What’s a winter wonderland without sugar fairies and hot cocoa? Think of minty candy canes guarding a frosted palace of gingerbread. Gummy droplets strewn like Christmas lights on desserts…
The holidays are definitely the season of sugar. With gingerbread houses, sugar cookies, cocktails, dishes heavy with processed condiments and sauces — they all contribute to a sugar overload. It’s easy to unconsciously double or triple your sugar consumption during holiday eating.
Of course, sugar doesn’t pertain only to the landscape of holiday treats. Unless you’re reading labels diligently and actively avoiding sugar, chances are you’re consuming a lot of sugar throughout the year.
When you consume sugar for a long period of time — say years and years — it interferes with your body’s hormones. Once hormones are out of balance your glucose levels will increase in the blood. Your pancreas responds to high glucose by releasing more insulin and too much of it makes your body store fat. This is a major reason why so many people struggle with weight loss. When you don’t understand how hidden sugars have imbalanced your body, it’s much harder to lose weight.
One hormone in particular is affected by insulin: leptin. Leptin tells your hypothalamus to tell you to stop eating. It’s what regulates our satiety. But sugar can really mess up leptin’s role by obscuring its message to the brain and causing you to overeat. If your body can’t tell it’s full, it tells you to eat more and more.
Most sugary foods are also low on nutrients. When your body isn’t getting the proper fuel, it’s functioning on a deficit, so it makes you constantly eat more to satisfy the nutrient cravings. But if you’re reaching for processed foods, sugar-filled foods and bad-fat foods, you’re only exacerbating the nutrient deficiency, and you therefore crave more food.
Do you see a pattern here? For many, chasing these needed nutrients becomes a downward spiral — a fruitless loop, if you will.
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a shocking statistic showing that almost 40 percent of American adults and nearly 20 percent of adolescents are obese. Never has the United States seen these rates of obesity. Plus, more than 100 million Americans have diabetes or are prediabetic. That’s almost one-third of the US population!
Journalist Gary Taubes wrote about the link between sugar and the health of Americans and the rest of the world in The BMJ. Taubes argues against the dominant point of view that eating high fat foods are the cause of obesity.
He and others have raised the question of why the “twin epidemics” of obesity and diabetes have gotten so out of control — despite many best-effort campaigns by medical professionals, governments and scientists.
Taubes argues that instead of focusing on the caloric count of high-fat food consumption, we should be examining our sugar intake, especially with calorific sweeteners. In other words, sugar makes you fat more than fat itself makes you fat. This fact is the opposite of what we were told in the “low fat” 80s and 90s.
Sugar consumption has a strong association with poor health outcomes. Ever the cautionary journalist, Taubes warns that evidence that sugar has harmful qualities independent of its calories is still ambiguous. “If it is true, though, it changes how we must communicate the dangers of sugar consumption,” he writes. Making ourselves aware of how sugar consumption imbalances the body is a beginning to effective health-driven communication.
I advise my patients to cut out sugar completely, because there’s overwhelming evidence that point to sugar as a variable for illness. Not only are diabetes and obesity linked to sugar consumption, but studies are showing that sugar has indirect links to cancer, inflammation, and anxiety.
As we eat our way into 2020, there are seven things you can begin doing to stop the sugar overload.
Life is so sweet already. Adding sugar to your diet detracts from your life, so let’s approach 2020 by celebrating all of life’s sweetness in other forms. Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!