Cutting Out Sugar: The Number One Thing You Can Do to Improve Your Health

by Maria Rickert Hong, Nutrition Coach

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Sugar is addictive. Sugar activates the same pleasure centers in your brain that hard drugs like morphine and heroin do, and you get a dopamine rush from consuming it. No wonder it’s so hard to give up!

Sugar production has increased due to an agricultural policy that subsidizes corn and sugar, making it a cheap and addictive additive to processed foods. Fifty years ago, the average American consumed about 20 pounds of sugar per year; these days it’s around 130 pounds and no doubt contributing to an obese nation.

I think by now, we all know that sugar and processed foods can lead to diabetes and obesity, but here are some other reasons why you’ll want to cut out the sugar if you’re looking to improve your health.

  • Sugar feeds cancer. Sugar in all of its forms, including high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, agave, etc., feeds cancer because it increases insulin-like growth factor, which causes angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels that feed a tumor.
  • Sugar suppresses the immune system. Glucose, fructose, sucrose and other simple sugars cause a 50 percent reduction in the number of white blood cells that engulf pathogenic bacteria.
  • Sugar feeds Candida and other intestinal pathogens. Candidiasis is a systemic, whole-body infection with the Candida albicans yeast. Sugar feeds Candida and other intestinal pathogens, which in turn suppress the immune system.
  • Sugar causes inflammation. Sugary foods cause an increase of the molecules that cause inflammation (cytokines). An overproduction or inappropriate production of certain cytokines by the body can result in heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
  • Sugar ages your skin faster. The free radicals caused by its inflammatory actions age the skin (as well as what you don’t see on the inside.)
  • Sugar uses up valuable nutrients to process it. For example, it takes a LOT of magnesium to process sugar, and magnesium is both woefully deficient in the standard American diet and necessary to calm the central nervous system.
  • Sugar decreases your ability to concentrate. A high-sugar diet may lead to a lack of attention in children (and adults, too) as well as an increase in adrenaline.
  • Sugar increases your appetite. Sugar doesn’t tell your brain that you’re full and that you should stop eating, and it up-regulates insulin. Both of these mechanisms drive eating behavior without triggering the stop switch.

Giving up sugar is hard, and sheer willpower probably won’t be enough to do it. I’ve found that it helps to cut out processed foods while adding in foods made from scratch and whole grains.

Let me be clear on what I mean by “made from whole grains.” I mean food made with the whole brown rice, millet, quinoa, oats grain/kernel, not flakes or flour made by grinding up these grains and seeds. I mean food made with the whole wheat berry, if you eat wheat, not bread or cookies or waffles or pancakes made from whole wheat flour. I mean whole oat groats, not oatmeal.  Grinding a grain into flour increases its glycemic load, meaning it can raise your blood sugar very quickly.

Looking for dessert recipes that aren’t too sweet and don’t have too much sugar? Try these favorites:
Fennel Vanilla Panna Cotta
“I Am Bright” Avocado-Lime Pie
Maple Fruit Compote with Honey Ginger Toasted Nuts

Maria Rickerkt Hong is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor who received her training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She specializes in recovery from symptoms of autoimmune, neurological, behavioral and digestive disorders, as she has recovered her own sons from Sensory Processing Disorder, asthma and acid reflux. She can be reached at maria@mariarickerthong.com