Since nearly eliminating my consumption of added sugar 18 months ago, there’s been one significant effect I never expected. I’ve become one of my dental hygienist’s favorite clients. The past three times I’ve been to the dentist for a cleaning, my hygienist has said to me “your teeth already look beautiful” and “there’s barely any cleaning I need to do” and “looks like you’ve done a great job brushing and flossing.” But I’ve always brushed and flossed consistently for as long as I can remember, and I never received these compliments before. Even with my consistent dental hygiene and lack of any tooth decay problems, I’ve never had compliments like these. But since my reduction of added sugar, they’ve been plentiful.
Now, it’s common knowledge that added sugar consumption can help lead to dental issues but until I actually took the step of cutting sugar from my diet, did I fully become aware of this knowledge. And it’s awesome! Now my dental visits are quick, less stressful, and less painful. But this one positive effect of nearly eliminating sugar from my diet was never on my radar. The reason I quit sugar in the first place, was its addictive properties and destructive consequences. Below are the real reasons why I quit sugar, and why I think it should be considered a drug.
Current State of Sugar Consumption
Just as added salt and oil consumption has increased over the years, added sugar consumption has increased too. Back in the 1800’s, the average American consumed just under 10lbs of added sugar per year. That number doubled to 20lbs/year in 1860 and doubled again to 40lbs/year by 1900. By 1940 it was up to 80lbs/year and by the year 2000, the average American was consuming nearly 110lbs of sugar each year. Over ten times the amount of sugar consumed back in the 1800’s. That’s a lot of sugar.
But the problem isn’t just sugar. Sugar is necessary to live a healthy and fulfilling life. It’s naturally found in many fruits and vegetables. But when sugar is found in these whole foods, its accompanied by plenty of fiber, micronutrients, and phytochemicals making it very healthy.
It’s added sugar that is the problem. When added sugar is consumed there are very addictive and harmful effects. Added sugar is void of nutrients. That means you’re eating empty calories without any nutritional benefits. Added sugar doesn’t satiate hunger. That means you’re eating calories without feeling full which can cause overeating. And, added sugar can cause cravings and withdrawals. That means if you’re accustomed to eating added sugar and you haven’t consumed it recently, you’ll have a powerful desire to consume more sugar even when you’re full. All of this causes us to eat too much and too nutrient deficient. Not surprisingly, these addictive feelings of desire and reward have been shown to be more powerful than consuming drugs like cocaine. With added sugar found in 80% of supermarket foods, it’s scary how prevalent and dangerous added sugar is when compared to cocaine.
Negative Effects of Added Sugar Consumption
As mentioned above, when we consume added sugar, the calories are void of nutrients like fiber. Without nutrients like fiber, sugar gets digested rapidly and not all that energy can be used right away. Therefore, the body turns those extra calories into fat. And that fat may be stored as extra body fat causing weight gain, but it also can be injected into the blood stream causing raised cholesterol levels. Both are big issues for our health and why we’ve seen added sugar contribute to:
- Weight Gain: A high consumption of added sugar is strongly correlated with weight gain. Not only do you put on weight, but it can be primarily visceral fat found deep in the stomach known to cause diabetes and heart disease.
- Heart Disease: As just mentioned, added sugar consumption has a strong correlation with heart disease too. Those who consume 17% of their calories from added sugar have a 38% greater risk of dying from heart disease than those who consume 8% of their calories from added sugar.
- Type 2 Diabetes: All this added sugar causes insulin insensitivity which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Added sugar consumption is the number one risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
- Cancer: With added sugar causing insulin insensitivity, type 2 diabetes, and inflammation throughout the body, it’s no wonder its linked with cancer too. Added sugar consumption is linked with all kinds of cancer like stomach, esophageal, pleural and cancer of the small intestine.
- Depression: Many people think that added sugar consumption will hurt their health eventually, but they never consider the shorter-term effects like depression. Men who consumed 67g of sugar/day were 23% more likely to experience depression than those who consumed 40g of sugar/day. And in general, the greater the added sugar consumption, the greater risk of depression.
There’re also smaller negative effects of consuming added sugar like accelerated aging, decreased energy levels, poor dental health, decreased cognitive health and acne.
Worse Contributors? Drinks and Desserts.
So, who are the worse contributors to the added sugar crisis? It’s easily drinks and desserts that make up 68% of our sugar consumption. It’s partially why I only drink 3 things. Drinks are the worst culprits as sugar usually makes up 100% of their calories but desserts are just as common where sugar makes up 20-40% of their calories. Below, are a few common drinks and desserts where sugar consumption is high and nutrient content is low.
Well it’s not hard to identify the top two contributors, drinks and desserts, it can be hard to identify the plethora of other foods that contribute to this crisis. This is because sugar has been added to nearly every processed food we eat like:
Therefore, it’s always best to stay away from processed food altogether and eat foods that are void of nutrition labels.
Sugar Recommendation and Regaining Taste
This means eating a whole foods plant-based diet which is void of added salt, oil, and sugar. This way of eating allows you to get all the natural sugar you need through fruits and vegetables while completely avoiding all the negative effects mentioned above. The body has no need for added sugar in our diet and the more we consume of it, the more prevalent its negative effects are.
Just as with added oil and salt, our taste buds have been desensitized from our extreme consumption of added sugar though. That means someone like me who hasn’t consumed added sugar in any substantive quantities in the past 18 months, eats an apple and finds it sweet and tasty. But when someone who regularly consumes added sugar tries that same apple, they may find it bland and tasteless. Even though this desensitization may sway people from eating a whole foods plant-based diet, the good news is that you can regain your taste bud sensitivity. Studies have shown that a diet void of added sugar helps sensitive taste buds back to their original form in around 3 months. This means that person who found the apple bland and tasteless, would end up enjoying that apple after a 3-month sugar detox.
Top 5 Sugar Myths
- All sugar is unhealthy. Sugar is not unhealthy in its natural form. Its natural form is usually found in fruits and vegetables which are extremely nutrient dense and promote a healthy life. It’s added sugar that’s unhealthy. Added sugar is commonly found on food labels as sugar, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, and barley malt.
- You should use artificial sweeteners over sugar. Artificial sweeteners may be just as bad as sugar if not worse. This is because the sweeteners trick the body into thinking sugar is coming but then it never arrives. Therefore, your body is left craving more food. I recommend avoiding all artificial sweeteners.
- Agave nectar or honey is a healthy sweetener. Agave nectar and honey are both foods extremely high in sugar while lacking fiber. This means they’re absorbed the same way as added sugar causing fat storage and the negative side effects mentioned above. I avoid adding agave and honey to my meals just like added sugar.
- Organic sugar is a healthy alternative. Although organic foods are healthier than their nonorganic forms in general, sugar is still sugar. Just as oil is still oil and salt is still salt, it doesn’t matter their added form, they all produce similar relative negative side effects.
- Foods without sugar taste bad. Foods may not taste as good without sugar especially if you’re accustomed to eating a lot of sugar. But with a 3-month sugar detox, you can regain your taste sensitivity and these foods will eventually taste great. I rarely find food tasteless anymore as I’ve limited my added sugar, salt, and oil intake for months now.
It’s common knowledge that added sugar consumption leads to weight gain and obesity. It’s also faily common knowledge that added sugar consumption can increase your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. But, it’s some of added sugar’s other negative effects aren’t as well known. Added sugar can contribute to depression, decreased energy levels, and poor dental health to name a few. While most of our added sugar consumption comes from drinks and desserts, almost every processed food these days has added sugar. From peanut butter and jelly to bread and juice. Added sugar is ubiquitous with processed food and is why I recommend avoiding it altogether. A whole foods plant-based diet that avoids added salt, oil, and sugar will provide you with all the nutrients you need.
Would you like a complimentary sugar-free recipe to start your health journey?
Hey, I am Brandon Zerbe
Welcome to myHealthSciences! My goal has always been to increase quality-of-life with healthy habits that are sustainable, efficient, and effective. I do this by covering topics like Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Cognition, Finance and Minimalism. You can read more about me here.
- Sugar Consumption in the US Diet between 1822 and 2005
- The Sweet Danger of Sugar
- 11 Reasons Why Too Much Sugar Is Bad for You
- Negative Impact of Sugar on the Brain
- Pepsi Nutrition Facts
- Gatorade Nutrition Facts
- Orange Juice Nutrition Facts
- Nestle Cookie Nutrition Facts
- Vanilla Ice Cream Nutrition Facts
- 5 Myths About Sugar That May Surprise You
- 10 Myths About Sugar
- What Does Sugar Actually Do To Your Body?
- Fed Up
Disclosure: I frequently review or recommend products and services that I own and use. If you buy these products or services using the links on this site, I receive a small referral commission. This doesn’t impact my review or recommendation.