The dangers of consuming the world’s most addictive substance
Everyone wants to look good and feel healthy, but at what cost?
As children we used to laugh about a saying, you are what you eat, but as I have grown older I’ve realised that there have not been truer words spoken concerning health and wellbeing.
The word diet comes from the Greek root word, diaita, which means to live one’s life, and also from the Latin root word, diaeta, meaning a manner of living. Your diet is the root of your energy and a huge influence on the overall quality of your life.
So, why do we need to limit the intake of processed carbohydrates?
Processed carbohydrates, also known as simple or refined carbs, are just sugars and grains which have been stripped of all bran, fibre and nutrients. Everyday food items in this category include white flour, white bread, pastries, pasta, breakfast cereals, packaged snacks and added sugars, such as those found in sweet foods, sodas and juices.
While these foods are not unsafe when consumed in moderation, eating them regularly or in large amounts can bring undesirable health effects.
“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.”
[Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are]
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1826
“Der Mensch ist, was er ißt.”
[Man is what he eats]
Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach, 1864
The dangers of excess sugar consumption
1: Sugar can lead to weight gain
Worldwide obesity rates are still on the rise after nearly tripling since 1975. In 2016, 39% of all adults were considered overweight and of these 1.9 billion people, more than 650 million were obese.
The root cause? Increased global production and consumption of refined sugars.
Diets high in sugar are usually high in calories. A caloric surplus, meaning more calories consumed than burned, is responsible for weight gain so, if you want to reduce your waistline, before anything else, reduce the number of sugary products that you consume.
Sweetened beverages, like soft drinks and juices, are loaded with fructose. Fructose induces a fake feeling of hunger and excessive consumption can also lead to your body developing a resistance to leptin, a hormone which regulates hunger.
The average can of soda contains around 50 grams of sugar (50 x 4 = 200 calories) meaning, just one sugary drink each day can put you out of the healthy range of sugar consumption. So, not only does a can of Coke contain 10% of the average person’s daily caloric needs, it has more sugar than you need each day and it can make you hungry
What do you get when you mix a faux feeling of hunger with a bottomless pit? Weight gain, amongst many other potential health complications. While you should reduce your sugar intake if you are trying to get into shape, it’s important to note that sugar alone does not cause weight gain or obesity. An unhealthy state of being is caused by a mix of diet, physical activity and genetics, as well as social and environmental factors. This being said, high sugar diets are usually one of the leading causes of big bellies.
2: Sugar can increase your chances of depression
Are you familiar with brain foods? Sugar is basically the opposite. Excessive consumption of sugar can not only lead to impaired memory and an increased risk of dementia, it can also increase your chances of developing depression.
Separate studies conducted with more than 75,000 men and women concluded that those with higher sugar intakes had a significantly greater risk of depression than those who consumed less sugar than recommended. While depression is curable, degeneration of the brain is irreversible. Look after your mind by reducing your sugar intake.
3: Sugar provides unsustainable energy
Eating sugar-rich foods will spike blood sugar and insulin levels, resulting in a short burst of energy. If only consuming foods lacking protein, fat or fibre, this increase in energy will be followed by a drastic decrease in blood sugar, also known as a crash.
Blood sugar swings lead to fluctuations in energy levels and underperformance from both the body and mind. Consistently failing to meet your body’s nutrition requirements can lead to physical health complications. Similarly, under-powering your mind can lead to depression or accelerated cognitive degeneration.
For sustainable energy, swap the processed carbs for fruit, vegetables or other natural foods rich in protein, fat or fibre.
4: Sugar can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes
While the increasing global prevalence of diabetes can be attributed to several reasons, there is a definite link between high sugar diets and the risk of developing this chronic condition.
People who are overweight are considered to be the most at risk, however, anyone who consumes large quantities of sugar is at risk of developing an insulin resistance which leads to elevated blood sugar levels and therefore, a heightened risk of diabetes.
5: Sugar is detrimental to dental health
Eating sugar throughout the day can lead to tooth decay which also leads to the development of cavities. Bacteria in our mouths feed on sugar and react by releasing an acid that causes tooth decay and demineralisation. Reducing your sugar intake is a simple means of preventing tooth cavities.
6: Sugar can lead to fatty liver disease
A condition in which fat builds up inside of the liver and common in people who have obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, all of which are consequences of excessive consumption of sugar.
Your liver is responsible for detoxifying ingested chemicals and filtering blood which is en route to the digestive tract. Liver failure can be fatal but like most organs, you can keep it functioning through sustaining a healthy diet.
7: Sugar increases your risk of heart disease
A higher percentage of calories from added sugar is associated with significantly increased risk of [cardiovascular disease] mortality. Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is also associated with elevated CVD mortality… Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease.
The message here is pretty clear. You can look after your heart and cardiovascular health through maintaining a low intake of refined sugars.
8: Sugar has been linked to acne
Risks of developing acne have been linked to diets high in refined sugars or other processed carbohydrates.
High glycemic index foods, or any foods with a lot of sugar, spike blood sugar and insulin levels. This causes an increase in androgen secretion and oil production which greatly contribute to the development of acne.
9: Sugar increases your risk of cancer
Diets high in sugar can increase your risk of numerous types of cancer. Insulin resistance, inflammation and obesity are all the result of excess sugar consumption and are all significant risk factors for developing cancer. Reduce the risk by reducing your sugar intake.
10: Sugar accelerates skin ageing
Wrinkles are a natural sign of aging, we all get them one day. You can, however, reduce your biological age through sustaining a healthy diet.
Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) are compounds formed by reactions between sugar and protein cells in your body. When formed, these harmful proteins seek and destroy beneficial proteins like collagen and elastin which are responsible for maintaining the elasticity and youthfulness of the skin.
Not only do AGEs accelerate skin ageing, but they are also implicated in the development of many degenerative diseases including diabetes, kidney disease and Alzheimer’s.
Is a no sugar diet the secret fountain of youth?
Many adults eat more sugar than necessary. Countless studies have confirmed that some of the negative effects of consuming added sugar include increased blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes and fatty liver disease, which are all risk factors for heart attacks, stroke and cancer.
Aside from the many associated health risks, refined sugar is just an empty calorie with no nutritional benefit so limiting the consumption is advisable for anyone wishing to achieve better health.
While all sugars are safe in moderation, a natural source of sugar will always be more beneficial than its processed alternative. There are so many delicious foods which are great for achieving a healthy body, immune system and lifestyle, so strive to make choices that your future self will be grateful for.
About the Author: Harrison has more than a decade of experience on, and off, the rugby field as a representative player, junior coach and part-time referee. His passion for rugby led him to the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers where he studied the human body, exercise and nutrition, before being registered as a health and fitness professional with Fitness Australia and Fitness First Australia. Although the career path has changed, his passion for health, fitness, and Rugby will always remain.