It’s found throughout the aisles of our grocery stores, in our kitchen pantries, and turns out, in the majority of our food. I’m talking about sugar of course. It’s cheap and only getting cheaper and food makers are finding ways to create new types of it as well as disguise it under other names. It’s in our sauces, dressing, marinades, coffees, even bread! It’s literally everywhere. It’s the one ingredient that we consumer, and let our children consume, that on it’s own has zero nutritional value. None, zero, zilch. And on top of it all it’s been shown to be addictive, and directly correlated to obesity and diabetes.

When we talk about sugar most of us think of the obvious culprits like cookies, chocolates, ice cream, sodas, etc. These are loaded with the stuff but if it’s the less suspected foods that may be doing the most damage, because we eat them regularly. Items such as peanut butter, soups, processed meats, sauces, marinades, crackers, bread, and others that make up a part of our regular daily diet. These foods are also heavily laden with it although it can be harder to identify under names such as high fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, rice syrup and more. Foods such as honey and agave nectar are promoted as healthier alternatives, but don’t fool yourself, these are sugars and they get the same response when ingested.

Now many will say yes of course sugar is unhealthy but to compare it to a drug may be a bit over the top, don’t you think? Here is what we do know. Sugar induces the same responses in the part of the brain that is known as the “reward center” as nicotine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol. Similar to these more recognized drugs it stimulates the release of dopamine, and similarly the more we “use” it the less dopamine the body releases naturally, so we need a bigger dose to the get the same “feel-good” response. One reason we may not consider it a drug is because there doesn’t seem to be any immediate behavioral changes associated with its ingestion, although have too much of it at once and even that goes out the window.

Side-effects we may not notice in the short-term, however, become very obvious in the long-term.  When sugar is ingested it is released into the blood-stream. In response the body releases insulin which triggers certain cells to take-up the sugar and store it for later use. The amount of insulin released is in direct relationship to the amount of sugar in the blood. Over a long period however, these insulin receptors can become resistant. Think of it like this: you walk into a perfume shop and you’re immediately overwhelmed by the concentrations of smells, but after a few minutes you don’t notice it at all. Insulin receptors on cells act the same way, so when they’ve been flushed over repeatedly with insulin, over time, they become less sensitive to the hormone and can eventually become insulin resistant and now you have type 2 diabetes, and perhaps obesity too. This combo tends to lead to hypertension which is correlated with a higher risk of heart disease, cancer and strokes, and possibly dementia and Alzheimers. These are serious illnesses and I don’t think it’s coincidence that they’re more prevalent today, the same time we have more access to sugar than ever.

How much is too much? Nobody can say, because we don’t have any studies that can single sugar out as the culprit. If you get people off a diet of processed foods loaded with sugars and their health markers go in a positive direction there are a lot of reasons you could explain the results. Sugar is one but it’s by no means the definitive reason. It is for that reason that we’re suggesting trying to go 1 month with no added sugar in February. One month is enough time to feel the immediate effects so at least going forward you can make informed decision about how much is too much for you, and it will bring greater awareness to how much of your daily diet actually contains sugar. Stay tuned for more details!