Sugar – The Tricky Little Treat

Sugar – The Tricky Little Treat


The holiday season is fast approaching, and we all know that with that comes plenty of sweet treats! Halloween celebrations, especially, are infamous for the inordinate amount of sugar laden candies, cookies, and other confections. When it comes down to knowing what you’re putting in your body, are you really aware of the impact high sugar consumption has on your health?

What and Where is Sugar?

Sugar is defined as: “any of numerous soluble and usually sweet carbohydrates (as glucose or sucrose) that occur naturally especially in plants”, and it serves as one of the body’s main sources of energy. When starches and other sugars are digested, they travel to the gut where they’re absorbed into the bloodstream and eventually into cells where they provide energy for everyday functions.

There are different classes of sugars: monosaccharides; disaccharides and polyols.

Monosaccharides are single unit sugars. Those commonly found in food are:

  • glucose (a.k.a. ‘blood sugar’ when talking about blood glucose)
  • fructose (main sugars found in fruit – the others are sucrose and glucose)
  • galactose (found in milk)

Disaccharides consist of two monosaccharides linked together. Those commonly found are:

  • sucrose (table sugar) = glucose + fructose
  • lactose (milk sugar) = glucose + galactose
  • maltose (malt sugar) = glucose + glucose
Sugar components Food sources
Glucose Fruits, vegetables, table sugar, honey, milk products, cereals
Fructose Fruits, vegetables, honey
Galactose Milk products
Sucrose Fruits, vegetables, table sugar, honey
Lactose Milk products

Malt products, some cereals


Finding Sugar on Labels

Unfortunately, when seeking ‘sugar’ on a food label, it’s not always straightforward. There are many aliases for this simple, yet complex molecule. The rise of artificial sweeteners also adds to the list of names sugar goes by. Beyond the ‘-ose’ components listed above, be on the lookout for any of the following on an ingredients list (list is not all-encompassing): aspartame, carob powder, corn starch, syrups, nectar, molasses, dextrin, dextrose, levulose, maltitol, maltodextrin, mannitol, Nutrasweet, polydextrose, polysaccharides, ribose, saccharin, sorghum, suamiel, sucanat, xylitol.

How Sugar Affects Your Brain

When you ingest a food/beverage that has sugar, the “sweet” taste receptors on your tongue react by sending a message to your brain, specifically the cerebral cortex which is responsible for processing different tastes. This signal stimulates our “reward center” and transmits a multitude of electric messages across all areas of the brain. Depending on the response from the brain, your subconscious makes a decision about whether or not the interaction was positive and you should “Do it again!”.

Food isn’t the only stimulant for a positive “reward center” response, however. Social interactions, sex, and hard drugs also trigger a positive response, telling your body to continue that behavior.

Too much sugar can cause the signals to go out of control resulting in mood swings, cravings, and increased tolerance to sugar. Your gut also has sugar receptors that tell your body that it’s “full” or that it needs more insulin to combat the sugar you’re eating. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for letting our brain know it’s being “rewarded” when we eat something sugary. Similar to alcohol, nicotine and heroin, too much sugar, too often sends the release of dopamine into overdrive, causing some people to continuously seek the high that’s created. This can lead to a downward spiral of feeling dependent on satisfying that sweet tooth which can cause a load of other complications.

Other Effects of Sugar

Aside from the potential sugar Glucose and vitamin C have very similar molecular structures, so they’re constantly in competition in the body. When both are present, the absorption of vitamin C can be suppressed and thus, negatively affect your immune system. Not only that, other potentially harmful effects of sugar are:

  • An upset of mineral relationships in the body
  • Interference with the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and protein.
  • Changing of the structure of protein
  • Increase in the body’s fluid retention
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Mood Swings

How to Break the Sugar Cycle

If you’ve overindulged over the holidays (or any other time for that matter), here are a few suggestions to help you break the sugar habit:

Reduce temptation by keeping sugary foods away.

Sweeten foods yourself. Look for unflavored/unsweetened options for some of your favorite foods like teas, yogurt and non-dairy milks. Then add the amount and type of sweetener you desire. That way, you control what goes into your body.

Be on the lookout for hidden sugars. Read labels. Be leary of products that are “reduced-fat” because sugar is typically the substitute for the fat that was removed. Also, try to avoid foods that list sugar as the main ingredient or that contain several types of sugar by other names.

Eat Craving-Busting foods. Nutritious meals with whole foods low in sugars are best. A diet comprised of healthy, essential fatty acids, lean meats/proteins, and vegetables (low in sugar, such as greens) is a good place to start. Low-sugar (usually green) juices are also a powerful combatant against sugar.

Have you felt the effects of too much sugar? How do you recover from this tricky treat?

-Health & Wellness Coach
Michelle C.



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