized by the average consumer. “Product labels have all these names for added sugar such as high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose, names that often seem quite harmless to consumers that are not very conscious about their nutrition,” she notes.
“Many products are advertised as being healthy and all natural to appeal to the health-conscious consumer when, in fact, they are packed with sugar in its many forms, such as oat bars, protein bars and several brands of cereal. Packaged fruit juices that have the label ‘No Added Sugar’ usually do not contain white sugar, but there are definitely other types of unhealthy ones involved,” Abdelnaby adds.
Sugar and Nutrition
The key to overcoming the body’s unhealthy reliance on sugar is following a balanced diet, according to Abdelnaby. “A body that receives the nutrition it needs, in addition to the energy it requires to function, is less likely to crave sugar. A craving is usually the body’s way of telling you that it needs something, and sugar is usually the quickest way to get it. Of course others would still react at the tantalizing scent of a freshly baked cinnamon roll, but they would not suffer from a constant craving, as is often the case with people on sugar-heavy diets,” she adds.
Many people who follow a diet in order to lose weight believe that it is just a game of numbers. “As long as they consume calories less than what they are burning, then they are good to go, right? The answer is no. You should not just read the label on a food product to check how many calories it has; you should take a look at the sugar it contains and whether or not it has any of the other nutrients that your body needs,” she concludes.