I consider sugar one of life’s great pleasures – well not straight sugar, but lovely desserts, pastries, and sweet treats. I know I’m not alone here, but fellow lovers of the sugary delights, listen up! It turns out sugar ages us in many ways both internally and externally.
Let’s quickly examine how much sugar we are actually eating. An average North American consumes about 17 teaspoons each day. To provide some context, 12 teaspoons is the recommended maximum on a daily basis. In fact, just one soft drink generally contains between 9-11 teaspoons of sugar. I only have to consider what I ate yesterday, and I can see that my sugar intake was many times more than what it should have been.
So what is taking place in my body full of sugar…
Sugar accelerates the ageing of skin by negatively affecting our collagen molecules. We all know that collagen and elastin are what make our skin soft, supple and resilient. Sugar causes the collagenmolecules to “cross link” (known as advanced glycation end-products or AGEs). This cross linking causes their cell structures to harden, become malformed and lose their normal function. The result is that we see a loss of elasticity, sagginess as well as increases in wrinkles and dark spots on the skin. This process also negatively affects our skin's antioxidants.
Even more alarming is that this same process happens in most the body’s tissues when sugar levels are elevated; studies have shown that sugar accelerates this cross-linking reaction by as much at 7 times. Cross linking can happen to many different proteins in the body and can cause much more damage than just older looking skin.
Decades of Diabetes research has helped us understand a great deal about how sugar effects the body. We know that it has a negative affect on our connective tissues, causes chronic low-grade inflammation, causes non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and a scarring of the liver, hardening of the arteries, heart disease, type 2 diabetes – need I go on?
When I consider giving up sugar, I jokingly say that it’s going to be hard to give up something that I’m addicted to. However, the truth is that many scientists do consider sugar as a potentially addictive substance. When we do functional MRI studies on extremely heavy sugars consumers, the same parts of the brain that light up with cocaine use, also light up with sugar intake. Sugar stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain which is one of the pleasure stimulants; that’s why we have sugar cravings, just like we might crave other addictive substances; fortunately, not nearly to the same degree. We can also take heart in the fact that most people are far from addicted to sugar and most of us just need to be more aware of what we are eating
The best way to bring down your sugar intake is to begin to read the labels on the foods you eat. Most processed foods also contain high level of sugar. But recognizing sugar on the label might not be so simple. Sugar has more than 50 different names so spend a bit on time on Google and become familiar with the most common names – Fructose, dextrose, glucose, sucrose – the list goes on and on. Start to recognize these names and then check the labels to see how much sugar you are getting in the foods you purchase.
For people who consume soft drinks, juices, power drinks or vitamin drinks, that’s an easy place to start. In most cases just one of these drinks contains an entire day’s worth of sugar. Start by cutting these drinks out and turning to herbal teas or water infused with lemon and orange slices, watermelon chunks, or cucumber rounds. Also be aware of common snack foods like power bars, protein and granola bars and other prepared snacks - all very high in sugar. By simply eliminating these foods, we can bring our sugar intake down very significantly.
The good news is that fruits and vegetables that are high with natural sugars are still on the green list. They are all packed with vitamins and minerals, fibers and a host of important nutritional elements that we need to be healthy. In fact, very few people actually get enough of these good foods each day so try to increase these when you bring down the sugary foods.