Icecream, soft drink, cake, biscuits and chocolate… many of us experience a great deal of pleasure when we indulge in a sugary treat. Unfortunately however, research has shown that some of us are not just indulging occasionally, but basing much of our diet on foods containing sugar, particularly refined sugars that contain fructose.
Unlike other molecules we ingest that stimulate our appetite hormones, fructose goes undetected, which means we can eat a lot of refined sugar but we don’t feel full. Much of the sugar we eat is also filled with ‘empty’ kilojoules and lacks many of the important components we need for a health diet, including vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre and healthy fats. But why is this an issue?
A diet high in refined sugars can lead to all sorts of health issues from lower immunity, digestive issues and obesity to more serious problems like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. However, all of these issues can be minimised (and in some cases even reversed) by focussing on reducing your sugar intake or giving up sugar altogether!
Here are ten amazing health benefits.
1. Higher Energy Levels
An excess of refined sugar in our diet can affect us in a variety of ways, but one of the major ones has to do with its effect on our brains. A desire for more sugar can lead to cravings, mood swings and that all-too-familiar energy crash which often leaves us reaching for more sugar in order to pick us back up again!
It can also lead to sugar addition because of its mood enhancing qualities – sugar prompts our brains to release serotonin and dopamine (our ‘happy’ hormones), so the instant lift we get is one of the reasons why many of us continually seek out foods that produce these feel-good emotions again and again.
Focusing on a healthy diet and giving up sugar entirely can go a long way towards increasing your energy levels, improving your memory and allowing you to concentrate more clearly.
2. A Stronger Immune System
Our immune system isn’t a single organ – it’s composed of millions of tiny cells that span our entire body and help to protect us. How? When our body is invaded by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens (microorganisms that can cause disease), it responds by producing unique cells called phagocytes. These are white blood cells that basically envelop whatever is causing infection and stop it from spreading, or neutralize it so that your body can flush these harmful entities from your system.
Vitamin C is required by an immune system in order for it to function properly, and white blood cells in particular need it to fight infection. When you eat sugar it is broken down into glucose, which has a similar chemical structure to Vitamin C. However, if you eat too much of it, your body may grab the glucose instead, meaning your immune system’s ability to fight is decreased which can lead to the spread of infection.
Giving up sugar will not only improve your immune system, it will also lessen your risk of chronic inflammation, which can increase your body’s ability to fight off infections, including colds and the flu.
3. A Better Sleep
There is strong scientific link between high sugar consumption and depression and other mental illnesses, and although sugar itself doesn’t cause these, it can impair your ability to cope with stress. Cutting down on sugar will not only minimize the symptoms of these conditions, it can also improve your mood and decrease agitation and anxiety.
Eating sugar before bed can also make you more prone to lower blood sugar levels and ‘night sweats’, and it can also super-charge your stress hormones, which can lead to sleep problems. Give up sugar and you’ll probably notice an increased quality of sleep within a few days, which can lead to a more positive outlook and better productivity.
4. Improved Gut Health
There are a host of ways that an excessive intake of sugar can negatively affect both your digestion and your gut health. When the amount of sugar in your body is too much for your bloodstream to absorb, it will make its way through your digestive system. Bacteria in your bowels loves to feast on sugar, which can lead to bloating, abdominal pain, diarrheas' and flatulence, and it can also lead to an overgrowth of parasites and harmful bacteria.
Too much sugar in your gut can also lead to a range of other issues including intestinal parasites, candida (a fungal infection), SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), ‘a leaky gut’ (where the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged), and gut dysbiosis, a condition caused by your gut bacteria being out of balance.
Giving up sugar will not only alleviate all of these, but also improve your digestion, regulate your hormone levels and minimize food intolerances.
5. Weight Loss
When you eat too much refined sugar your insulin production increases, which can prohibit your body from using fat as fuel. Instead, your body converts excess sugar into fat and weight gain can be a result. One of the benefits of reducing sugar in your diet is that your body will ensure your insulin levels are at an optimal level, which can assist with improving both your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Additionally, giving up sugar also means you are eliminating a lot of processed foods from your diet, which means you will naturally gravitate towards eating more healthy foods. These include fruit, vegetables, seafood, nuts, grains, eggs and meat, which are full of quality protein, fibre, fats, vitamins and minerals. These foods will keep you satisfied for longer and therefore reduce your need for snacking on sugary foods.
6. Get ready for younger-looking skin
The sugar in your diet affects the amount of sugar in your bloodstream—and studies suggest that high blood sugar levels set up a molecular domino effect called glycation. Say what? That's just a fancy term for a process that can hinder the repair of your skin's collagen, the protein that keeps it looking plump. A diet full of treats can also lead to reduced elasticity and premature wrinkles. Thankfully, research suggests that slashing your sugar intake can help lessen sagging and other visible signs of aging.
7. Say bye-bye to abdominal fat
Everyone knows that a daily sugary-soda habit can pack on the pounds, especially in the tummy area. But what you may not realize are the potential risks associated with abdominal fat. Sugary fare spikes your blood sugar, triggering a flood of insulin through your body, which over time encourages fat to accumulate around your middle. Known as visceral fat, these fat cells deep in the abdomen are the riskiest kind because they generate adipokines and adipose hormones—chemical troublemakers that travel to your organs and blood vessels, where they bring on inflammation that can contribute to conditions like heart disease and cancer. So, when you cut back on pop and desserts, you'll start reducing belly fat and the dangerous conditions that come with it.
8. Reduce your risk for diabetes
Since having fewer sweets helps you keep off excess pounds, you'll also be more protected against type 2 diabetes. But eating less sugar also lowers your risk of the disease in another way: "A diet with lots of fast-digesting carbohydrates, like sugar, requires the pancreas to release lots of insulin, meal after meal, day after day," explains Dr. Ludwig. "That excessive demand may overtax insulin-producing cells, causing them to malfunction, eventually leading to diabetes."
9. Better Overall Health
Obesity is one of the biggest public health issues affecting us here in Australia, with more than 60% of Australians deemed as ‘obese’ and almost 10% as ‘severely obese’. Consuming large quantities of refined sugar on a regular basis can not only increase weight gain, it can also lead to the development of more serious health concerns including cancer, hypoglycaemia, heart disease and