Refined Sugar and What It Does To Your Body
In the last few years, the focus on sugar has definitely intensified! There is a lot of information out there talking about how bad refined sugar can be for us and how it can cause a lot of health problems.
You might already know that refined sugar can affect our mood, our energy levels and our weight but you might not know exactly HOW it does that.
There are lots of different types of sugars found in all kinds of processed and natural foods, including the natural sugars (fructose) that can be found in fruit. The way your body processes these different forms of sugar can vary, depending on which type of sugar you consume.
- What is refined sugar?
- What does sugar do to your body?
- What about sugar in fruit?
- Tips for cutting out refined sugar in your diet
To find out what refined sugars are and how they affect your body, keep reading! Stay with me, there is a bit to get through but I promise it is definitely worth understanding.
What is refined sugar?
Refined sugar is essentially sugar that has been processed so much that it is depleted of its naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. This leaves a pure, refined carbohydrate which the body cannot easily use.
Common examples of refined sugars include white sugar, powdered (caster) sugar, and in some cases brown sugar, which is often white sugar with some molasses added for colour.
What does sugar do to your body?
Refined sugar can affect your body in different ways, including increasing your risks of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Eating refined sugar can also affect your energy, mood and dental health.
The breakdown below will help you to understand what sugar does to your body:
Refined sugar is a carbohydrate that your body can digest quickly for energy. When you eat food or drinks that contain refined sugars, your body turns the sugar into glucose, a simple form of sugar that is carried through the blood. This provides your body with an instant energy boost, however, once the sugar is metabolised, your energy levels drop again.
If the supply of glucose in your body is up and down, say from eating foods high in refined sugar frequently throughout the day, it can feel like riding a rollercoaster. Your energy levels will rise quickly and fall again, leaving you feeling fatigued.
Excess sugar is stored in the liver as glycogen, a storage-friendly version of glucose. If you are eating refined sugar foods daily and in excess, it may place too much pressure on your liver. Basically, your liver has limited storage space, so too much glycogen can cause it to expand.
When your liver reaches its capacity, the excess glycogen can be converted into fatty acids, which are then deposited in the inactive parts of the body. This can include so-called trouble areas, such as your thighs, bottom and stomach. Some fat may also remain in the liver and if this continues to build up over time, it can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
There has been research over the years which has found a link between refined sugar and unhealthy levels of blood fats, also called dyslipidemia.
Eating large amounts of refined sugar may be responsible for higher triglycerides and low HDL (‘good’) cholesterol levels. As HDL cholesterol helps to transport cholesterol from the body’s cells back to the liver, low levels may result in an increased risk of heart disease.
When you frequently eat foods containing refined sugar, such as chocolate, candy or cake, it can get stuck on and between your teeth. The natural bacteria in your mouth thrive on these sugars and it causes them to produce acids which can begin to erode your tooth enamel, causing it to weaken over time.
The combination of bacteria and acid can also lead to dental plaque, which is that ‘fuzzy’ or ‘furry’ feeling on your teeth. It is a sticky film that should be removed while it is soft, otherwise, it can harden and cause gum disease and tooth decay.
Did you know that eating low-sugar, fibrous fruit and vegetables is a great way to naturally clean your teeth? Leafy greens, carrots and celery can help to move bacteria and stimulate saliva, which helps to neutralise the acid that causes plaque.
What does sugar do to your body when you eat it regularly? It actually makes it harder to say no to sugar.
You know those times when you feel like you simply have to have some chocolate? Then you find yourself struggling with chocolate cravings for days or even weeks afterwards? There’s a reason for this.
When you eat refined sugar, such as chocolate, it can cause a flood of dopamine (a brain chemical that helps us feel happiness or pleasure) in the centre of the brain. This is why people who eat lots of refined sugar find themselves reaching for it more and more — because it will produce these happy feelings. Something else to consider is that this flood of dopamine can also override signals that you are full. This means you can be at a greater risk of eating more than what your body actually needs.
Due to the effects that refined sugars have on our brains, consuming these foods and drink in excess can lead to a greater chance of becoming overweight or obese.
As I mentioned above, eating refined sugars can override feelings of fullness, meaning you don’t always feel as satisfied as you would be if you were to eat a plate full of vegetables and some lean protein. This is because foods high in refined sugars are usually filled with empty calories and lacking in essential nutrients that can help us to feel full, such as fibre.
Another reason why sugar may be a contributing cause to obesity is that it is found in so many products! Manufacturers have found clever ways to disguise the word ‘sugar’ in their products, which can make it very hard to know whether the product you are buying has sugar in it and how much it might contain. Unfortunately, refined sugars are often found in foods which appear to be healthy, such as breakfast cereals, muesli bars and slices, sauces and dressings, flavoured milk and yoghurt.
If you are trying to eat a healthy diet but are having trouble cutting out junk food and sweet things, hang in there. While refined sugars are addictive, you can wean yourself off them. Slowly reduce the amount that you eat and over time you may find that the less you eat sugar, the less you crave it. If you love eating cakes and sweets, try finding alternatives. I share lots of delicious, refined sugar-free recipes on my blog, like my healthy chocolate cake recipe!
What about sugar in fruit?
You may be wondering about the natural sugar that is found in fruit, also known as fructose.
Many people have read about the negative effects of refined sugars, so they cut back on fruit to try and avoid eating more sugar. While fruit does contain sugar, it is a natural form of sugar that also comes with a variety of essential nutrients and antioxidants. Fruit is also loaded with water and fibre, which can help with that feeling of fullness you don’t get from refined sugar.
I believe that eating fruit is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Just remember that fruits are best consumed fresh and whole, instead of as a juice. Juicing can remove some of the nutrients and fibre, leaving you with a whole bunch of fructose.
Tips for cutting out refined sugar in your diet
Now that you have a better understanding of the effect that refined sugar can have on your body, you might be curious about ways to cut back on it.
These tips can help you to remove some refined sugar foods from your diet:
- Prepare your own meals from home and try to avoid takeaway, which may contain hidden sugars
- Replace refined sugars with natural sugar alternatives where possible
- Swap juice, soft drink (soda) and sweetened beverages for plain water, fruit-infused water or tea
- Find healthier ways to satisfy a sweet craving, such as snacking on fruit and plain yoghurt
- Check nutrition labels for the sugar content and choose products where the content is less than 5g of sugar per 100g.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages, as these often contain added sugar
- Skip a sweet dessert and try a plate of cheese or nuts instead.
Make sure you check out my blog for more ways to cut out refined sugar!
That’s how refined sugar can affect your body
As you’ve probably realised after reading this blog, refined sugars can have a lot of negative effects on your body.
Now, I’m not trying to scare you! Many of the effects I’ve outlined in this blog come about over time, as a result of excessive sugar consumption. The occasional treat here and there is okay! I want you to have a healthy relationship with food, so having a piece of birthday cake or a few squares of chocolate every now and then isn’t going to cause long-term health issues.
If you are worried that you may have been eating a lot of refined sugars, try to slowly cut back. You might decide to start by finding healthier ways to satisfy a sweet craving and cutting back on takeaway. The more you reduce the amount of refined sugars you are eating, the easier it becomes to say no to it!
At the end of the day, food is fuel, so it is important to be aware of what we are putting in our bodies and the effects it can have.
Love, Kayla xx
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.