Neuroscientists call food as a “Natural reward”. As a species to survive, we do things like eating, nurturing others, having sex and being pleasurable to the human brain, these behaviors are thus reinforced and repeated.
There is a term coined for our brain system deciphering these rewards for us, “Mesolimbic Pathway”. While doing something pleasurable, ventral tegmental area (a bundle of neurons) uses dopamine, a neurotransmitter to signal to nucleus accumbens which is a part of the brain. The connection between our prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens directs our motor movement, for an instance, deciding whether to take another bite of that heavenly chocolate cake. The prefrontal cortex activates hormones that tell our body “well, this cake is delicious and I’ll be reminding you about it in future.”
We are aware of the fact that not all foods can be equally rewarding. Due to our Mesolimbic pathway which reinforces that sweet things are a healthy source of carbohydrates, most of us prefer sweet food over bitter and sour foods. We are all guilty of overeating sugar because of its never-ending hunger and urge to have more. These added sugars are sly and many of us have become hooked to it in the same way as drugs such as cocaine, nicotine and heroin. These drugs hijacks our brain’s reward pathway and increases the neuro-chemical and behavioral evidences of itself, thus making users dependent on it.
Four major reasons of sugar addiction are bingeing, craving, withdrawal and cross- sensitization (one addictive substance can predispose someone to become addicted to another).
Now sugar is well known as addictive but it can also be dangerous, consuming which in great amounts can lead to many serious health disorders including diabetes, obesity, heart diseases, headaches, chromium deficiency, immune system suppression, tooth decay and much more.
Quitting sugar can be as hard as any other drug and can affect you in many ways. It has its own side effects such as you will feel incredibly tired initially, headaches from withdrawal, you might become short-tempered and an overall feeling depression in some cases. Therefore it is best to have a slow start. You can avoid just a few sugary items to start with, if your intake was much high earlier. You can avoid soda and all other sugary drinks.
After the initial phases of withdrawal and lack of energy, you will start to see the benefits within you.
1. Your heart health improves
According to American Heart Association, the daily recommended consumption of sugar for women should be about six teaspoons. However, most adults consume more than three times that amount every day. Ignoring the fact that many foods naturally contains sugar as a part leads to miscalculation of the amount that we are consuming, thus leading to over consumption.
Added sugar raises insulin levels activating the sympathetic nervous system, thereby increasing heart rate and blood pressure. Cutting back on sugar will significantly reduce the burden on your heart and the risk of many heart-related diseases will be less.
2. You reduce your chances of developing diabetes
When you consume added sugar, fat gets deposit around your liver, contributing to insulin resistance. This undermines the work done by pancreas which controls the insulin production.
You can cut your diabetes chances nearly in half by avoiding sugar. Stay away from beverages, sugar-free diet sodas and even fruit drinks and juices as they are nothing but empty calories with no fiber. Eat an entire fruit instead of fruit juices.
3. You will have better mood
After the initial stages of withdrawal and crankiness (which is absolutely normal as they are the foods we generally rely on for comfort or a quick hit of energy) you will feel better than ever.
According to a study, women who consume diet high in added sugars are more likely to have anxiety, mood swings and irritability.
4. Stronger immune system
Once sugar is out of the diet, your immune system will function much better. This can be explained through the fact that sugar causes white blood cells to stop their job of consuming bacteria which are not good for us.
For an optimal functioning of our immune system, it is ideal to eliminate all the added and processed sugar.
5. You skin gets better
One of the main causes of dark circles under your eyes, inflammation, swelling and even acne is sugar. Having a dehydration effect on our body, sugar increases oil production which affects the ability of water binding making our skin look dull.
Cutting back on sugar can make you look for youthful and you can observe the effects within 72 to 96 hours. Complexion will improve, oil will begin to diminish from your skin and your face will have hydrated and perky look.
6. Better sleep quality
You will finally have a better sleep cycle as the crash from a sugar high will not leave you with a mid-day tardiness and therefore, a need for a nap. You will sleep when you are supposed to.
Giving up added sugar will make you more alert and awake during the day, preparing you for a better sleep at night.
7. You will have better memory
Sugar hinders memory, learning and impacts cognitive ability. Consuming lots of sugar can actually damage the communication among brain cells. Metabolic syndrome is said to be a link between consumption of high amounts of sugar and brain damage. It is also a risk factor for obesity.
So quitting sugar is definitely going to make you sharper.
8. You can finally achieve those weight loss goals
As our body absorbs sugar quickly, its consumption triggers insulin production which in turn prohibits our body from using fat as a fuel. During this process sugar is converted into fat and thus we gain weight.
By eliminating sugar from your diet, you are ensuring low levels of insulin (sufficient for your body). Your body will use fat as a fuel and burn those calories instead. Therefore weight loss can happen much faster just by cutting sugar out.
9. Your oral health will improve
Sugar, especially in liquid form, adheres to your teeth enabling bacteria to latch onto it immediately and begin to eat it. This produces acid which begins to eat the enamel found on your teeth. And so begins the horrid cycle of your mouth including cavities, gingivitis and gum disease.
Sugar makes your enamel softer. So even if you immediately brush your teeth after consumption, your enamel is more prone to being brushed away.
10. You can lower your risk of some types of cancer
Cancer cells feed on sugar. Consuming sugar can encourage ongoing cancer cell growth. Cancer cells also thrive in acidic nature. As the pH of sugar is 6.4, it provides quite a cancer-friendly environment.
Sugar has been linked to breast, endometrium, prostate and pancreatic cancer. Even sugar substitutes are bad for us as they are linked to bladder cancer, leukemia and lymphoma.
In the end, I guess it is safe to establish that cutting back on sugar is going to get you a healthy mind and body. The harmful effects of our beloved sugar go way beyond the empty calories as it does not contain any vitamins or minerals. Even the fruit juices, diet sodas and sugar free substitutes of sugar are equally bad for your health as they are nothing but cheap fillers with more harmful effects on your body.
Bid your goodbyes to sugar and say hello to a healthy “You”!