For many of us, eating sweets is one of the greatest joys of being alive. For me, coffee and chocolate go hand in hand. And what would life be without enjoying a dessert once in a while? However, we could lose weight rather quickly if we just gave up sugar all together. But alas, there is no such thing as the ‘Stop Eating Sugar’ diet. I just made it up.
Yet, if there were a stop eating sugar diet, it would be a great way to lose weight. Since many studies link increased sugar consumption to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes (more on this later).
Through my research, I could not find a commercialized – no sugar diet – per say. Yet I couldn’t find a single diet which didn’t limit sugar consumption in some form.
By a quick internet search, I did find a few similar articles that give good ideas and suggestions on how to cut back on sugar – The Sugar Busters Diet, The Sugar-Free Diet, No sugar Diet, and How to cut down on sugar in your diet.
Now Let’s be clear, THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO LOSE WEIGHT. Cutting back on our sugar consumption is just one.
A short history of sugar
Writing this article, I found myself increasingly interested in how sugar became such a staple in the process of our food. To expound on this, let’s take some quotes directly from a National Geographic article called – A not so sweet story, by Rich Chohen.
In the beginning, on the island of New Guinea, where sugarcane was domesticated some 10,000 years ago, people picked cane and ate it raw, chewing a stem until the taste hit their tongue like a starburst. A kind of elixir, a cure for every ailment, an answer for every mood, sugar featured prominently in ancient New Guinean myths…. At religious ceremonies priests sipped sugar water from coconut shells, a beverage since replaced in sacred ceremonies with cans of Coke…
Sugar spread slowly from island to island, finally reaching the Asian mainland around 1000 B.C. By 500 A.D., it was being processed into a powder in India and used as a medicine for headaches, stomach flutters, impotence. For years sugar refinement remained a secret science, passed master to apprentice. By 600, the art had spread to Persia, where rulers entertained guests with a plethora of sweets.
When Arab armies conquered the region, they carried away the knowledge and love of sugar… “Wherever they went, the Arabs brought with them sugar, the product and the technology of its production,” writes Sidney Mintz in Sweetness and Power. “Sugar, we are told, followed the Koran…”
The Arabs perfected sugar refinement and turned it into an industry. The work was brutally difficult. The heat of the fields, the flash of the scythes, the smoke of the boiling rooms, the crush of the mills. By 1500, with the demand for sugar surging, the work was considered suitable only for the lowest of laborers. Many of the field hands were prisoners of war, eastern Europeans captured when Muslim and Christian armies clashed.
Perhaps the first Europeans to fall in love with sugar were British and French crusaders who went east to wrest the Holy Land from the infidel. They came home full of visions and stories and memories of sugar. …
The first European market was built on a trickle of Muslim trade, and the sugar that reached the West was consumed only by the nobility, so rare it was classified as a spice….
To the Western elite who had fallen under sugar’s spell there were few options: deal with the small southern European sugar manufacturers, defeat the Turk, or develop new sources of sugar.
In school, they call it the age of exploration, the search for territories and islands that would send Europeans all around the world. In reality it was, to no small degree, a hunt for fields where sugarcane would prosper…
In 1493, when Columbus set off on his second voyage to the New World, he too carried cane. Thus dawned the age of big sugar, of Caribbean islands and slave plantations, leading, in time, to great smoky refineries on the outskirts of glass cities, to mass consumption, fat kids, obese parents, and men in XXL tracksuits trundling along in electric carts….
“It seems like every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar.” Richard Johnson, a nephrologist at the University of Colorado Denver, was talking to me in his office in Aurora, Colorado, the Rockies crowding the horizon. He’s a big man with eyes that sparkle when he talks. “Why is it that one-third of adults [worldwide] have high blood pressure, when in 1900 only 5 percent had high blood pressure?” he asked. “Why did 153 million people have diabetes in 1980, and now we’re up to 347 million? Why are more and more Americans obese? Sugar, we believe, is one of the culprits, if not the major culprit.”
How do we know Sugar is a culprit?
There are thousands of articles, journals, periodicals, and studies which link the increased consumption of processed sugars to health issues and being overweight. Here are just a few:
The Real Contribution of Added Sugars and Fats to Obesity – Epidemiologic Reviews, Oxford Journals
Dietary Sugar and Body Weight: Have We Reached a Crisis in the Epidemic of Obesity and Diabetes? – American Diabetes Association
Reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce the risk of childhood overweight and obesity –World Health Organization
Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy – National Institutes of Health
Sugar Is a Poison, Says UCSF Obesity Expert – University of California San Francisco
4 Ways Sugar Makes You Fat – Authority Nutrition
Sugar is Not the Cause of Obesity – The Sugar Association
Why we crave it?
When we put food rich in sugar, salt and fat in our mouths, our taste buds in the tongue send a signal to the lower part of our brain. The brain in turn stimulates neurons. The neurons in our brain are part of the “opioid” circuitry or endorphins. When we eat highly palatable foods, in other words, foods filled with sugar, salt and fat, they enable the body to perceive a highly rewarding experience.
Rewarding foods tend to be reinforcing. We want to go back for more. We can’t stop at the first chip or chocolate bite. It has been proved scientifically that the combination of sugar and fat is a strong reinforcer.
Here is more comprehensive information found in Psychology Today written by, Melanie Greenberg Ph.D. called Why Our Brains Love Sugar – And Why Our Bodies Don’t
- Neuroscientists have shown, using FMRI to scan the brain‘s activity in real-time, that sugar leads to dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens – an area associated with motivation, novelty, and reward. This is the same brain region implicated in response to cocaine and heroin.
- Nora Volker, a researcher at the National institutes for Drug Abuse has shown, using brain imaging, that there are similarities in the brains of obese people and those of drug addicts and alcoholics. This is indirect evidence, as we don’t know that sugar consumption caused this effect.
- Nicole Avena, Ph.D., a Princeton researcher has shown that rats deprived of food for 12 hours and then given sucrose added to their regular food on a regular basis showed signs of bingeing, and increased searching for the sucrose (craving)…
- Research suggests that sugar can lead to changes in dopamine receptors, such that tolerance develops – more of the substance is needed to get an effect. A decrease in some types of receptors (D2) occurred, which suggests an overall decreased ability to get pleasure from other substances and experiences…
- Sugar consumption also leads to release of endogenous opioids in the brain; leading to a rush of pleasure, similar (although not of the same magnitude) as injecting heroin. Interestingly, heroin addicts show increased cravings for sweets when they are first abstinent. This effect, known as cross-tolerance, shows that addiction to one substance makes it easier to become addicted to another substance that may use the same brain chemistry.
- For me, this suggests the need to cut down on added sugar in all of its processed forms, and start substituting with the natural sugars found in fruit that do not have these toxic effects. Overcoming any kind of addiction or unhealthy habit takes time and commitment….
Why does sugar make us gain weight?
Eating too much sugar basically does three things (a simplified version)
- When you eat foods containing sugar, especially in the form glucose, your pancreas releases insulin into the blood to compensate. If the pancreas has problems or is over-worked, then diabetes and other problems can occur.
- The liver acts as the body’s glucose (fuel) reservoir. It helps keep your circulating blood sugar levels steady and constant. It can even store and manufacture glucose depending upon the body’s need. However, when it’s full of glycogen, fructose will be turned into fat. Fat can stay in the liver or get shipped out as blood triglycerides.
- Once glycogen stores are full, our body stores excess calories as fat. Adipose cells, or fat cells, store the extra calories in the form of triglycerides, a type of fatty acid. Most of these fat cells are found between your skin and muscle while others surround your organs.
So how do we stop this from happening? Well, the three biggest culprits for weight gain are carbohydrates, sugar and lack of exercise. However, today we are looking at cutting back on sugar. Let’s finish there.
What is the Stop Eating Sugar Diet?
I lost over 30 lbs by not buying anything with high sugar content at the store. If I wanted a sweet, I had to leave my home or office. This made it hard to fulfill my cravings right away because I now had to go out of my way. If I wanted to get something sweet.
After a few weeks, I noticed sugary products seemed easier to turn down during the day because my cravings started to subside. I also found that my steady blood sugar level made it easier to get out and exercise. I even started to save money because sweets can be quite expensive at retail establishments.
In the end, we must all find what works for us.
Some may need to cut out all processed foods completely. Some may need to go on a cleanse or fast to stop the cravings. Some may find eating more fruit or chewing gum satisfies the cravings. Some may even need to find a new no-sugar-eating friend to hang out with.
Whatever way you start, just make sure it’s something you can live with. Nothing is worse than a yo-yo diet, and being able to maintain our ideal weight is really the goal we must all shoot for.
So if you’re looking to lose weight and become more healthy, why not start by limiting your sugar consumption… today!