Sugar and weight gain – A not so sweet couple!
Anyone who is/has been on the journey of trying to lose weight would be familiar with the advice – avoid sugar. I am one of the passengers in that train. 2 kids and a sedentary lifestyle have done their part of adding ‘more than’ a few pounds and inches to my body.
The first advice that I received which eventually became my first step was to cut down on my sugar intake.
But before taking that step of avoiding an entity which has been a part of my life all these years, I wanted to understand the reason as to why is it such a devil. Since our childhood, we have been warned that too much of chocolates and candies would lead to tooth cavities.
But how exactly does it affect our weight? This article is an attempt to share my findings with you.
What is Sugar?
Sugar is basically a carbohydrate. Our body needs it to produce energy and the excess sugar is stored as fat.
Our sugar intake comes from three main sources:
- Natural sugars that are present in fruits :
This sugar exists along with the fibers, water, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phtytonutrients present in fruits. Fibers slows down the digestion of glucose so you don’t get the energy high/insulin spike followed by a sugar crash like you do when you eat refined sugar.
Fruit also contains water, which helps to prevent dehydration and the tired, drained feeling that comes with it that mimic blood-sugar dips.
- The refined/processed sugar that we add to our coffee/tea and desserts :
The sparkling white sugar crystals that we are familiar with is not how nature intended it to be. Although obtained from sugarcane which is a natural source, it undergoes a high amount of chemical processing for it to look nice and pleasant to the eye.
It is stripped of all its essential nutrients and is ultimately rendered to be empty calories that may be a cause for weight gain.
- The hidden sugar that sneaks in through the other processed food
Hidden sugars are present in ready to consume products like sodas, bread, sauces, breakfast cereals etc. Companies usually add enormous amounts of sugar and salts to make these products tasty and addictive.
How does sugar affect your weight?
- Insulin resistance
Insulin is a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar levels by either inducing the cells to use it as energy or convert it into fat and store it.
Excess fructose consumption can lead to insulin resistance and elevated insulin levels in the blood. This in turn drives more of the sugar to get converted into fat.
It also hampers the efficient breakdown of the stored fat to use as energy when required. The body then has a hard time accessing the stored fat and the brain starts to think that it is hungry and leads us to overeat.
- Your Body does not realize that it is full
Emerging research suggests regularly eating too much sugar scrambles your body’s ability to tell your brain that you are full. Leptin resistance is one of the reasons for this.
Leptin is a hormone which is secreted by fat cells. As more and more fat gets stored, accordingly the leptin secretion also increases. Leptin’s job is to say, “I’m full! Now stop eating!” It also drives the stored fat to get metabolised when required.
However, high sugar consumption can impair this mechanism. The brain develops a resistance to leptin and does not realise the amount of fat stored in the body.
The brain thinks that the body is starving and makes us eat more and burn less.
- Sugar spike and crash cycle
Science shows it takes just 30 minutes or less to go from a sugar rush to a full-on sugar crash. This sugar spike-and-crash sets you up to want more sugar—a vicious cycle. We can end up feeling hungrier within an hour of eating a high sugar diet than how we felt before eating.
- Sugar addiction
Eating sugar gives us “pleasure”. It causes a neurotransmitter response that makes us feel good, and we experience a mild “high”. Once this feeling subsides, we end up craving it again.
Studies are even showing that, like drugs such as heroin, we build up a tolerance to the sugar and end up needing more and more to produce that same high. Therefore, the calories add up and we end up gaining weight.
How to Manage and/or Limit Your Sugar Consumption
Sugar not only leads to unwanted weight gain, but has also been implicated in a number of health issues such as heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, metabolic disorders, cancer etc.
If cutting it off completely from your diet seems impossible then maybe a few baby steps can be taken like the below:
- Drink lots of water especially before snack time.
- Avoid all kinds of sugary fizzy drinks.
- Replace your juices with whole fruits.
- Include more of vegetable salads instead of binging on unhealthy snacks.
- Be aware of the ingredients used when consuming processed food. Sugar can be disguised as cane sugar, corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high fructose concentrate, invert sugar, maltose, malt syrup, sucrose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice etc in the labels.
- Try to gradually reduce the amount of sugar that you add in your tea/coffee.
- Try to replace white sugar with jaggery or coconut sugar.
- Whenever you have a sugar craving, reach out for some fruits or keep a batch of homemade bars accessible.