Quit sugar: The effect of sugar on our guts

When we are stressed or tired, we automatically seek out something sweet to fill an urge. And many of us find it difficult to stop eating sweet foods such as chocolate once we have started.

It is as if, we are biologically hard-wired to crave sugar. In Paleolithic times, that sweetness was probably hard to find and the calories were valuable, and so our bodies today do not know how plentiful sugar is in today’s society and we still have that craving. It’s not your fault that you crave sugar, and it’s perfectly normal.

Sugar in Australia

Australia’s sugar intake has been described by experts as ‘alarming’ with the worst habits among children and adolescents. The 2011 Australian Health Survey of more than 8000 participants found 55% of people consumed more added sugars than recommended. The average American is eating somewhere between 130 and 152 pounds, or 58 to 69kg of sugar a year! 152 pounds of sugar equates to 52 teaspoons a day. If we could see this amount of sugar laid out, I’m convinced we would immediately do something about it. But as it is hidden away in many foods, we simply do not realise how much we are eating.

Sugar and gut health

But is sugar particularly bad when it comes to the gut? It sure is! The microorganisms that live in our gut, that is yeasts, bacteria, protozoa, act in a similar way to a metabolic ‘organ’. Sugar changes the gut microbiota in a way that increases intestinal permeability. It can particularly feed Candida (a type of yeast), and ‘bad’ bacteria that cause inflammation, damage the endothelial lining, causing leaky gut. This allows larger molecules to come into contact with immune cells, which react with further inflammation. These molecules then pass into the blood, and are transported to the liver via the portal vein.

And so the microbiome and intestinal permeability have been reported to be involved in the development of chronic liver disease and portal hypertension (high blood pressure). Intestinal permeability has also been associated with visceral fat (fat around the tummy), presumably as the body uses the fat cells to store the toxic macro-molecules that have entered into the bloodstream. So it seems, leaky gut can make you fat, and that’s not just from all the calories in all that sugar!

Because there is so much sugar in the typical diet, our blood sugar levels are soaring, and high blood sugar has also been shown to increase intestinal permeability directly, at least in mice. These sugar spikes trigger the centers in our brain associated with reward, pleasure, and seeking out the source of that feeling. Amazingly, these are the same areas of the brain that light up in people that are addicted to cocaine, heroin, and nicotine.

It’s not your fault that you crave sugar!

It’s clear that sugar has addictive properties and we need to put in the effort to de-normalize sugar, so it loses its group on us. We can then choose to eat it in small amounts, as a treat, and under our control 🙂. We may find that our energy is more even, our gut is healing, and we have lowered our type 2 diabetes risk.

Retrain your taste buds

You can retrain your taste buds, by eliminating all added sugar from your diet for four weeks

At the end of four weeks without added sugar, your taste buds will have adjusted, and you may find sweetened foods just too sweet for your new tastes. The tea you drank with two teaspoons of sugar, may now taste weird and kind of disgusting. Congratulations!You have now successfully de-normalized sugar!

Added sugar is any form of sugar or sugar alternative added to, or contained in, your food. This includes the raw sugar in your tea, coconut sugar, rice bran syrup, maple syrup, molasses, or agave syrup on your fruit. While there are some metabolic differences between the forms of sugar, your gut and its microbiome don’t discriminate between the type or source of the sugar, or whether it is refined or unrefined. It is all the same:

Sugar = Sugar = Sugar

At the end of four weeks without added sugar, you can introduce a little maple syrup or raw local honey if you want to…

Artificial sweeteners aren’t recommended either as they wreak havoc on the gut by altering the gut microbiota. Small amounts of stevia are probably the best option, although even that may cause gut irritation in some sensitive people.

Removing sugar from our diets for four weeks is part of my Leaky Gut Reset Diet program, starting April 23rd. If you would like some extra support, check it out.