13 Healthy Benefits of Quitting Sugar
- Title: Benefits of Quitting Sugar
- Authored by Pin Ng PhD
- Edited by Hugh Soames
- Reviewed by Philippa Gold
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Benefits of Quitting Sugar
It’s the kind of thing that people joke about all the time – we laugh that we’re addicted or that we have a sugar problem as we reach for another chocolate. We don’t mean it seriously. Yet, despite its commonality, research suggests that sugar can be as addictive and dangerous for our health as alcohol or hard drugs.
Sugar has become an almost unavoidable part of our 21st-century lives, sneaking into almost everything from bread to sauces, salad dressings, and more. We don’t realize the effect that this substance is having on our bodies, or the capitalist agenda behind it as manufacturers knowingly add more and more refined sugar into our everyday food items.
Fundamentally, over-consumption of sugar can increase the risk of cancer, heart and liver problems, type 2 diabetes, and mental health issues. The recommended daily intake of sugar is 12 teaspoons total, but the CDC states that the majority of American adults are consuming at least 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Thankfully, there are many benefits to quitting sugar, and many tips out there on how to begin such a daunting task.
Similarities Between Sugar and Addictive Drugs
In order to fully understand the benefits of quitting, or at least reducing our sugar intake, it is important to understand just how detrimental sugar can be to our health. Sugar is as addictive to the human body as alcohol or drugs can be and triggers the same levels of dopamine to be released in the brain, and therefore the same feelings of reward and elation.
It has been proven that over-consumption of sugar causes tolerance, meaning that to feel satisfied and get that sugar ‘high’ you must continue to up how much you eat, similar to the way we can become addicted to alcohol or drugs. It similarly causes physical cravings, driving us to binge eat in the same way that some go on a drug or alcohol bender.
Quitting sugar cold turkey, however, will cause uncomfortable physical withdrawal symptoms, such as sugar headaches, which is why any sugar reduction needs to be done gradually over a long time. As we’ve already mentioned, the alternative is poorer mental and physical health, with too much proven to have a huge, negative effect on symptoms of depression.
Perhaps one of the more worrying factors that prove sugar’s dangerous capabilities is that in a study of several brain scans, sugar was shown to light up the same areas of the brain on those scans as hard drugs like cocaine did, with almost the same levels of intensity.
13 Health Benefits of Quitting Sugar
So, we have fully established that sugar is bad for you. But on the other hand, that other side of your brain may point out, it’s in nearly every foodstuff available, and it tastes so good. Besides, it’s legal, right? Well, yes, but then again so is alcohol, and we know the damage that does on the body long term.
By quitting sugar though, or at the very least reducing your intake, you are opening yourself up to a whole world of health benefits you may not even realize you were lacking previously, in a way that can completely transform your life. Not only can sugar reduction help with obvious issues such as weight loss and weight management, as well as an improvement in mental health, but also provides healthier skin, increased energy, and reduced internal and external body inflammation.
Those who have previously struggled with losing weight before note that they are often able to keep weight off more easily after eliminating refined sugar from their diets, while the body is fuelled by foods that release energy more gradually and consistently, avoiding the sharp ‘highs’ and ‘crashes’ that follow sugar consumption. The steadier release of energy also provides clearer mental focus and improved mood overall.
Reduced inflammation means that the levels of food allergies, nerve, muscle, and joint pain are also reduced. In turn, this means a reduction in mental health issues such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other brain disorders, as well as a slowing of the issues associated with aging. Beyond that, it can diminish the risk of heart disease, liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and all types of cancers, particularly gastrointestinal cancers.
In addition to weight gain and inflammation putting pressure on your heart and liver, sugar increases bad cholesterol and reduces good cholesterol. Some experts believe that sugar can be as damaging for the liver as alcohol can.
The excess fat on the liver that is caused by sugar can also be found elsewhere in the body, and as excess internal fat, the body can become increasingly resistant to its own insulin, which causes type 2 diabetes.
Benefits of a No Sugar Diet and Cutting Out Sugar For Recovery
Giving up drugs or alcohol is much more difficult than giving up sugar, but it’s worth the struggle because depression can come from using these substances too often. For those who rely on sweets as a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety, this might sound counterintuitive at first since they’re used to having their sweet tooth satisfied every day. Quitting sugar and sticking to a no-sugar diet is good for your health, but it’s even better if you are in recovery from drugs or alcohol. You might want try cutting back gradually instead of quitting cold turkey so that way there aren’t any negative withdrawal symptoms when trying not eat anything sweet!
The sweet taste and reminiscent reward signals from dopamine in your brain are similar to those provided by many drugs. But sugar is healthier than relapse, so if you’re struggling with quitting then use it temporarily until cutting back further becomes more manageable.
Getting Help to Quit Sugar
Although sugar is found in many everyday food items, many of which don’t even taste sweet, it is possible to quit sugar completely. Although not as widely recognized as being dangerous as drugs and alcohol are, there are programs available that will help guide you through reducing your sugar intake, as well as many self-help books. As always with weaning yourself off a substance you are addicted to, we recommend consulting a medical professional before you begin, or, in this case, a registered clinical dietitian where possible.
As a starting point, it is widely recommended that you increase your consumption of foods such as fruits, vegetables, poultry, lean meats, fish, and less obvious foods like tofu, unprocessed whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Incorporating a regular exercise routine is also important as when we feel better, we eat better, and exercise produces endorphins, which make us feel good. As quitting sugar is a difficult process, it is recommended to swap foods in gradually replacing sugars with healthier alternatives.
It is better to gradually make healthier choices, such as choosing to have fruit for dessert rather than a pudding or choosing to stop drinking soft drinks, than it is to switch everything all at once. Gradually, you can, and we all should become more sugar-free and gain the benefits of a happier, healthier life.
No Sugar Diet Food List
Introduce healthier food choices such as:
- lean meats
- unprocessed grains
Balanced nutrition is necessary for those in recovery and setting a goal to eat healthy foods and achieving that no sugar diet is a worthwhile goal. Incorporating a regular exercise plan will contribute to feeling better, and when we feel better, we also make healthier food choices.
References and Citations: No Sugar Diet and the Benefits of Quitting Sugar
- American Heart Association. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2005 Update: Dallas, Texas: American Heart Association, 2005. [Google Scholar]
- American Diabetes Association. Economic costs of diabetes in the U.S. Diabetes Care [Google Scholar]
- Ballestri S, Nascimbeni F, Romagnoli D, et al. . The independent predictors of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and its individual histological features: insulin resistance, serum uric acid, metabolic syndrome, alanine aminotransferase and serum total cholesterol are a clue to pathogenesis and candidate targets for treatment.[Google Scholar]
- Larson-Meyer DE, Heilbronn LK, Redman LM, et al. . Effect of calorie restriction with or without exercise on insulin sensitivity, beta-cell function, fat cell size, and ectopic lipid in overweight subjects. Diabetes Care [Google Scholar]
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