Over the years, sugar has become an indispensable ingredient in American cuisine. Nearly all foods, especially the processed ones, have sugar in it. While this ingredient sweetens our palates, it adds risk to our health. Aside from diabetes, doctors blame high sugar content in our diets for the rising incidence of obesity.
In an article published in Telegraph, researchers found out that poor diet will more likely lead to obesity than being a couch potato. Simon Capewell, a University of Liverpool professor of clinical epidemiology, said a diet loaded with sugar and carbohydrates causes 34.6% of the diseases globally. Capewell added physical inactivity caused only 3.1% of diseases.
For University of California San Francisco Pediatric Neuroendocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig, sugar is an addictive poison. For him, eating high-sugar-content foods both boost fat storage and tricks the brain to believe it is hungry. For Lustig, this “vicious cycle” leads to obesity.
The growing number of evidence linking sugar and obesity has prompted a group of health experts, known as Action on Sugar, to conclude that “the obesity and diabetes epidemic” is not being tackled extensively. They also blame the continued misinformation of the public on the effects of sugar on health to contribute to the epidemic.
With the obesity epidemic in full swing, doctors recommend checking the ingredients that make up your meal. Some food manufacturers are hiding the word ‘sugar’ from their ingredients list. They have replaced the term sugar with as many as 56 names. There are the obvious ones, such as cane sugar and confectioner’s sugar. But who would have thought that barley malt, golden syrup, treacle, diastase, and fruit juice are just a few of many pseudonyms for sugar?
What’s in sugar that makes you obese? The chemical composition of sugar produces unwelcome reactions in the body that contributes to obesity. Here are four ways how sweets can destroy our body:
- Leads to insulin resistance – Diabetics are well aware of the hormone insulin. Secreted by the pancreas, insulin signals cells in the body to produce insulin. Insulin enables your body to use glucose. Excessive glucose in the blood is toxic, so the pancreas produces more insulin to get glucose from the bloodstream to be absorbed into the cells. During constant high levels of glucose, the cells will develop resistance to insulin. This condition will drive the pancreas to produce more insulin. Aside from regulating sugar levels, insulin also signals the cells to absorb fat from the bloodstream, store the fat and avoid burning the fat that the cells already contains.
- Develops resistance to leptin – Leptin is a hormone responsible for appeasing hunger. Previously, scientists believe obese people have a shortage of leptin. But Lustig challenged this and pointed at sugar-loaded foods as the culprit. He found out that consistently high dose of sugar in the body produces leptin resistance, a condition when the brain can no longer detect the hormone, making us incapable of perceiving hunger.
- Difficulty to get satisfaction from food – The body processes fructose (especially high fructose corn syrup used in sweetened drinks and processed foods) differently from glucose. In one study, volunteers who took with fructose-sweetened drinks were less satisfied as compared to those who drank glucose-sweetened variants. One probable reason is glucose intake lowers ghrelin—the hunger hormone—while fructose intake does not.
- Sugar is addictive – Sugar works like addictive drugs such as opium and cocaine. It releases opiates and dopamine in nucleus accumbens, a section of the brain that responsible for making us cherish rewards.
As we can see, sugar wreaks havoc on the body by triggering insulin and leptin resistance while not reducing ghrelin. Add to sugar’s addictive property to this vicious chain and we have a recipe for obesity. No wonder some doctors, including Lustig, termed sugar as a poison because of the many damages that it can bring to our body, especially to those in advanced age.
Given that sugar is a staple ingredient in the modern American diet, we should be aware of its health risks if it is ingested without control. Dieting is all about being mindful on the foods you take in and how you eat them.
Tony Miller is a freelance writer who loves health, diet and fitness. He writes for Genemedics Health Institute and a regular guest post contributor.