The Changes Your Body Goes through When you Quit Sugar

The sweet stuff, once thought to be harmless, has been creating a stir recently with new research suggesting that excess sugar is a key dietary factor contributing to a range of life-style related health problems.

One of the problems with sugar is that it is addictive.  Studies have shown that sugar creates a similar response in the reward/pleasure centres within the brains of animals as drugs of addiction such as cocaine.  This is because sugar stimulates the same pleasure-centres within the brain as drugs of addiction such as cocaine, nicotine and alcohol [1].  Whilst the addictiveness of sugar is obviously much less than street drugs, it is much easier to access and most of us have been eating too much sugar on a daily basis for many years.  Often sugar is hidden in the foods we are eating and people can eat well over the recommended daily sugar intake without even realising.  With the combination of addiction, easy access and habit, it is little that wonder shaking our sweet tooth can be quite a challenge.

Immediate

Due to the similarities between sugar addiction and drug addiction, the immediate effects of suddenly abstaining from sugar mimic those of withdrawal.  You may notice headaches, fatigue, shakiness or anxiety.  Some people may notice disruption to sleep and a general feeling of being unwell.  These symptoms occur because it takes time for the receptors in your brain and body that are usually stimulated by sugar to adapt to the reduced level of sugar in your blood.

In order to help manage these initial symptoms, drink plenty of water, participate in gentle exercise, this can be particularly helpful in dealing with cravings, and focus on consuming a healthy diet with plenty of protein and fibre.

Alternatively, gradually reducing the amount of sugar in your diet can help to avoid the withdrawal symptoms associated with a sudden drop in sugar intake.

Medium Term

Once your body recovers from the initial shock of quitting sugar, it will start to become accustomed to a limited sugar intake.   Reduced sugar intake has a range of positive effects on the body, most importantly; your blood sugar levels remain more stable.  Sugar intake results in a sharp peak in blood sugar levels; this then stimulates a large release of insulin, the hormone responsible for reducing your blood sugar levels by transferring sugar into your cells.  This brings your blood sugar levels plummeting back down and is responsible for the post-sugar low we are all familiar with.  By avoiding these sudden peaks in blood sugar levels, you’ll notice that your energy levels are more consistent throughout the day and you don’t feel the need to pep yourself up with a 3pm chocolate bar hit.

Long Term

Sugar is a risk factor for a range of health conditions.  High sugar intake has been associated with an increased risk for hypertension, altered blood cholesterol levels coronary artery disease, kidney disease and diabetes [1, 2].  Thus by abstaining from sugar, your risk of developing these conditions is reduced.  In addition, high sugar intake is closely related to the development of dental caries and poor dental health[3] thus you may see improvements in the health of your teeth at your next visit to the dentist.

Sugary foods are often rich in calories and poor in vitamins and minerals.  Replacing your afternoon sugar hit with a nutrient dense snack not only reduces your total calorie intake but improves your intake of health promoting vitamins.  As such reducing your sugar intake can help to improve weight management and promote general wellbeing.