How sugar messes up your hormones
You’ve probably heard that excess sugar (especially if it comes from refined white sugar) is “bad” because it can cause caries and supplies only "empty" calories. However, these reasons don’t seem to prevent most people from continuing to eat it. Just brush your teeth and make sure you exercise enough to burn off those extra calories, right? Well, unfortunately it is not that simple…
Food is not merely fuel, it is information and literally talks to your cells and hormones. It even has the ability to turn on or off genes!
Let’s take a deeper look into the effects refined sugar can have on our bodies:
1. Refined sugar depletes body reserves of important nutrients
Just like refined grains, refined sugar doesn’t contain any vitamins/minerals anymore. However, in order to be metabolized (digested), the sugar needs vitamins (esp. B-vitamins and vitamin C) and minerals (esp. calcium, magnesium, phosphorus). If those are not supplied with the sugar (as is the case in whole foods such as fruit, raw honey or whole grains), the body is forced to take them from its own reserves. So instead of supplying the body with nutrients, refined sugar (or grains) steels them from the body.
Why is that bad? Eating, besides being an act of pleasure, serves to supply us with energy and nutrients to maintain all important body functions, in other words, to nourish the body. The more refined foods we eat, the less nutrients we ingest and the more of those few nutrients are on top used for metabolizing the refined foods instead of nourishing our body. So in the end, there is nothing left for the body and it then has to cover its most important needs by serving itself from its reserves. If that happens day after day, year after year, the person will always live on the edge of being sick and not sick (instead of enjoying robust health) and one day those precious reserves will be completely depleted (how long this takes depends on the person’s individual constitution), resulting in more or less “sudden” and severe disease. People then often wonder why they “suddenly” became sick when they never had any problems…
2. Refined sugar causes bad teeth (but for a different reason than you think) & osteoporosis
By depleting minerals as explained in Nr. 1, refined sugar disturbs the sensitive balance of phosphorus, calcium & magnesium. All three are needed for strong teeth & bones. If for example phosphorus is depleted by eating too much refined sugar, calcium cannot be assimilated, even though it might be present in your diet. So refined sugar does indeed cause bad teeth, but the cause is not primarily bacteria interacting with the sugar, but a de-mineralization of the teeth due to a lack of important nutrients. So you might brush your teeth 3 times a day and still end up having cavities. Interestingly, isolated populations living on whole foods do not suffer from cavities to the extent that we do, even though they do not brush their teeth the way we do… Likewise you might still end up with osteoporosis despite your calcium supplements or daily milk (besides the sugar there are other reasons for that, such as lack of fat-soluble vitamins in low-fat dairy products – more on that in another newsletter).
3. Sugar can make you fat & tired
Most people think that it is especially fat that makes them fat and therefore try to limit fat intake. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fat is actually needed for many important body-functions, e.g. the protection of the heart & the liver, the regulation of the immune & hormone system, the transportation of important fat-soluble vitamins… and certain fats can even boost your metabolism, helping you to lose fat!
On the other hand, most people are not familiar with the way excess carbohydrates (and especially refined ones) can make them fat (& sick & tired). It is not merely a question of excess calorie intake. Even people that are thin on the outside can be fat on the inside (called TOFIs). So just exercising more or eating less to compensate bad eating habits is not necessarily working.
The vicious cycle of getting fat and tired on sugars
Carbohydrates are needed to supply the body with immediate energy for muscles and/or brain. If no energy is needed at the moment, the excess is stored in the muscles and liver. When those stocks are full (what happens quite quickly), the excess carbs are transformed into fat by the body and stored in fat cells, preferably around the belly, but also around the liver (in fact, you can get fatty liver from eating too much sugar, bread, pasta... but also from excessive fruit and whole grains!). This belly fat increases the production of estrogen (female hormones), also in men. Higher levels of estrogen increase again the tendency of the body to store fat... a vicious cycle.
This situation is worsened by a deregulation of the hormonal system. Sugar triggers an insulin release. In the case of refined sugar, that reaction is quick and strong, leading to a blood sugar peak followed by a sharp drop in blood sugar shortly after (which makes us feel hungry again). This “sugar rollercoaster” is a very stressful situation for the body and stress hormones (Cortisol) are released. If happening regularly, the body not only finds itself under constant stress (chronically elevated Cortisol), but will also become resistant to insulin (= diabetes). Elevated Cortisol and Insulin also increase the tendency to store fat (reinforcing the effect of estrogen). On top of that, chronically elevated stress hormones impede the production of other important hormones, as produced by the thyroid or the adrenal glands, but also sex hormones (one potential explanation of the increasing infertility rates).
The thyroid and the adrenal glands are key regulators of our whole metabolism (just like top managers running a company). If they suffer from chronic stress and on top are not nourished sufficiently (because the diet consists of mainly refined, nutrient-deficient foods), they get “tired” and do not work correctly anymore. The most immediate result we feel of this is a lack of energy. To compensate this lack of energy we then turn to sugar (= quick energy) and/or caffeine, both of which only further weaken the adrenal glands and the thyroid, potentially leading to all kinds of degenerative diseases over time.
It is important to understand that it is not only the refined sugar that can have these affects, but also an excess of "natural" sugars, from honey or even fruit and grains!
4. Sugar is addictive
Studies (esp. this one) found that refined sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup (used in almost all processed foods in the US) is as addictive or even more addictive than cocaine or heroin! Experiments with mice showed that sugar consumption activated the same areas in the reward system of the brain as those potent drugs! Sugar consumption released dopamine (= feel-good / happiness substance), but in such amounts that the brain is excessively flooded with it and in fact over-stimulated (resulting in hyper-activity). As a consequence it reduces dopamine receptors over time, in order to be able to cope with such an amount of “happiness”. This then results in a decreased sensitivity, meaning withdrawal symptoms if it is not consumed and the need for more sugar to reach the same amount of satisfaction and . An addiction is created.
Alternatives to refined sugar
Carbohydrats are not inherently bad. If from “natural” sources, there is nothing wrong with them as such. However, unfortunately our bodies are often so over-stimulated and depleted that even natural sugars can cause strong blood sugar reactions and fatigue. Some people don’t even tolerate fruit or starches from whole grains or potatoes anymore! Therefore, it is in general a good idea to limit your sugar/carbohydrate to the amount YOUR body needs to sustain important body functions, but without overstimulating it. There is no "one-size-fits-all" recommendable quantitiy, it all depends on your individual Metabolic Type and current health situation. Personally I had to go through a period of very limited carbs to heal and restore my body, and now I can eat them more liberally again. However, it is important to consume your carbs in the form of whole foods, such as starchy vegetables, fruits, and soaked whole grains. If you are looking for a good alternative for refined sugar to prepare an occasional treat or to slightly sweeten your coffee/tea, choose from the following (you can find all of them in my shop):
- Fresh fruit & veggies: Many desserts can be prepared based on fresh fruit or even vegetables (red beet, sweet potato)! For example you can make “ice cream” from a frozen, ripe banana (in pieces), mixed with some cocoa powder and a bit of milk. Or produce the most amazing dessert by making a pear or apple compote mixed with coconut butter and cocoa nibs. On my blog you find some more recipe inspirations, like red beet brownies, pear cake or sweet potato pudding.
- Dried fruit: Just like fresh fruit, dried fruit can serve to sweeten your desserts, porridge or muesli. If you put them in water the night before, they are easier to blend. The soaking water can be used to cook your porridge or be added to smoothies as well. Find the most amazing muffin recipe here.
- Raw honey: Cold-pressed honey is probably nature’s best concentrated sweetener to use in small quantities (if you put it into tea, let it cool down first, so that the precious nutrients are not destroyed).
- Truly unrefined, raw cane sugar (not every brown sugar is actually unrefined, often it is refined white sugar to which some brown molasses have been added back): Still contains many nutrients necessary to digest the sugar.
- Coconut Blossom Sugar or Nectar: won from the blossom of the coconut plant, only minimally processed by local populations (not in factories), rich in nutrients and lower glycemic index.
- Green Stevia (fresh leaves, dried leaves or ground into green powder): Calorie-free. Can be added to tea for example.
- Xylitol: All natural sugar alternative won from birch trees. Sweet as sugar, but low impact on blood sugar and 40% less calories. Alkalizing and anti-bacterial/anti-yeast. Only consume in small quantities (can cause loose stool). Watch out to get it from BIRCHES and not from modified corn.
Avoid those sugar alternatives:
- “Brown” sugar (often just white sugar with some added brown molasses)
- Agave nectar: unfortunately not as natural as it is marketed, but quite refined/processed. Read more here.
- White Stevia powder or liquids: Highly processed
- Alcohol-based sugars: Sorbitol, Erythritol, Maltitol: Usually highly processed, potentially leading to all kinds of health problems
- Artificial sweeteners