The Effects of Sugar on the Body

Hi All!

I hope that this doesn’t sound too preachy…You know I love a cookie now and again! This is just a little reminder

It can be easy to overindulge during the holiday season. Now that we are all getting back into a regular routine, I wanted to send out a little friendly reminder about the effects of sugar on the body and how detrimental it can be to our overall health. 

Why is sugar so illusive? When we consume sugar, for a short time we feel great! They call it a “sugar high” for a reason! Humans are programmed to enjoy the taste of sugar because it is calorically dense. Before the rise of the grocery store, energy-dense food was harder to come by, so when we found it, we were programmed to celebrate it! We used to need to literally store up our body fat for a long winter. We are now trying to outrun our primitive response to calorically dense foods!

Here is a basic view of what happens in the body when we eat sugar. When sugar-rich foods hit the stomach, they are broken down by acid and enzymes into smaller pieces. The food is then sent on to the small intestine where it is broken down further into glucose and fructose. Glucose is then sent into the blood stream and liver, spiking our blood sugar level. The pancreas is stimulated and produces insulin to ‘file away’ the glucose for later use in the liver, muscle, and fat cells. This lowers the blood sugar levels that were just raised, resulting in a feeling of lethargy, hunger, irritability, headache, fatigue, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and anxiety. No, thank you!!!

Consumption of sugar can lead to weight gain. It also wreaks havoc on our liver, impairs brain function, causes inflammation throughout the body, and confuses our metabolism. Excess sugar intake leaves us susceptible to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Our hard-working livers are responsible for many functions in the body, including extracting nutrients from foods, producing bile to help the body break down fat, filtering chemicals and toxins out of the blood, and storing glucose. When we eat sugar on a regular basis, our liver can become overloaded with glucose. When this happens, the liver has to export the glucose by storing it in other parts of the body in the form of fat. Fat can also remain in the liver. Over time, this can develop into non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

What happens to the brain when we consume sugar? When we first consume sugar, the tongue’s taste receptors are stimulated (as they are with any food that we eat) and the signals from the taste buds are sent to the brain lighting up the reward pathways and causing a surge of “happy” hormones like dopamine. We produce dopamine whenever we eat food, but more is released when we consume sugar, which is where the term ‘sugar high’ comes from. Sugar hijackes our our natural reward hormone pathways, so over time we feel that we need more sugar to recreate that hormone surge. This overexposure to sugar reduces our bodies’ ability to produce dopamine and we feel that we need more sugar to achieve that same happy feeling. This is the same reaction that our body has to drugs, and yet sugar seems so innocent! Super scary!!!

Heavy sugar intake causes a resistance to insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates function of brain cells). Insulin strengthens the synaptic connection between brain cells. A resistance to insulin can lower levels cognition and brain function. Of course, we also know that type 2 diabetes can develop as our insulin resistance increases.

I need a little reminder now and again that food is fuel. It is so easy to get into the cycle of overindulgence. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you NEED the cookie, and that is A-ok! Just make sure that you don’t punish yourself afterwards. That sets up a negative reward cycle that is so tough to outrun. I like to follow the 90/10 rule. Eat nutrient-rich foods that are fuel for the body 90 percent of the time. For the other 10 percent of the time, allow yourself to have the treats that you love!  It’s all about balance. 🙂

I’d love to hear about how you find balance! Comment with your healthy plans/strategies below. 🙂

Until next time!

xo Lara

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