Sugar. The cocaine of the food chain. Whether or not you realize it, sugar affects the body in many ways. This powerful hormone is a quick and easy source of energy and, let’s be real, happiness. And it is quite literally the source of both.
Sugar, also known as sucrose, is a carbohydrate. It is used to sweeten our favorite foods and beverages- cereal, bread, coffee, juice, desserts, candy, and much more. After traveling to the blood it is converted into fructose, which is stored, and glucose, which is used as immediate energy to fuel the body and the brain. This process happens quickly and easily and it’s why you get a “sugar high” after consuming something very sweet. The stored sugars are reserved for when your body needs some fuel and is converted to energy as needed.
When sugar is consumed it sends a signal to the reward center of the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood amongst other factors like sleep, appetite, and memory. An imbalance in serotonin aids in developing depression and anxiety. An increase in serotonin temporarily boosts your mood and does it quite rapidly. This is why the craving for sugary foods and beverages is reoccurring because, in order to satisfy the craving, like an addictive drug, it has to continuously be supplied to continue feeling happy.
Sugar And Insulin
Insulin is the hormone that is released when sugar is consumed and it allows the body to use the broken down sugar as a fuel source. Sugar increases resistance to insulin. Too much sugar causes you to become resistant to insulin because the body cannot keep up with breaking down, storing, and properly using all of it. Spikes in insulin when trying to keep up with too much sugar consumption causes the excess sugar to float around your body, turning into fat and causing conditions like diabetes and fatty liver.
Your Brain, On Sugar
Your brain uses nearly half the sugar energy that is in the body. After consuming your sweet treat, serotonin is released. If your body is not satisfied it will crave more. Feeding the craving causes an addiction-like response where your brain lights up and requires more and more to satisfy the craving.
When The Sugar Craving Isn’t Satisfied
If the sugar craving is ignored, withdrawal occurs. Symptoms of withdrawal can include:
- Decline in focus
- Loss of memory
These symptoms are unpleasant, leading you on an orthodox mission to supply the demand. If you experience symptoms of withdrawal, know it will subside in a few days to a few weeks with simple changes in diet.
How To Maintain Healthy Sugar Levels
- More fiber: fiber is not digested and keeps you satisfied for long periods of time, reducing your need to grab a sugary pick-me-up for energy
- Reduce added sugars: start decreasing the number of refined sugars you consume- sweet drinks, candies, low-fat foods, and bread.
- Fill up on protein: eating protein-rich foods will keep you satisfied and provide your body with the necessary tools to build healthy tissues without causing drastic hormonal changes.
- Water: if you find yourself deeply craving sugary products, drink a bottle of water first. You may simply be dehydrated. If water doesn’t kick the craving, then choose a healthy source of sugar like fruits or whole grains like oatmeal.
What’s In It For You?
There are benefits to taking control of your health as it relates to how much sugar you consume.
- Decrease the risk of diabetes
- Balanced mood
- Smaller waistline
- Healthy weight
- Stronger immune system
What To Do
- Read nutrition labels– avoid added sugars (most sugars end in –ose), avoid substitutions like aspartame.
- Eat more whole foods- whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and natural seeded fruit.
- Reduce foods containing refined sugar (like high fructose corn syrup)- dressings, soda, cereal, candy, and baked goods.