The Effects of Sugar on the Body and How to Reduce Cravings with Supplements
Imagine pondering over your favorite dessert—did your stomach emit a low growl or did your mouth start to water? For those of us with a sweet tooth, relinquishing sweets is no easy task. As society becomes more health-conscious and fitness-oriented, we've inevitably encountered numerous drawbacks associated with sugar consumption. In this blog post, we will delve into the reasons why sugar has acquired such a negative reputation over the years. Additionally, we will explore how we can liberate ourselves from the clutches of this sugar trap with the aid of sugarfree supplements.
What is sugar? Where does it come from?
The sugar on your table comes from the juice of plants like sugarcane or sugar beets. Biologically, table sugar, also known as sucrose, is a carbohydrate that is converted into glucose by the body. Glucose is the fuel your brain, organs, and muscles require for everyday functioning. Sugar is also found naturally as fructose in fruits, lactose, and galactose in milk, maltose in barley, and starch in potatoes, cereals, bread, pasta, rice, and grains.
1. Refined Sugars:
Sugar extracted from sugarcane or beet sugar, or corn, chemically produced, and added to foods is called processed sugars or refined sugars. The refining process generally strips the nutritional part of the sugar, rendering it a high-calorie, 0 nutritive ingredient. These refined sugars are also present in some packaged food items as added sugars.
2. Added Sugars:
Syrups added to processed foods and beverages are called added sugars. You may find these on food labels in the names of brown sugar, cane juice, refined sugars, corn syrups, fruit nectars, malt syrups, molasses, maltose, etc. Natural sugars, when added to such products, also fall into the category of added sugars like glucose, lactose, sucrose, honey, etc.
The National Institute of Nutrition has recommended a dietary intake of added sugars of no more than 20–25 gms/day. A single can of your cold drink may contain 8–9 tsp, i.e., 40–45 gms of added sugar, almost double the upper limit permitted.
3. Hidden Sugars:
Since the added sugars enhance the taste, texture, and flavor of the food product and, at times, also act as a preservative, increasing its shelf life, most processed foods contain them. However, spotting these added sugars can be tricky as they are disguised in the ingredient list under the names of agave, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, fruit nectars, concentrations of juice, etc. Common foods with hidden sugars include breakfast cereals, beverages like juices, sports drinks, salad dressings and sauces, and flavored yogurts.
Tip no.1: Look out for ingredients that end with ose (eg. Dextrose, maltose), ingredients that have sugar in their names (brown sugar, confectionary sugar), ingredients that have syrups in their names (rice syrup, corn syrup, etc.)
Tip no.2: Read the Food labels carefully. Packaged foods mostly mention the sugar content per serving, let's say 10 gms. and the entire product maybe 2-3 servings. So if you consume the entire product in one go, you will be eating nearly 30 gms of sugar.
Natural Sugars v/s Processed sugar
So how does it matter whether we are consuming added sugars, natural sugars, or refined sugar? Natural and added sugars are both processed in the same manner in our bodies, but the kind of impact both types of sugars have on our bodies is different. Natural sugars are present in foods that contain fiber (eg. fruits) due to which the sugars in them are released slowly. As the fiber component in them keeps us full, we generally do not tend to overeat them. Additionally, these foods also contain other important nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, along with fiber.
Refined/ Added sugars, on the other hand, are empty calories, provide no nutritional value, and tend to cause an instant spike and crash, wanting us to crave more of them.
How Does Sugar Affect Our Body?
1. Brain Health
The main source of fuel for the brain is sugar. In fact, when people with diabetes experience a drop in their blood sugar levels, they develop a condition called hypoglycemia, characterized by confusion, dizziness, trembling, etc., as the supply of sugar to the brain is restricted. Similarly, low levels of glucose impair the production of neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that send signals between cells in our body. However, too much sugar can have damaging effects on the brain, from impacting memory and cognition to increasing the risk of brain stroke. The brain also produces neurotrophic factors such as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factors), which assist in communication between nerve cells through synapses. Diets high in sugar reduce BDNF, leading to a decline in neurological functioning and the promotion of brain degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Too much sugar can also have an addictive effect on the brain and damage the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain, increasing its risk of developing stroke.
2. Heart Health
TG & Heart: Excess sugar, when it reaches the liver from your gut, is stored as fat called triglycerides (TG). High TG levels cause your blood vessels to harden, leading to heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease.
Obesity, Hypertension (HTN), and Heart: Eating too much sugar gives you too many calories, and excess calories can lead to obesity. Also, more sugar intake would mean more insulin release. Insulin is known to cause fat buildup and prevent fat breakdown, further promoting obesity. Obesity increases your risk of developing heart disease as obese individuals need more blood supply, which puts your body under pressure. Plus, your body will need more pressure to supply this more blood, leading to high blood pressure. This high pressure damages your arteries, makes them stiff, and decreases the supply of oxygen and blood to the heart, leading to heart disease.
Vascular Trauma: In diabetes, excessive sugars flowing through the blood vessels tend to stick to them, leading to damage to the blood vessels. Such vascular trauma impacts the functioning of blood vessels along with nerve damage, causing a lack of sufficient blood oxygen and sensation supply to various organs, including the heart, kidney (diabetic nephropathy), brain, eyes, gut, feet, etc.
3. Skin Health
Collagen and elastin are the proteins that support the dermal layer of your skin, making it soft and supple. Excess sugar intake causes the glycation of these proteins, which means the sugar molecules bind with these proteins, producing advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These AGEs create oxidative stress in the skin. Excessive sugar intake also causes cross-linking of collagen, making it stiff, which then causes the skin to lose its elasticity. Collagen crosslinking generally increases with age. Too much sugar consumption can thus cause signs of premature aging in the skin.
4. Liver Health
Liver is the site where excess sugar is converted and stored as fat. Over time, these liver cells turn into fat cells through lipogenesis, leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver, hepatic steatosis, or hepatosteatosis. This condition is reversible in the early stages; however, if you continue to overload the liver with sugar (especially sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup), it can gradually progress into cirrhosis and cause serious irreversible liver damage ultimately leading to liver failure. High sugar consumption also causes the liver to become inflamed and less responsive to insulin, thereby causing type 2 diabetes. Too much sugar also causes oxidative stress in liver cells and dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut flora), which further promotes liver damage.
The Bitter Truth Behind Sweet Cravings
If you have a sweet tooth, you will agree that sugar seems to be addictive. Eating excess sugar tends to release a surge of brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin that create a sense of pleasure and alleviate our mood. The primary neurotransmitter involved in addiction is dopamine. In fact, research indicates that sugar and sweets can be more rewarding and attractive than addictive drugs. In addition, a few psychological and physiological factors make it more difficult to come out of the sweet cycle. Whenever we consume sugar, the body releases insulin to transport it inside the cells. Simple sugars like sucrose and HFCS lacking fiber cause an instant sugar spike and then an instant crash due to insulin, making our body want more. In addition, a few behavioral factors, such as stress and anxiety, may make you grab a sweet pop-up to feel better. Similarly, if you are used to eating some sweets at a particular time in the day, you will start craving sugar at that time every day. At times, your body may mistake the need for water for the need for sugar, thus dehydration can promote sugar cravings. Surprisingly, it's not even you but your gut microbiome that prompts you to eat or binge on sweets.
Supplements for Sugar Cravings
Want to break free from your sugar addiction? Have a balanced meal. A meal high in protein, fiber, and healthy fat will not only fulfill your macronutrient needs but will also keep you full for a longer time and help you reduce those sweet cravings. Artificial sweeteners are another option for cutting back on extra calories and limiting total sugar intake. Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes that help you get the sweet taste without the additional calories. So far, the FDA has approved artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame-k, stevia, advantage, and monk fruit extract (swingle fruit extract) that can be safely used. You can also opt for organic health products or natural supplements, that are loaded with fiber and sweetened with naturally derived artificial sweeteners. Markets now have a range of plant-based protein supplements. Loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, some of them contain digestive enzymes, which make them easy to digest.
Reducing sugar intake is easier said than done. A high sugar intake can have a significant negative impact on our health. Sugarfree supplements can come across as a quick fix for those sugar cravings. However, remember to check with your physician before starting any new supplement.
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