Sugar – it has a pleasing taste in a processed sort of way, but the consequences of making it part of your diet is anything but sweet. A growing body of research suggests it isn’t dietary fat that drives so many health problems, but the white, processed crystals we put into our coffee and tea. Rapidly absorbed “white” carbs like white rice, white flour, and white potatoes also fall into this category since they’re converted to sugar and absorbed quickly, just like sugar.
Making major dietary changes isn’t always easy, but cutting back on sugar doesn’t mean you can never bite into another cookie or brownie. It does mean you should limit these foods in your diet and replace them with high-fiber, nutritionally rich whole foods. Here’s the good news. The more you cut back on sugar in your diet, the less you’ll crave its rather addictive sweetness. What kind of payoff can you expect? Here are some surprising (and good) things that happen when you reduce sugar in your diet.
Cut Back on Sugar: Younger-Looking Skin
Too many people invest in expensive face creams and Botox to stymie wrinkles and keep their skin looking young. Why not age-proof your skin from the inside out by reducing the amount of sugar in your diet? Sugar has the capacity to form AGEs, also known as advanced glycation end products. AGEs bind to collagen, the protein that gives skin its support and keeps it looking youthful.
By forming cross-links with collagen, AGEs destroys its integrity and creates conditions that are ripe for skin wrinkling and sagging by damaging the proteins that keep your skin looking young. Plus, when you replace sugary foods with whole foods like fruits and vegetables, you treat your skin to natural antioxidants that help keep your skin healthy.
Cut Back on Sugar: You May Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease
In the same way that AGEs cross-link with collagen, they also damage the inside of blood vessel walls and increase the risk for atherosclerotic heart disease. Diabetics are at higher risk for heart disease. One reason is their blood vessels are exposed to high levels of glucose. When glucose reacts with proteins inside the walls of blood vessels, it forms cross-linkages that damage the vessel, causing the vessel to stiffen and accumulate plaque. Over time, this can lead to heart disease or a heart attack.
Another way a diet high in sugar increases heart disease risk is by its effect on blood triglycerides. High-sugar diets are linked with higher blood triglyceride levels. With so much focus on cholesterol, it’s easy to forget that high triglycerides are also a risk factor for heart disease. It’s one more reason to tame your sweet tooth.
Does research support a link between sugar consumption and heart disease? A large study followed healthy adults for 15 years. Adults who took in more than 25% of their calories from sugar had twice the risk of dying of heart disease compared to those who ate a low-sugar diet with less than 10% of their daily calories derived from sugar.
Cut Back on Sugar: It’ll Be Easier to Slim Down
Sugary foods have calories but little nutritional value. Plus, foods high in sugar and rapidly absorbed carbs cause an equally fast rise in blood sugar. In response, your pancreas pumps out more insulin to get glucose into cells so they can use it for energy. Over time, forcing your pancreas to produce more insulin increases your risk for insulin resistance, a condition where cells become less responsive to insulin.
As your pancreas gears up to produce more insulin to try to get glucose into cells that aren’t responding to it, you end up with an excess of circulating insulin. Unfortunately, insulin is also a hormone that blocks fat breakdown and promotes fat storage. With so much insulin in your bloodstream telling fat cells to store fat, losing weight becomes almost impossible.
To make matters worse, your cells aren’t getting the glucose they need to make energy. As a result, you feel tired and have cravings for more sugar. When you bite into more sugary foods, the cycle is perpetuated. Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet is the only way to break this vicious cycle.
When you choose healthy, fiber-rich carbs over processed carbs and sugar and consume them with a source of protein, you feel fuller longer and avoid the roller coaster ride your blood sugar goes on with sugar.
Cut Back on Sugar: You’ll Crave More of the Good Stuff
As mentioned, you’ll lose your cravings for sugar once you reduce the amount in your diet. As you replace sugar with whole foods, your taste buds will wake up and respond to the taste of food in its natural state. You’ll actually enjoy the taste of foods that are good for you once you limit the amount of sugar in your diet for a few weeks. The best way to do this is slowly cut back on sugar rather than going “cold turkey.” Your body is less likely to rebel when you make incremental changes to your diet.
Cut Back on Sugar: Better Brain Health
There’s growing evidence that sugar impacts brain function including memory. In animal studies, animals that eat a high-sugar diet perform poorly on memory tests. The evidence extends to humans as well. A study carried out by the Mayo Clinic showed older adults who ate a sugar-rich diet were at four times greater risk for mild cognitive impairment.
Research shows diets high in refined sugar are linked with lower production of a brain chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. BDNF is important for forming new memories. Low levels of BDNF are linked with other health problems including depression, dementia and worsening of insulin resistance. Eating sugar sets off a cascade of events that leads to health problems.
Cut Back on Sugar: Watch Out for Hidden Sugar
Don’t assume only desserts and other obviously sweet foods are high in sugar. Sugar “hides” in lots of common foods people eat every day including tomato sauce, condiments, yogurt, cereals, lunch meats, and beverages. Some bottled teas have as much as 50 grams of sugar! If you buy packaged or processed foods, ALWAYS read the label.
As you can see, a high-sugar diet harms more than just your waistline. It may be the driving force behind a number of health problems including insulin resistance, heart disease, and skin aging.
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