(Photo sourced from Parade)

By Kaitlin Vogel / April 29, 2021

We know having that late-night pint of ice cream is usually a bad idea that leads to a not-so-fun stomachache the next day, but let’s be honest: When a sugar craving strikes, the temptation is hard to fight.

And science confirms why those sugar cravings are so intense: Research shows the brain reacts to sugar the same way it does to other addictive substances. Like a drug, the desire to have sugar increases with the length of abstinence.

“Sugar (sucrose) (table sugar is half glucose and half fructose) per se does not cause inflammation,” Dr. Steven Gundry, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon and medical director at The International Heart and Lung Institute Center for Restorative Medicine, explains. “However, the fructose component of sugar now wildly predominates in our processed foods and snacks. Fructose is a major driver of inflammation in our body and a major factor in obesity and diabetes.”

When there’s inflammation, it’s a sign that your body is trying to eliminate toxins.

“Inflammation is the body’s attempt at self-protection to remove harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens and promote the healing process,” says Samantha Murdoch, RD at Lenox Hill Hospital. “Added sugar may exacerbate underlying inflammation or other chronic illnesses like Crohn’s disease or skin conditions like psoriasis. Natural sugar that you may find in fruit may actually help stabilize your blood sugar because it’s paired with fiber along with other beneficial nutrients our bodies need.”

It’s important to understand the difference between natural sugar and added sugar, too. For example, the natural sugar you get from fruit is not the same as added sugar—sugars added by manufacturers to foods to sweeten them.

Natural vs added sugars

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD, host of The Doctor Oz show and professor of surgery at Columbia, breaks down the difference between natural and added sugars, and how sugar is processed in the body.

“Natural sugars” are sugars that naturally occur in fruits, vegetables, dairy and other foods. For example, we may find fructose in fruit and lactose in milk.

Added sugars include any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation (putting sugar in your coffee or adding sugar to your breakfast cereal). This can include natural sugars like brown sugar, honey and white sugar, as well as high fructose corn syrup.

Here’s how it works: When we digest food, sugar enters our blood. Insulin functions to allow the sugar to absorb into our cells for energy. If there is too much sugar intake, insulin stores the excess in our fat cells, allowing them to become larger over time. This can lead to weight gain or insulin resistance.

One study found that those who consumed higher intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages had statistically significant elevated inflammatory markers in their body, compared to those who had a lower intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. Over time, this chronic inflammation may lead to health problems such as diabetes, liver, and heart disease. One theory is that sugar stimulates the production and accumulation of free fatty acids in the liver. This accumulation of fat in the liver may trigger an inflammatory process in the body, over time leading to chronic inflammation and damage.

How added sugar affects your body

Excessive sugar consumption is a nationwide problem. Research shows that people in the United States are consuming too much-added sugar.

“Added sugar prompts the liver to manufacture fat from fructose, which raises triglycerides and bad cholesterol while also promoting fatty liver disease which is now an epidemic in this country,” says Dr. Gundry.

Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, Certified Nutrition Specialist and CEO of VibrantDoc, explains what happens in the body:

Your body needs energy and it gets much of its energy from carbohydrates, which are converted into glucose in the bloodstream. This glucose is then shuttled into cells by insulin, which your pancreas releases in response to the level of glucose in your blood. Sugar is also stored in the liver for easily accessible energy in the form of glycogen. However, if you take in more carbohydrates (and in some cases, more protein) than your cells and liver can hold, that converted glucose has nowhere to go, and that’s when the trouble starts.

Your body isn’t built to deal with excessive sugar, so it can over-produce insulin to try to take care of the sugar, and this can cause blood sugar to drop too low. This can trigger cravings to eat more sugar or simple carbohydrates (any foods made with white flour, or white rice), which can send your blood sugar too high again. This is what some people call the “blood sugar roller coaster,” and it can cause mood swings and anxiety, as well as oxidative stress and damage to the cells of the pancreas.

To get that blood sugar out of the bloodstream as quickly as possible, your body stashes it in places where it won’t do immediate harm. One way your body does this is to create fat cells and put them wherever it can, such as tucked around the liver. This is why fatty liver disease has become so common—even some children have it now!

The stress on the pancreas as it tries to pump out enough insulin to take care of the sugar can also cause insulin receptors to stop working, leading to insulin resistance. Over time, the beta cells in your pancreas that release insulin can get exhausted and eventually die. When the pancreas stops working and insulin no longer has its intended effect, the result is diabetes.

Your body also attaches excess sugar to fat molecules, which create triglycerides, and when those get too high, you are at greater risk of heart disease.

We know, we know: This is a lot to think about. And on top of all that, excess sugar can also attach to protein molecules, forming advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, which age your skin by damaging the collagen and elastin, causing skin to wrinkle and droop.

Since there is no nutritional value in added sugar, it’s best to eliminate it from your diet. When it comes to your health, added sugar is harmful in both the short-term and long term.

In the short-term, consuming too much sugar can cause weight gain, diminished energy, and acne, Dr. Oz states. In the long-term, too much sugar can be a factor in developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions.

Sugar is one of the main causes of weight gain since it affects appetite control. “Consuming too much sugar, in beverages in particular, tricks your body into turning off its appetite-control system,” Dr. Oz adds. “This happens because liquid calories are not as filling as calories from food.”

Long-term health problems caused by added sugar

Chronic overconsumption of sugar can lead to fatty liver disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, premature skin aging, obesity, and depression, says Dr. Stephenson. Every one of these conditions has been associated with inflammation.

A large part of our epidemics of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even dementia can be attributed to the massive increase of added sucrose to our prepared foods, Dr. Gundry explains.

“There is no problem with consuming items with added sugar from time to time, but when one does so frequently and isn’t exercising regularly the energy from the sugar leaves your body in a ‘fed’ state leading to insulin resistance,” says Murdoch. “Basically, your body is used to operating with such high amounts of blood sugar it believes you have just eaten and does not properly process your food into energy anymore, eventually resulting in obesity or diabetes.”

So, how much sugar is too much? According to the American Heart Association (AHA), added sugar should be no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar) for most women and no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for most men.

Lifestyle changes to reduce inflammation

As delicious as it is, sugar does, unfortunately, lead to inflammation. But there are lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the inflammation in your body (in addition to eating less sugar).


Consuming too many calories and being overweight lead to greater levels of inflammatory compounds, Dr. Oz explains. Engaging in regular exercise can aid in weight control and body fat reduction. Aim to do at least 30 minutes of continuous activity most days of the week.

Adopt healthier eating habits

To reduce levels of inflammation, aim for an overall healthy diet.

The most important thing you can do is to eat more whole foods, Dr. Stephenson explains. Whole foods are in their natural form, rather than having parts of foods, like their sugars or oils, extracted and consumed separately. A diet consisting primarily of whole vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, wild-caught seafood, and grass-fed/pastured lean cuts of meat and poultry, without added sweeteners or oils, will immediately begin to restore nutritional deficiencies you may have from eating empty-calorie processed foods.

Want to curb your sugar cravings? Emphasizing whole fruit at first can help to quell cravings for sweet foods, says Dr. Stephenson. Also, foods rich in healthy fats, like avocados, olives, and salmon, can also calm a body “coming down” from a junk food addiction.

Dr. Oz recommends the Mediterranean diet and incorporating these anti-inflammatory foods in your diet:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards
  • Nuts like almonds and walnuts
  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
  • Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges

Another useful tip is to replace your cooking oils. Murdoch recommends replacing your omega-6-saturated cooking oils with macadamia oil, extra virgin olive oil, or other edible oils with a more balanced omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids ratio. Macadamia oil, for instance, has an almost one-to-one ratio of omega-6:3 fats, and it is also rich in oleic acid, a heart-healthy, monounsaturated fatty acid.

Also, the next time you’re at the grocery store, be sure to read food labels. Steer clear of foods that have a lot of added sugar and list ‘sugar’ as the first or second ingredient.

“Look for alternative products that contain no trans fats and that do not have ‘partially hydrogenated oils, ‘hydrogenated’ oils or ‘vegetable shortening’ in the ingredients list,” Murdoch suggests. “When in doubt, it’s safer to assume that all commercially prepared foods contain trans fats unless stated otherwise.”

EPA/DHA supplements

These supplements have also been shown to reduce inflammation. Dr. Stephenson recommends adding these to your routine, to augment your whole-food diet and moderate exercise (but not to replace them).

See the original article @ Parade

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