Jamie Sculley, ND
Six Reasons Why Sugar Is Bad for Your Health and How to Reduce It for Good
Updated: May 7, 2020
We all know that sugar isn't healthy, but if you've ever tried to cut down on it you know it can be a hard thing to do. As I've grown older and have adopted healthier diet choices I've made a real effort to reduce my sugar consumption.
After not eating it for a while I became more aware of how it made me feel. I noticed that I had less craving for it, my energy improved and my migraines significantly improved.
Are you trying to cut back on sugar in your life? Keep reading to learn more about the negative health effects of sugar and get some practical, helpful tips to reduce it in your diet.
Why Is Sugar Unhealthy?
It's no surprise that sugar isn't good for us. I want to discuss specific reasons why it's unhealthy and the health effects it has on our bodies. Here are a few reasons why you might want to consider decreasing sugar in your diet:
Causes fluctuations in blood sugar - sugar causes our blood glucose levels to rise and then fall quickly. The body has to get the glucose out of the blood and into the cells and sometimes it overshoots the target and blood sugar can become too low. Having these fluctuations multiple times per day can have a negative impact on your daily life. You may experience fatigue, headaches, and changes in your mood such as anxiety and depression.
Increases risk of diabetes - eating sugar regularly can put you at increased risk of developing diabetes because your body has to constantly produce insulin to get sugar into the cells. After a while your cells become less sensitive to insulin's signals, more insulin is needed and sugar stays in the blood stream longer. Over time, high blood sugar can have damaging effects to the cells, arteries and kidneys.
Increases risk of weight gain - it's all too easy to consume a lot of calories from sugary foods and drinks because they don't make you feel full. Fructose, a simple sugar, makes you less sensitive to the effects of a hormone that gives you the sensation of fullness. Weight gain, especially around the abdomen is especially concerning because this fat accumulates around the organs and can put you at higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Causes gum disease and tooth decay - when sugar sits on your teeth it can cause decay and cavities. Bacteria on your teeth metabolize it and produce acids that erode the tooth enamel. This is why it's a good idea to brush at least twice per day.
Accelerates the aging process - sugars attach themselves to proteins and form complexes that damage collagen and elastin, two components of our skin that allow it to stretch and give it firmness. Wrinkles can develop as these are damaged. Sugar even affects your cells down to a basic level. Our cells contain chromosomes, which hold genetic information and are protected by "caps" called telomeres. Telomeres naturally shorten as we age causing cellular aging and malfunction, but sugar can speed up that shortening and aging process.
Takes the place of other healthy foods - when we eat sugary snacks we're taking in empty calories but we're also not eating other more nutrient dense foods. If sugary snacks and drinks are part of the diet you may be missing out on eating other more nutrient dense foods and drinking water.
Tips For Reducing Sugar
I know from personal experience that it's hard to reduce sugar. If you have a tough time it's not because you're "weak"or "lack self control." It's because sugar is an addictive substance that releases "feel good" chemicals in your brain and your brain loves to use it as a main energy source. Once you're eating less of it the cravings will go away so I wanted to give you some tips and tricks you can use to reduce it in your diet.
Come up with your "Why" - Before you make a change you need to know why you're doing it. It has to come from within you or it's just not going to stick long term. Do you want more energy? Are you trying to control your blood sugar without medication? Is it part of your self-care? Do you want to lose weight? Write it down. Put it in a visible place so you're reminded of it daily.
Don't tempt yourself - One of the best ways that I found for me was to just not buy any sugary snacks at all. At the beginning I foolishly thought I could be strong and use self control, but I was just setting myself up for failure. Don't make it harder on yourself. You may still want to eat sugar, but chances are, you're not going to run out to the store to get it.
Read food labels - many foods have added sugars in them so it's a good idea to look at the ingredient list before you buy. Added sugar may not always be obvious so look for ingredients like dextrose, corn syrup, cane juice, fructose and high fructose corn syrup. Carbohydrates often end in "-ose" like sucrose, fructose, and dextrose so look for ingredients with "-ose" in their name.
Cut out sugary drinks - these can be a big contributor to sugar in the diet. Drinks like soda, energy drinks, coffee drinks, juice, lemonade, and sweet tea all contain added sugar. They are empty calories, may be dehydrating, and may be preventing you from drinking water. Try replacing them with water or sparkling water or flavor your water with fruit like lemon, lime or cucumber. You can make it fun by buying a fancy new water bottle that you'll enjoy using daily. If you like drinking lemonade in the summer try diluting it with sparkling water. You could also choose unsweetened or lightly sweetened iced tea.
Keep your blood sugar steady - you'll be more likely to reach for that quick pick-me-up snack if you're feeling ravenous due to low blood sugar. Eat small meals throughout the day or snack frequently so you don't get to that point.
Replace sugar with healthier options - I know nothing can truly replace your favorite snack, but try to find something you can eat in its place. Sometimes being able to eat something helps you feel less deprived. Try yogurt, fruit, sorbet, berries, popcorn, nuts, or trail mix. I've been trying out different chia seed puddings for an easy breakfast, but you can flavor it any way you want and even make a chocolate version that's like pudding. Check out the recipe here. Chia seeds are high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. One tip I have for making this is to stir it up well before putting it in the fridge because they can form clumps. Chia seeds also make a tasty energy bite for a healthy snack too. Here's a recipe I've been making lately that's high in protein and fiber. You can use any kind of nut butter like almond or cashew butter but try to find one that doesn't have added sugar. This recipe uses a small amount of chocolate chips but you can omit them if you like.
Choose whole fruits - eating actual fruit instead of drinking juice or eating sugary snacks is a good way to satisfy a sugar craving and also get fiber and nutrients into your diet.
Be kind to yourself - you're not a "bad" person for liking or eating sugar and you're not a "good" person for not eating it. Foods are either healthy or unhealthy. We eat what we do for a variety of reasons and sometimes we choose to eat healthy foods and sometimes we don't. Try following an 80/20 rule where you eat healthy 80% of the time and allow yourself to indulge 20% of the time. Maybe the weekend is when you loosen up and don't restrict yourself. Make sugar a delicious, rare treat by saving it for times like celebrations or when you're eating out. Also know that everyone has times when they overindulge. You can always start over fresh tomorrow.
There are a lot of reasons why sugar is harmful to our health. Sugar causes fluctuations in our blood sugar, weight gain, increases the risk for diabetes, promotes tooth decay and gum disease, accelerates the aging process and makes us less likely to eat highly nutritious foods. Sugar can be difficult to reduce but there are ways to do it successfully. It's important to start by determining your motivation for changing your eating habits to help you when times get tough. Other tips include not having sweets in the house, reading food labels for added sugar, cutting out sugary drinks, keeping your blood sugar steady, replacing sugar with healthier snacks, eating whole fruits and being kind to yourself while you make these healthy dietary changes.
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“10 Reasons Why Sugar Is Bad for Your Body.” Atkins, www.atkins.com/how-it-works/library/articles/10-ways-sugar-harms-your-health.
Kubala, Jillian. “11 Reasons Why Too Much Sugar Is Bad for You.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 3 June 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/too-much-sugar.
This website is not intended for the purpose of providing medical advice. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.