9 things that can happen to your body when you give up sugar
From your skin to your weight, your mental health and more, cutting out sugar can lead to some big improvements.
Sugar will give you soaring highs, but it'll make you pay with crashing lows afterwards. And we've never been more aware of how much sugar our diets contain as we are now, with the government having recently introduced a 'sugar tax' to soft drink manufacturers.
We all know sugar isn't great for us, but what would happen if we cut it out altogether? Nutritionist Jenna Hope sheds some light:
1. Your skin might improve
The reason being, you'll have less insulin flowing about. The consumption of sugar triggers your body to release insulin, which Jenna says "can cause inflammation which may result in a breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin." As well as this, when sugar is digested it binds to collagen. If there's too much sugar in your system, it can negatively impact the functionality of the collagen, increasing the risk of skin disorders and wrinkles. Without sugar, this won't happen.
2. You’ll probably have more energy
"High sugar foods have a high glycemic index," says Jenna, explaining that this means they are released into the blood at a fast rate, "promoting a large spike in blood sugar". This, in turn, generates a rise in energy levels, which quickly dip when insulin guides the sugar away from the blood and into the cells. The low blood sugar you'll then experience means you’ll be lacking in energy, and will encourage you to find your next sugar hit.
"Freeing yourself from this reliance on sugar becomes hugely gratifying as your energy levels become more stable throughout the day, without the large peaks and troughs," the nutritionist explains. "Opt for snacks rich in protein and healthy fats in order to help balance your blood sugar."
3. You may lose weight
Weight loss isn't always inevitable, but it can often be a side effect of significantly reducing your sugar intake. "Sugar provides empty calories and stimulates the effects of your Ghrelin (the hunger hormone), which stimulates appetite, making you more likely to over-eat and to opt for foods which don’t satiate you for a prolonged period of time," says Jenna.
Plus, the calorie consumption in sugar can quickly add up, particularly when you add it to tea or coffee. Drinking 3 cups of tea a day with two sugars in each equates to an extra 92kcal added to your drinks. "That’s around 5% of your total energy intake without you even realising," the nutritionist notes. "This also provides you with 24g of sugar, which is pretty significant considering the recommended daily allowance for sugar is around 30g per day," she adds. "Limiting your sugar intake will reduce the number of added empty calories you’re consuming and reduce the risk of you over-consuming as a result of the constant sugar rollercoaster," Jenna advises.
4. You’ll probably sleep better
"A high sugar intake will delay the release of melatonin in the brain, which is essential for the homeostatic control of sleep," the expert explains. And lack of sleep, in turn, can increase your need to eat more sugar, continuing the cycle. "Research suggests that poor sleep may lead to an impaired blood glucose balance which stimulates your desire to consume more sugar," Jenna says.
5. You might notice reduced food cravings
This is because when blood sugar is uncontrollable, you’ll experience sugar highs and sugar lows. "The lows drive you to drastically increase your blood glucose and, as a result you’re more likely to crave higher sugar foods which keeping you riding the sugar roller-coaster," says Jenna. Without the blood sugar ups and downs, you might notice your body yearning for these sorts of unhealthy foods.
6. Your gut will function better
People who eat high levels of refined sugar also tend to consume excess amounts of saturated fats and low levels of dietary fibre. When sugar is reduced in the diet, however, it’s often swapped for foods rich in dietary fibre such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains which are all great for the gut.
"These foods contribute to a healthy gut function as they help to increase the number of healthy microbiota in the gut. In turn, this helps to remove unwanted toxins as well as increasing frequency of bowel movement and reducing transit time," says the expert.
7. Your mental health could improve
Who knew there was a relationship between sugar and mental health? According to recent research, however, there is a link between the two. "High sugar intakes have been associated with an increased risk in depression, anxiety and other mental health issues," nutritionist Jenna says.
And the link between sugar and anxiety is particularly clear, she points out. "While sugar intake isn’t necessarily a cause of anxiety, the constant blood sugar roller-coaster and release of adrenaline and insulin may contribute to the feelings of anxiety in those who already suffer. It’s important to note that changing your diet won’t necessarily cure anxiety but it can help to reduce some of the symptoms associated with it," says Jenna.
8. You might experience better moods
This is all to do with hormones, and the control sugar has over what's released into the body. "Sugar has been shown to suppress a hormone called BDNF which is required to produce new neurons. Individuals who are susceptible to low mood have lower BDNF, and so the suppression of this from sugar may further enhance low mood and depression," Jenna explains. Cutting out sugar means your levels of BDNF will return to normal, and your mood may improve as a result.
9. Your liver function will improve
"The consumption of excess sugar (particularly in the form of fructose) and sugar sweetened beverages is heavily linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease," says the nutritionist. "Excess fructose cannot be metabolised by the liver without glucose, so the fructose gets stored around the liver. Limiting your sugar intake will help to reduce the risks of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease."
Looks like we should all reduce the amount of sugar in our diets, then, doesn't it?