What happens to your body and brain when you stop eating sugar
- There's a difference between refined sugars and natural sugars.
- Sugar might taste good to you, but processed sugars aren't good for you.
- Eating a lot of refined, added sugars can lead to headaches, low energy levels, and inflammation.
- Cutting sugar out of your diet will likely decrease inflammation, boost your energy levels, and improve your ability to focus.
Sugar is found in lots of foods but actually isn't good for us. It's fine to treat yourself in moderation, but have you ever wondered what would happen to your body if you stopped eating sugar altogether?
There's a reason why sugar is hard to shake: for one, it's delicious, but sugar also causes the opioid receptors in your brain to activate, which triggers your neurological rewards system to flare up. In other words, sugar makes you feel good emotionally, despite the negative side effects excess consumption can lead to, like headaches, energy crashes, and even hormonal imbalances, according to Healthline.
However, it is important to note that processed sugars are different than the natural sugars found in fruit, honey, and unsweetened milk. Refined sugars, otherwise known as sucrose, are highly processed from sugar cane and sugar beets, certified nutritional health counselor Sara Siskind told INSIDER. They're high in calories, and have no real nutritional value, while natural sugars contain vitamins and minerals.
Processed sugars have a bitter-sweet effect on the human body, and it's up to you to decide if it's worth a taste
Baked goods, fizzy bottles of soda, and even the so-called "healthy" packaged snacks at your desk are likely jam-packed with grams on grams of added sugars. That initial first bite or sip tastes satisfying enough, sure, but can you honestly say you feel particularly vibrant or energized when that slice of cake or carbonated syrup is sitting in your stomach?
Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan told Business Insider there are more than 50 names and varieties of processed sugars in food products, and even though they might taste good, they certainly aren't doing any good for you.
"The high glycemic index [of processed sugars] can spike blood sugars in the body fast and drop them quickly as well," leading to a kind of roller coaster effect on blood sugars, Derocha explained. "As blood sugar levels rise, you'll experience a quick increase in energy. Sadly, because those levels become regulated quickly, an energy or "sugar" crash is not far behind the spike, especially when dealing with added sugars."
What's more, the body uses enzymes in its small intestine to break down sugar into glucose. Typically this isn't a problem as glucose from carbohydrates are stored as an energy source your body can dip into when necessary, but Derocha pointed out that any excess glucose will be converted to fat, which can lead to weight gain and obesity if you aren't minding your portions.
So what happens to your body when you stop eating sugar?
Hard as it may be to stop ordering an ice cold cola with your burger, or keep your fingers from grazing the candy dish at parties, omitting sugar from your diet can have a significant impact on your health. If you're someone who regularly treats themselves to dessert with a cup of tea after dinner, or tosses a store-bought granola bar in with their lunch every day, Siskind warned there might be a tough transition period at first.
"Studies have shown that [when someone stops eating sugar] there are similar effects as when people get off drugs," she said. "You may experience exhaustion, headaches, brain fog and irritability. Some people even have gastrointestinal distress."
Translation: it's a process.
Your mood can change drastically if your body is hooked on sugar, and suddenly you're going without
Sugar releases the feel-good hormones - dopamine and serotonin - in the brain, activating your body's reward system, Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health told INSIDER.
In other words, the more sugar you consume, the better you feel - at least, temporarily. When you stop eating sugar altogether, however, your body goes through withdrawal, and it's not pleasant for your body or your brain.
"As you begin to cut back on sugar intake, the body begins to sense this, and you may feel cranky or irritable, especially in the first few days," Glatter said.
Many people experience fatigue, headaches, or even a feeling of sadness or depression, he added, aka tell-tale signs that your body is adjusting to the now low levels of glucose, dopamine, and serotonin. "After a week or so, your energy will begin to improve, and you will feel more alive and less irritable."
Sugar causes inflammation in the skin, so the less you eat, the clearer your complexion may become
There are certain types of foods that may cause acne; processed sugars are among them.
Diets high in refined sugar (think candy bars, cake, cookies, etc.) can lead to excessive insulin spikes which, in turn, triggers inflammation in the skin, Glatter explained. As a result, elasticity and collagen - what makes your skin look plump and glowy - become damaged, possibly leading to premature wrinkling, sagging skin, and acne and rosacea. Reducing your sugar intake will do just the opposite."Reducing your sugar intake can help improve your complexion by strengthening elastin and collagen and reducing the level of inflammation present in your skin," Glatter said.
Eliminating sugar from your diet can improve the overall quality of your sleep in the long run
Breaking up with sugar won't solve your sleep problems overnight, but in a few weeks time you should notice yourself falling into a deeper sleep, Glatter said. This is because foods containing high amounts of refined sugars reduce the degree of slow wave sleep (SWS), the restorative sleep that consolidates memories and information learned throughout the day, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the dream phase.
Eating less sugar will reduce the number of times you wake up during the night, and improve your sleep quality overall.
You might lose weight from cutting sugar out of your diet, but there are other variables that go into this, too
To clarify, sugar itself doesn't make you gain weight. Eating an excessive amount of sugar can contribute to weight gain. Just as there are different elements that go into gaining weight, there are a few factors that contribute to shedding the extra pounds. Cutting back on sugar is just one of those things.
"When you reduce or eliminate sugar, storage of fat will decline slowly, and you will lose some weight. However, this takes time, with the effect typically beginning at one to two weeks," says Glatter.
If you're hoping that omitting sugar from your diet will result in rapid, significant weight loss, however, Glatter said eating more protein and following a regular exercise routine that includes both cardio and weight training, is key.
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