Sweet! How Sugar Attacks You And What To Do About It

I would not say I crave sugar but I do at times think it craves me.  I walked past a Good Humor truck recently and the magnetic force was acute.  I had not had an ice cream sandwich in over 10 years but that was about to end.  With the first bite I thought, “Ew, this is too sweet! One more bite and that’s it”.  By the last bite I thought “Wow, that was outstanding.”

Sugar is a nutritional Trojan horse — a zero nutrient warrior wrapped in friendly Good Humor paper (or hidden in cereals and pasta sauces) in order to enter our body before launching a full-on attack of our insides.

The well publicized war is waged like this:  sugar forces our pancreas to produce insulin to control how much sugar gets into our blood. Too much insulin and our cells become immune (insulin-resistant), meaning our body has to produce even higher levels of insulin to get the same result.  But our insulin stock piles are limited, we can only produce so much, which means when the ammunition runs out, the sugar in our blood shoots up and diabetes occurs.

Here is some of the lesser known collateral damage:

  • Depletion of vitamins and minerals: Sugar brings none of its own, so it relies on the body’s reserves to metabolize it.  Calcium for example is used to neutralize the effects of sugar and the depletion of it can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Depressed immune system: Sugar creates destructive bacteria that hangs out in our intestines.  Our immune system resides largely in our gut and the more bad bacteria that it has to get rid of, the harder it is for the immune system to fight disease.
  • Inflammation: High levels of sugar depletes cells of their energy. Cells that are depleted of energy become inflamed. Sugar is strongly associated with inflamed intestines and irritable bowel syndrome, but high levels lead to chronic inflammation throughout the body.
  • Heart disease: Chronically inflamed blood vessels lead to heart attacks.
  • Fat storage: Excess insulin  prevents our cells from using fat for fuel.
  • Hyper-active response: The more sugar we allow in, the more our body gets stressed by it and over-reacts to the invaders’ arrival.

So are all sugars harmful?  In high quantity, yes. Some sugars are less destructive (those found in fruits and vegetables for example), but be particularly aware of those masquerading as health food – raw sugar which simply means unbleached sucrose or table sugar, brown sugar which is table sugar with molasses, fructose (when listed as an ingredient) is likely largely corn syrup, maple syrup is no different from white sugar in how your body treats it, and honey, though marginally better because it’s unprocessed, still raises blood sugar and can still cause havoc.

So what can we do about this sugar problem. Eat it. Very occasionally. For some of us, we can have a bag of cookies in the cupboard and eat one a week, for others (me) there’s no chance, so I simply never have it around.  But when you do eat it, be really aware you’re eating it, love it, savor it, do it guilt-free, because small amounts won’t hurt you. But know it’s sugar.  Know that it’s programmed for war and its friendliness ends at your tongue.

Related Posts
Are You Pro-Life? (Why consuming probiotic-rich foods can help the body control its sugar levels)
What To Expect When You’re Expecting Kombucha (Kombucha also contains high levels of probiotics which can help with sugar digestion)
Soy Milk: A Bowl of Froot Loops In Every Glass?

Share your stories – tips for overcoming sugar cravings? Results from cutting back? Results from not cutting back?

Photo:  Tomato-based pasta sauces are flooded with it Copyright ©Michelle Madden

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  • Lisa

    One trick for killing sugar cravings is to brush my teeth (I guess the sense of “clean” is enough to quiet my body) … but if that fails, I’ll make hot tea with milk and a touch of honey.

  • Juliana

    And you forgot to mention that sugar is the preferred food of cancer. Honey, albeit the fact that it’s still glucose and sucrose, is fermented sugar, and THAT is what makes it unique in helping bodies fight off infection, etc. etc. OK, I’m a beekeeper, but those are the facts.

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com/ Michelle

      Thanks for that addition! Honey has many redeeming qualities, including the belief by some, that the trace amounts of pollen and floral “bits” can help with allergies. The key is to buy “pure” honey (ie. no added sugar “fillers”), and “raw” ie. not boiled.

      • Dennis

        That is a stunning photo! I think I love your blog as much for the amusing images as I do for the writing and the wonderful insights.

      • Juliana

        There is a big controversy now about many US producers a) adding karo syrup (NC/TN) to honey or, in the case of Sue Bee, the largest US producer b) buying toxic honey from China and India. So the safest bet by far is to buy from a known producer or at a greenmarket.

        • Michelle

          Yes! I have also heard of lg scale producers putting sugar water out for the bees to keep them close by (vs risking losing them to a field of flowers!) No chance that that honey is anywhere near as nutritious as the kind that comes from pollen-collecting bees!

          • http://joansnaturejournal.blogspot.com JoanfromVA

            It would cost so much more to feed sugar syrup than letting bees forage nectar on flowers. And, honey bees always find their way back to their hive so one would not lose them. However, my fellow beekeepers feed sugar syrup a month or so before the nectar flows to encourage them to raise lots of bees for the nectar flows that occur here in late March, April, and May.

            As a second year beekeeper, I am trying to be organic (no antibiotics or chemicals) and trying not to feed any sugar syrup. I believe the honey produced is better and he bees are healthier.

      • Ally

        It’s also preferable to buy local honey if you are trying to build your immune defences against allergies, especially pollen!

  • Lisa S.

    I’d love to hear anyones thoughts on agave… Is it any better for your body than sugar? Or is it just the latest hyped ” health” sweetener?

    • Michelle

      I’m not a huge fan of agave. Actually I should say – I’m not a huge fan over the HYPE around agave. Yes, it is slightly lower on the glycemic index than say sugar, but it is still a sweetener (in fact its 1.5 times sweeter than cane sugar), and is still not good for you in large quantities. If you’re consuming ANY kind of sugar in low quantities, then choosing sugar cane, honey, or agave are all fine. It’s the quantity here that becomes the problem, not whether you put agave or honey in your smoothie.

      If you do chose agave, go with “premium” agave brands and look for the word “raw” and “organic”. These are an indication of a higher quality product, and one that’s been processed with greater concern for the preservation of nutrients.

  • http://coldcerealandtoast.com Lisa S

    Very interesting post! Although I was expecting to read about the naturally-occurring sugar in fruits and vegetables, and how that may differ from the “sugar” you speak of here. May be worth noting the distinction; perhaps include in your upcoming post on “sugars you can trust?”

    • Lisa S.

      Indeed! There are huge differences and I will definitely cover them. Thanks for raising it. In the meantime, keep eating the fruit…

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com/ Michelle

      Indeed! There are huge differences and I will definitely cover them. Thanks for raising it. In the meantime, keep eating the fruit…

  • http://www.daisyflowersmith.com Daisy Flowersmith

    I stopped eating sugar in 2008. All sugars including processed carbs and went from a size 40 to a size 8! When I get a sugar craving I eat my homemade apple sauce, made from organic apples with NO adding sugars of any form. When you don’t eat sugar for a while, this flavor becomes very sweet! A few spoonfuls is all it takes to stop the craving!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com Michelle

      100% agree about losing a taste for sugar-especially in food that really doesn’t need it. I too have cut way back and now notice it intensely. Had a bite of an English Muffin recently (had not had one in years) and found it shockingly sweet!

  • http://www.katsong.wordpress.com kat

    this is the first post i’ve read of yours. i rarely leave comment, but felt moved to here. i really like your voice and writing style, not to mention content. i wholly resonate with your thoughts here on sugar, your simple presentation of how our bodies react to it, where sugar hides, and foremost, your view that we don’t need to run away from it — just treat it as a treat. pure and simple.
    nice work!

    • andrea

      Ditto to what Kat said! I’m so excited to discover this blog (thanks to today’s Daily Candy article)…it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. I had a discussion with someone just the other day about this very topic and have thought about it since and this post really covers it well. Thanks!

      Add to blog feed? – Check.

      • Dawn

        Just stumbled upon this site this morning, also thanks to Daily Candy! Couldn’t agree more!

        • http://www.thesweetbeet.com/ Michelle

          Thank you! It’s wonderful to hear this feedback. One of the things that interests me most is making complex info simple as well as bringing lesser known facts to light, so am thrilled its an interest of yours as well …

  • Natasha

    So how much sugar is ok for an average, non-diabetic person to eat? A quick internet search reveals ranges in the 30-40 grams per day.
    My daily Chobani yogurt alone has 19 grams. Oy.

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com/ Michelle

      Yogurt is LOADED with sugar! (both naturally occurring in the milk, which you can be less concerned about, as well as added sugar). I recently stopped buying “fruit” yogurt for that very reason. Try adding sweet fruit to unsweetened yogurt and you wont need any added sugar at all. In fact I’ve become accustomed to the slightly bitter yogurt meeting up with the fruit and love this combo.

  • http://marissachapman-designer.blogspot.com/ Marissa

    I have been battling a sugar addiction for years now. In the past couple of years I’ve noticed effects like jitters, moodiness, and just an overall “blah!” feeling after an overindulgence in sugar. Any further suggestions to curb cravings (love the applesauce idea) would be appreciated.
    Great post + photography!

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com/ Michelle

      Marissa, I hear you and I know what you mean as I have had these “attacks” before myself and it really does feel like there is NOTHING that will quiet this urge until you give it the sugar!

      Here are a few things that have worked for me:
      - Don’t keep sugar-rich foods in the house at all! I am powerless in the presence of icecream, so I simply never keep it around.
      - If you’re going to indulge in a sweet food, measure a small amount out, put the package away, eat that small amount slowly, savoring it and do not go back for more!
      - Eat something that is naturally sweet (yogurt w/fruit)
      - Check a piece of gum
      - Distract yourself (call someone, go for a walk)
      - Call up the vision of those jeans you want to fit into, until its a stronger vision than the cookie you want to eat.

      There is no question that cravings do start to fade the longer you simply do not indulge them. It will be hell but if you can go without any added sugar for a week (or 2 if you can), your body will not only less the cravings less strongly in the future, but you will have developed the confidence that you CAN quiet cravings when they occur. That’s the key …

  • Dawn

    I’ve recently learned that when you crave something sweet your body may be craving calcium. In an attempt at cutting back on sugar cravings, try a glass of milk first and wait 10 minutes. I’ve actually tried this is and I have found it to be true more times than not! (Placebo effect?)
    I’ve been making a great effort myself, cutting back on sugar, salt and processed foods. I was a little surprised to learn that sugar is the most difficult because I just love salt!
    In regards to the aforementioned two, cutting back little by little works better for a permanent lifestyle change than cold turkey extremes that result in late-night binging! For all three, self-awareness whenever you put something in your mouth. My tried and true method is re-train the brain by reinforcing the positive outcomes/effects in the long run.
    On a last note, I allow myself a midday treat to help me avoid that late-night, cellulite causing, Haagen Dazs fix.

    • http://www.thesweetbeet.com/ Michelle

      So true. Funny you mention drinking milk to cut the craving. I have done this as well! I think for me, its also that rich mouth feel that milk gives you as well as a sense of motherly comfort.

  • Perry

    Michelle,
    Great to ‘see’ you every few days through your blog.
    I thought you and your readers might be entertained by my other friend Michele’s blog that documented her year ‘battling’ her passion for sugar. http://52weekssinsucre.onsugar.com/ Perhaps not as healthy as an approach as you outline, but darn fun to read!
    Hope to see you before long.

  • Cynthia

    In the words of “Skinny Bitch”, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, Sugar is the Devil, Chapter 3. The sugar discussion, however, is not complete without addressing the sugar (chemical) substitutes. Which is the least devilish of these?

    • Michelle

      I will be doing an entire post on sugar substitutes soon! At this point, all I can say, is I am not a fan of any of the chemical ones for all sorts of reasons (that I will get into in the post). In the meantime, use stevia – a no cal, non chemical, pure plant based “sweetner”. It has its downside as it has faint licorice taste, but if you want zero calories, no chemicals AND a sweet taste – its the only thing out there.

  • http://www.findyourbalancehealth.com Michelle @ Find Your Balance

    Couldn’t have said it better myself :-)

  • Linda

    thanks for the stevia comments.I was just about to ask ! I use in my daily cup of coffee and a little goes a long way.I look forward to an expanded post on sugar substitutes.

  • Debbie

    Wonderfully informative article, written so it was easy to understand. So much health information that gets thrown our way these days get so convoluted and makes you feel bad about ever indulging in a candy bar, but yours was a terrific balance ~ Thanks!

  • Jenny

    My daily dilemma is sugar v. fat. Oftentimes, in an effort to be healthy I will purchase the fat free ice cream, the fiber one bars, fiber cereal, etc. But then when I read this post and went to look at the sugar content of a lot of the “healthy” items I eat, they are loaded with sugar. It seems low fat and low sugar do not go hand in hand, so when it comes to being healthy, which should I purchase – the low fat or the low sugar? Eating healthy with a 20′s girl lifestyle (and a lack of cooking ability…) is so tough!

    • Michelle

      I know the feeling. For a very long time I was constantly trying to reduce both and feeling guilty every time I felt I’d failed. If you’re eating a lot of packaged foods this is challenge as many ARE loaded with fat and sugar.

      Oddly enough what ended up working for me (meaning what finally got me onto a path of feeling healthy, eating without guilt and being at a good weight) was to *stop* eating the low-(fill in the blank) foods and eat foods that were simply high quality and highly nutritious. Meaning, I now eat plain yogurt and add my own honey and fruit, basic oatmeal rather than high sugar box cereal, and adding a touch of honey, bread with zero added sugar, home-made salad dressings.

      If your lifestyle means that its impossible to be buying and cooking fresh foods, then start reading food labels closely and buy the ones that have the fewest ingredients and don’t list fat or sugar in the top 5 spots ! The reason why the ingredient list is so important is that its the *added* fats and sugar you need to look out for, not the ones naturally occurring in say yogurt or almonds.

      Unfortunately, there’s no one-size fits all solution, its a journey of learning, discovery and simply finding your groove… you will. The fact that you’re even asking these questions and are aware of the issue, means you’re on the right path..

      Feel free to follow up with more specific questions, if that’s helpful.

  • http://6512andgrowing.wordpress.com/ 6512 and growing

    Michelle,
    Have you seen coconut sugar?
    It’s sweet, “sugar-free,” and pricey.

    Wondering what your thoughts are on this stuff.

    Thanks,
    Rachel

    • Michelle

      It’s slightly lower on the glycemic index than say cane sugar (meaning wont spike blood sugar quite as much) but its still sugar, it still has all the calories and its still processed (ie boiled and filtered meaning any nutrients are substantially diminished.) If you’re going to eat sugar it’s a perfectly fine substitute for cane sugar, honey, agave etc, but it’s not the wonder food that coconuts are!

  • http://seeallisoneat.wordpress.com/ AllieDale

    I recently started following you on bloglovin, and I love how informative and inspiring your topics are.
    In the last year or so, I’ve become much more aware of the food I eat and have really made a shift away from anything processed and toward experimenting more with healthy ingredients as substitutes for unhealthy ones.
    Most recently I’ve made lowfat muffins that turned out great- lending the question “why would you make them high-fat if they can be this good and be good for you?” But, the one thing I haven’t been able to change is my use of real sugar in baking. I can’t seem to accept switching to such a large quantity of artificial sweetener, but I do try to reduce the amount when possible and replace some of the sweetness with fruit.

    Anyway, just wanted to thank you for another great topic covered!

    • Zohra

      Great article. I am a sugar junkie. 5 spoons in a cup of tea and 10 in a cappachino with expresso. I also love margarine on bisciuts and toast. I guess I am heading for disaster in a hurry and I have to try and quit but if I don’t drink my tea I get headaches.
      Pls help.

      • Michelle

        I wouldn’t go cold turkey with this one as I think it could end in disaster! (meaning the elimination of sugar only reaffirms your passion for it). No, in this case, I would definitely go with the gradual reduction technique. Start with 4 spoonfuls in tea for a week, at the end of the week go to 3 and gradually end at 1 perhaps? There is no question that we can train our taste buds and I am pretty sure once you lower the sugar you’ll be amazed at what “tea” actually tastes like!

        With coffee, try this: halve the sugar and use “stevia” for the other half. It has zero cals and is 100% natural. I don’t recommend it for tea as it has a slight licorice after taste which I can detect in tea, but not so much when mixed with coffee.

        Good luck! Sugar is a tough one to tame, I know-I just had a mini Snickers Bars (left over from Halloween) and had to toss the rest of the bag to save myself from myself.

        • GoodCitizen2012

          I love Stevia in my tea…you just have to try several kinds and find one you like. Also, Xylitol a naturally occuring extract from Birch (your body and many fruits/veggies produce Xylin) is a wonderful sugar substitute as it tastes and looks exactly like sugar. Just beware because too much at a time will give you digestive issues

  • summer yeadon

    Hello, I noticed your post on the negative effects of sugar and have a story of my own that relates to this. When I was 21 yrs. old I found a lump in my breast and found out it was non-cancerous from the doctor,but still scary. My mother sent me literature on a study done of women who had non-cancerous breast lumps. Half of them stopped eating sugar and caffeine in their diets and the other half kept the eating habits they had. At the end of the study around 80% of the women who had quit sugar and caffeine in their diets were lump free and around 80% of the women who didn’t still had them. I tried this and it took me about 2 weeks to be able to fully cut the sugar out of my diet, the caffeine was easy. My breast lump went away in a few months. Have you heard of any other women with similar experiences or was this just an occurrence that was not related to the diet change? Is sugar specifically harmful for a woman’s reproductive system? Thanks, Summer.

    • Michelle

      I have not heard about that complaint specifically, but there is no question that sugar in large quantities is very hard on the body. I think it might be hard to say that anyone with a breast lump can expect to see it vanish simply by stopping all sugar and caffeine. I think it would also depend just on HOW much sugar and caffeine the women were eating before they cut these out 100%. Though I am not an oncologist I do know that lumps (both benign and cancerous) are influenced by a host of factors, diet being ONE of them.

      Having said that though, there is no downside to cutting sugar (which everyone would benefit from!) and clearly in your case, it had dramatic effects. So glad!

  • tumanju

    i discovered that everytime i ate sweets chocolate and cakes with sugar in it i get bowel inflamation straightaway and i have to go to toilet, also when i also eat sugar causes cracks on my skin on my fingers lots of skin peeling and mangled up skin and the sugar also causes pain in muscles, but when i stop eating food with sugar in it my skin heals beautifully and skin looks so fresh like a new born baby skin back to how it should be all nourished, sugar depletes nourishment in all parts of your body

    fact sugar destroys your tooth enamel and causes tooth decay, then sugar also destroys your skin and makes you skin saggy and fall out, and and sugar also causes alot of your hairs to fall out, sugar massively increases your wrinkles sags your skin ( tooth decay is an example

    for all you people who think its the tap water which is causing your dry skin is wrong its the sugar which you are eating in your foods which is causing dry skin, cut all your sugar out and you will see your immune system healing your skin back naturaly again, you people are eating sugar and at same time taking herbal medicine waiting money when the actual cause is sugar

    if you crave sugar then eat sweet fruits liek water melon banana, fresh friuts wil not wreck you skin like sugar does, your skin ailments will be gone when you totaly stop sugars, unless you are alergic to other foods or something

  • Audrey

    I have found an unquestionable connection between eating sugar and terrible stomach cramps. I eat it far less now but thank you for making me not feel guilty about my occasional handful of gummie bears!

  • http://www.20somethingcupcakes.com Sarah from 20somethingcupcakes

    This is such great information. I recently read a Perricone book and it was so interesting to learn about sugar’s affects regarding inflammation, and how it impacts your skin (as well as every other disease of the body).

  • http://www.epicbeautyguide.com/ Epic Beauty Guide

    Sarah, did you see read latest book, Forever Young? You would like it – it’s just as good as his Clear Skin book. From my personal experience, avoiding sugar is essential for clear, glowing skin.

    And Michelle, thanks for the awesome tips on getting over sugar cravings. I do the yogurt/fruit thing, too. I buy goat yogurt and organic berries and pears and chop them in. Maybe with a little drizzle of raw honey. Yum… :D

    ~Steph x

    P.S. Someone said sugar cravings may be your body craving calcium, and I have also heard that chocolate is your body craving magnesium. When I drink a green juice (full of magnesium) or use a magnesium citrate supplement, the craving for chocolate goes away.

  • Jane

    it was the end of my asthma/the end of using inhalers when I stopped eating all but the tiniest amount of sugar! Now running every day 3-5 miles, playing tennis, energized and for an added bonus, am in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing anything else I eat.