Refined sugar is one of THE worst things you can consume for inflammation. I was, and still am, one of the worst for my sweet tooth, but it can do so much damage. Here’s what you need to know about Sugar:
I think people fall into two categories when it comes to all that is sweets, chocolate and desserts. Most people I’ve met tend to prefer either savoury or sweet; you either have that sweet weakness you always crave, or a complete take it or leave it attitude to chocolate and would much rather snack on crisps or some similar savoury snack.
( there is also a third category though, those strange people who don’t even like chocolate at all!) Shock horror.
That being said, salt is just as bad for inflammation as sugar. But that’s a story for another day…
You Are What You Eat
As I’ve worked through various aspects of my health condition – working out what makes me feel better or worse. One thing I have most definitely learnt is how to be in tune with my body, and listen to what it’s telling me.
I can now feel minute changes in my muscles, joints, stomach, any pain I’m getting, and when I feel more bloated or sluggish that usual. One of the things I have found that affects all of the above, is what I put into my body; what I eat. I’ve written more about tuning in to changes in another post: listen to your body if you want to know more.
One of the worst culprits for making me feel worse instead of better was DEFINITELY shop bought chocolate and sugary foods!
The science is that your body completely renews it’s cells approximately every 60 days. These cells are made from the energy your body creates from the foods you eat. So you very literally ‘Are what you Eat!’
So what would you rather be made of? Clean fresh organic fruits & vegetables – essential minerals and good stuff? or processed chemicals, salts, sugars and junk devoid of any nutrition?!
I know which I’d rather choose. And which makes me feel better for eating it!
Why You Should Care What You Eat
We live in a world where our bodies come into contact with way more toxins and chemicals than they can process on their own. Yes your body is made to detox itself, but nowadays it just can’t cope.
For me, when my body is struggling to function well anyway I want to try and help it as much as I can.
The less toxins it has to deal with, the more it can focus on healing me and making me feel well again. This is everything from the products you put on your skin, use in your home, and come into contact with every day, as well as what you consume.
You cannot control all of your environment, but you can most definitely make a big change with your diet.
Which brings us back to sugar. Specifically refined sugar! Your body can breakdown and process natural sugars, natural products that are made of cells similar to its own. Therefore anything in your body that is made of artificial chemicals or processed components either doesn’t break down at all, or takes weeks to breakdown and leave your body.
What sugar can do to your body
Natural sugars come from carbohydrates – fruit, vegetables, oats. These are broken down slowly into glucose that your body uses for energy. Not so with refined sugar: When you eat refined sugar it effects your body in a number of ways, both physical and mental.
It causes your insulin levels to spike, not only increasing your risk of diabetes, but this also leads to an insulin crash later. Which can not only make you feel sluggish and cause headaches. But also makes you crave more sugar for another energy boost.
My cravings usually kick in on an evening, so as I tuned in to how food was affecting my body I realised that indulging in sugary treats was stopping me from getting to sleep. I often found that I would wake up feeling sluggish, fuzzy headed and groggy the morning after too.
A lot of sugar in your diet affects your skin too. That spike of insulin that comes after eating refined sugar in turn causes a spike of inflammation through your whole body. Inflammation that is seen in your skin in the form of breakouts. Thanks skin!
The inflammation also produces enzymes that break down collagen and elastin. For your skin that causes sagging skin and wrinkles!!
That inflammation obviously isn’t just focused on your skin. If you are suffering with inflammation and any kind of muscle/ joint pain (like me). That inflammation just aggravates things even more.
Research shows regular sugar intake and subsequent prolonged inflammation throughout your body can lead to dangerous conditions such as heart disease, cancer, obesity and many more.
Liver damage. While it is your liver that cleanses toxins out of your body, it is also the organ that uses fructose to make fat. Too much refined sugar in your diet can cause a fatty buildup as your liver struggles to cope with the excess sugar. That fatty buildup can lead to liver disease.
The excess fat your liver produces can also end up in your bloodstream.
Fructose is the natural sugar found in fruits and honey. Your body and your liver are built for that, so eating fruit is not damaging to you in any way. It is almost impossible to to overeat fructose by eating fruit!
Refined sugar can cause imbalances in gut flora by feeding the bad bacteria and yeast in your stomach. This can lead to leaky gut, which is where your stomach lining becomes damaged and more permeable. This means that large particles of undigested food, bad bacteria’s, gut bacteria, proteins, and toxins can enter the bloodstream, as well as making your stomach unable to absorb key nutrients. This can lead to serious health issues.
We know excess sugar can cause fat accumulation. The insulin that your body releases after you eat sugar also gets pumped into your muscles, switches off your body’s fat burning abilities, and switches on your body’s fat storage.
The insulin produced from a high sugar diet can also block the body from naturally creating leptin. The substance that tells you when you’re full. This can lead to overeating and in turn obesity.
High levels of sugar has negative effects on your brains cognitive function and your psychological well-being too. Sugar literally slows your brain down, and hinders learning and memory. The resistance to insulin that can cause diabetes can also damage brain cells.
Insulin also regulates the function of brain cells. It strengthens the synaptic connections between your brain cells, helping them communicate better and form stronger memories. Leading to impaired cognition.
The sudden peaks and troughs in insulin and blood sugar levels can also be attributed to anxiety and depression. In the extreme those sugar crashes can also cause symptoms of anxiousness, moodiness and depression.
Where refined sugar can be found
Refined sugar is not just in the obvious places, it is hidden in all kinds of foods. The obvious ones would be sugary drinks and sodas, sweets, chocolates, cakes and biscuits.
Refined sugar is also used in packaged fruit drinks and milkshakes as a preservative. In fast food and pre-packaged ready meals, processed and convenience food. In snack and breakfast bars. Even cereal, crackers, flavoured yogurt and dressings such as ketchup and salad cream.
Low-fat foods can be the worst offenders for adding hidden sugar. Manufacturers add sugar to replace the flavour that the lack of fat takes away, subsequently it can be more damaging for your health than the fat.
Changes you can make
Refined sugar added to food can be displayed in various ways in the list of ingredients. If you want to start working towards a cleaner, sugar free diet then you need to look out for; 1.Sucrose 2.Fructose 3.Cane sugar/syrup 4.Dextrose 5.Molasses 6.Anything with ‘Malt’ in the name 7.Anything with ‘Syrup’ or ‘Sugar’ in the name as well as a number of others. You can find a full list here.
Also be aware that if something is ‘low sugar’ but the carbohydrate content is sky high it’s also something to avoid. Carbs are turned to fructose by the body so you still end up with a high level of sugar in your system…
Manufacturers are sneaky! and they want you to be addicted to the sugar and their products. So check out the ingredients of your usual purchases and see what you have missed..
What to cut out
If you are looking for somewhere to start here is what I’ve personally changed / cut out. It might help give you a bit of inspiration.
It’s an ongoing process so don’t think you have to change everything at once.
1. Cut out All shop bought fruit smoothies and milkshakes.
2. Don’t buy any ready-made meals or pre-packaged food such as sandwiches & dried fruit.
3. Cut out sugar based sweets such as jelly beans, fruit pastels, haribo etc. entirety.
4. I never eat fast food or takeaway.
5. I only eat natural Greek yogurt and never anything flavoured.
6. I don’t use shop bought dressings or ketchup and make my own instead.
7. I make my own flapjacks using a simple honey and coconut oil recipe and snack on fresh fruit and nuts- I always carry something with me in my bag to make sure I’m not tempted.
8. I always carry a bottle of water with me to make sure I don’t get tempted by some shop bought sugary drink if I get thirsty.
9.No shop bought chocolate other than high percentage dark chocolate.
10. I don’t buy any shop bought cakes. I make my own ‘healthy ‘ versions of sweet treats at home. Which I actually prefer to the shop bought stuff now!
11. I choose to eat as fresh and simply as I can. I buy base ingredients and fresh fruits and vegetables and make my own dishes at home. Where I know exactly what goes in them.
The thing that I found from making these changes consistently for a few years, is that not only are my sugar cravings less often (they happen about once a week now instead of daily!), I also don’t like the taste of the shop bought chocolate and cakes anymore. They are far FAR too sweet for me! My palette has changed completely. I would much rather have dark chocolate now.
**I mentioned a few times Healthy recipes for alternative sweet treats. I have experimented with various chocolate bars, cake, and biscuit recipes using natural ingredients and replacing sugar with honey and coconut oil. And would definitely recommend giving it a try.
I truly believe a good, mostly plant based diet, and the food you eat can be just as healing as any other herbal medicine or holistic remedy. Food is the simplest form of medicine you can use!
There will be more focus on this moving forward. As well as some of the recipes I use to make healthy sugar free versions of ‘sweet’ treats. So let me know if there’s any sweet treat in particular you want to see.