The 7 Top Benefits When You Quit Sugar
There are a great many benefits to be gained when you quit sugar. There are a great many dangers associated with keeping it in your diet, at least in large quantities.
We all love sugar. In fact, our bodies are designed to love it – it is fast to digest, gives a great energy kick, and keeps us alert. Which is why our senses have evolved to find it so tasty. However, most people overconsume it.
The recommended amount of daily sugar consumption is 12 teaspoons or fewer for adults. Despite this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that most adults are taking in over 17 teaspoons per day.
This is problematic. There is a very strong link between sugar consumption and diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and addiction. That’s right: sugar is very addictive. It is also damaging our health.
We all know the usual suspects. Soda, chocolate, puddings, and so on all have plenty of sugar in them. This isn’t too dangerous, though. You know what you’re getting into when you take that big old slice of cheesecake! The real danger is in the hidden sugar. It is seemingly in everything. This makes sense. Food producers want their products to be tempting. Some may even want them to be addictive, or at the very least morish.
If you take any pre-made food or processed ingredients, you will likely find it loaded with sugar. I’m talking about common grocery items like bread, pasta, sauces, yoghurt, dressings, and plenty of frozen ready meals.
As above, sugar is addictive. In fact, it can be likened to many illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine, opioid prescription painkillers, and benzodiazepines in this regard.
Why you should quit sugar: the addiction
I’m really not overstating the case when I say that sugar is addictive. In fact, there are several areas of concern, areas that show how addictive it is.
For instance, sugar releases dopamine in the brain. This is the feel-good neurotransmitter that gives us feelings of euphoria and comfort. It is also released by addictive drugs. In fact, brain scans have shown that sugar stimulates the brain in the same areas as addictive drugs.
There are lifestyle similarities between high sugar consumption and addictive drug use. Physical cravings for each can be severe. Because of this, people can go on sugar binges just as they might go on alcohol or drug binges. Excessive amounts of sugar can lead to impaired physical and mental wellbeing.
Sugar withdrawal symptoms
Giving up sugar can also be incredibly challenging. Going cold turkey can cause distressing withdrawal symptoms, just as going cold turkey from alcohol or drugs can. Cravings can be particularly severe, making it hard for people to fully turn their backs on it.
This means that it is much like overcoming any form of addiction when you quit sugar. It is hard work, unpleasant, full of temptation for relapse, and marked by plenty of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
However, it is well worth doing. There are plenty of benefits you can receive from doing so.
The 7 top benefits when you quit sugar
1. Improved body composition
One of the main downsides to sugar consumption is how easy it makes it to put on unhealthy levels of body fat. It is vital to quit sugar to overcome this.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it is simply easy to overeat calories from sugar. Eating 40 grams of protein will make you feel like you have eaten a substantial meal. It will keep you full for a couple of hours. It’s the equivalent of a six-ounce steak.
Taking in 40 grams of sugar is much different. That’s just 8-9 teaspoons. My great-grandma could get through this in a couple of cups of tea without thinking she had ‘eaten’ anything! You could get through this by simply drinking a can of coke.
Sugar also increases our insulin levels. This affects our metabolism and gears it towards hoarding these calories as belly-fat. It also leads to hunger cravings, meaning that you will end up eating more overall as your appetite peaks and crashes.
2. Improved energy levels
Many people rely on sugary snacks and drinks as a bit of a pick-me-up. There is good reason for this. Sugar is very quickly digested so that it will be delivering more energy into your system within a few minutes of eating it.
However, this pick-me-up is fleeting. It is ultimately self-defeating, too. After the high comes the low – the blood sugar crash that will leave you sleepy and unfocused.
Slower burning food sources will actually be far better for maintaining steady, even energy levels. Quit sugar. Go for complex carbohydrates and proteins instead. Think of porridge rather than breakfast cereal, for instance, or a protein shake rather than a soda. Fat is also great here – nuts and nut butters will give you slow release energy to keep you going all day long.
3. Improved heart and liver health
Sugar causes inflammation in your soft tissue. In turn, this leads to a great many health concerns, including aching joints, poor immune system, an increased risk of cancer; it can even exacerbate depression.
Blood pressure issues can also arise from high levels of inflammation, especially when paired with high body fat levels. This can lead to heart conditions such as coronary heart disease and heart attacks, as well as to other medical concerns such as stroke. High sugar diets also contribute towards increased levels of bad cholesterol and decreased levels of good cholesterol, further harming the heart.
Excessive refined sugar intake can be bad for the liver. It can cause fatty build ups in the liver. In turn, this build up can cause liver disease. In fact, the effects can be as bad for the liver as alcohol.
Quit sugar or at least significantly cut it down to reverse this. It will allow your body to heal from this inflammation and reverse its negative effects.
4. Diminished risk of diabetes
Weight gain is a significant risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. The body becomes insulin resistant and, eventually, the pancreas can’t produce enough for your body’s needs.
Sugar intake can also lead to insulin resistance, which means that your body is unable to respond to the amount of the hormone insulin it is making.
Luckily, type 2 diabetes is often reversible. It is generally at least very manageable. Simple lifestyle changes can reverse many of the effects, sometimes even bringing people back to pre-diabetic health levels.
These lifestyle changes include plenty of exercise, weight loss to a healthy degree, and, of course, drastically cutting down on sugar intake. If you are worried about diabetes, you should quit sugar as soon as possible.
5. Reduced cravings and reliance
Sugar cravings can be tough to beat. Withdrawal from sugar is a real thing, as our brains cry out for the dopamine it releases. As we’ve already seen, it can be highly addictive.
However, things can only get better. Every day you go without sugar is a day you are further away from intense cravings as they diminish over time. Your body’s dopamine levels will normalise and stabilise until your brain’s reward centre doesn’t need those intense sugar rushes any more.
6. Reduced risk of cancer
High sugar intake can increase your risk from cancer. We have already seen a couple of mechanisms for this. In general, those who take in excessive amounts of sugar will be far more open to pancreatic cancer.
However, simply being overweight, with excess body fat, can increase your risk from most types of cancer. It will increase your risk from most health concerns, in fact.
Conversely, cutting sugar out of your diet has been linked with a reduced risk from cancer.
7. Improved mood and cognition
Add all of these benefits together and you will find great peace of mind. Your overall health will improve. Your mental health will improve with it. You will find yourself being far more energetic, far more steadily so, with an improved quality of life.
Reduced inflammation in the brain will also lead to improved sleep quality and an improved ability to focus fully and think with clarity.
Furthermore, low sugar diets have been linked with a reduced risk of depression and anxiety.
Should you quit sugar during recovery?
Quitting sugar is a good idea. At least cutting it down to just a few spoonfuls per day can be hugely beneficial. However, doing so when you are going through addiction recovery could be a little tricky. It may not be the best idea in early recovery, unless it is leading to real distress.
Firstly, you should note that it is no small ask. Quitting sugar is hard. It is even more difficult for people overcoming a substance addiction. You don’t want to put yourself through too much. Instead of going cold turkey, maybe cut down over time, if you can.
We’ve already seen that excessive sugar consumption can be a factor in depression. Therefore, cutting it out long-term is important. Don’t worry too much about cutting it out in the short-term, especially if you rely on sugary foods to cope with other cravings.
Though it is tough to quit sugar, it is arguably far less gruelling and scarring than giving up drugs or alcohol during addiction recovery. If you find yourself needing sugar to maintain sobriety, lean into it for the moment. It triggers the same dopamine rush as addictive drugs and alcohol, meaning that it might represent a safe space in which to get sober without shocking your body too much.
Get a handle on your addiction before cutting it out. It is common to see people put on weight when they give up nicotine. I always encourage this. You can always lose weight later on.
You can always quit sugar later on, and you should do. For the moment, however, take it one day at a time, one addiction at a time.
When quitting sugar is vital
Quitting sugar can be vital for those that suffer from an eating disorder, especially compulsive over eating and binge eating. For these people, sugar is as powerful and destructive to the body and mind as any other addictive drug. There tends to be no half way. You can either consume it safely, or you can't. If it is the later, It best to seek advice from a nutritionist as to how to how to quit sugar entirely.
Support groups such as Overeaters Anonymous or Sugar & Carb Addicts Anonymous can be extremely beneficial. These 12 Step support groups can support you in your endeavour to go sugar free.