The problem with consuming too much sugar

Sugar addiction

Too much sugar stimulates the production of dopamine and other neurotransmitters to artificially high levels in parts of the brain.

Although this may feel good initially, it is not healthy and stable long-term. This can lead to sugar addiction.

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate molecule containing carbon, hydrogen and oxygen that is necessary for life. You need it in small to moderate amounts. You can’t live without it. Your cells break it down to create energy that fuels the body and its many functions. And sugar tastes good as it is sweet. The trouble is we consume too much of it.

Most nutritional experts recommend an average daily sugar intake of about 30 grams. One teaspoon of sugar equals about five grams. Therefore, total daily sugar intake should be about six teaspoons. Of course, there is some leeway and intake between 25 and 35 grams of sugar per day for adults is reasonable and healthy.
The average Canadian adult consumes, on average, 17 teaspoons, or 85 grams, of sugar per day. One 12-ounce can of soda pop contains an average of eight teaspoons—or between 35 to 40 grams of sugar.

Your whole daily allotment of sugar is exceeded by one can of pop. Remember, sugar is naturally found in varying amounts in fruits, vegetables, grains, cereals, legumes and beans. We easily get our recommended daily dose of sugar in these whole foods.

The main problem is we consume too much added and refined sugar. Yes, your daily double-double, chocolate bar, muffin, cookie or pastry gives you more sugar than you really need. This adds up to a whopping 60 pounds, or about 25 kilograms, of sugar per year.

Simple basic sugars include glucose, galactose and fructose. Two simple sugars attached together include sucrose, lactose and maltose. Sucrose is actually one molecule of glucose attached to one molecule of fructose. Lactose is one glucose molecule of glucose attached to one galactose molecule and maltose is two glucose molecules stuck together.

Starches and fiber are long chains of various sugar molecules attached to each other in sequence. Some types of fibre are non-digestible and are not broken down into smaller units.

Carbohydrates are a classification of foods high in sugar content and rich in starches and fibres. Carbohydrates are further classified as simple or complex depending on their structure.

Simple carbohydrates include sugar, honey, dextrose and all the other plant sugars available including coconut sugar, dates and maple syrup. At the end of the day, they are still refined sugars and simple carbohydrates. Fruits, milk and to a lesser degree vegetables are high in simple carbohydrates.

Simple sugars do not need to be broken down by your digestive system and can be absorbed quickly. These food products tend to raise blood sugar levels quickly.

Complex carbohydrates include foods high in starches and fibres. Examples of complex carbohydrates include grains, cereals, breads, pasta, potatoes, rice, beans and other legumes. These foods contain some simple sugars but are also rich in starches and fibres and perhaps some protein and fat. Because simple sugars are mixed with starches, fibre and other food stuff, they tend to be released more slowly. These food products do not raise blood sugar as quickly as simple carbohydrates.

The brain and nervous system almost entirely use simple sugars for energy. Muscles and the heart, liver and kidneys can use carbohydrates, fats and protein for energy. Because the brain is so dependent on sugar for fuel, many of the symptoms of sugar problems like diabetes, hypoglycemia, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome include neurological signs. Dizziness, light-headedness, numbness, tingling, poor concentration, difficulty with focus, poor memory and mood swings are common signs of sugar problems.

The brain likes sugar. However, the brain and nervous system are better designed to run on a slow and steady release of sugar. When you eat simple sugars, levels of dopamine and, to a lesser degree, serotonin increase in parts of the brain. Higher levels of dopamine make people feel good. It can be addictive.

Drugs like cocaine and metamphetamines can also increase dopamine levels. A big hit of sugar can raise dopamine to levels higher than normal. While euphoric for most, too much dopamine can cause agitation, anxiety and restlessness. While this can feel good at the time, the old saying is whatever comes up usually goes down.

When dopamine levels are low, it can trigger centres in the brain that evoke cravings for the original stimulant. That can result in a yo-yo effect of moods and emotions and other neurological symptoms.

Excess sugar consumption can lead to other health problems like hypoglycemia, diabetes, fatty liver, weight gain, neuropathy and other serious health problems. It would be healthier to decrease the consumption of simple sugars in your diet.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Doug Lobay is a practicing naturopathic physician in Kelowna, British Columbia.

He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and then attended Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences in Seattle, Washington, where graduated with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine degree in 1991. While attending Bastyr College, he began to research the scientific basis of naturopathic medicine. 

He was surprised to find many of the current major medical journals abounded with scientific information on the use of diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.

Doug is a member of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia and has practiced as naturopathic family physician for more than 30 years.  He maintains a busy practice in Kelowna where he sees a wide age range of patients with various ailments.

He focuses on dietary modification, allergy testing, nutritional assessments, supplement recommendation for optimal health, various physical therapy modalities, various intravenous therapies including chelation therapy.

An avid writer, he has written seven books on various aspects of naturopathic medicine that are available on Amazon and was also a long-time medical contributor to the Townsend Letter journal for doctors and patients, where many of his articles are available to view on-line. He has also given numerous lectures, talks and has taught various courses on natural medicine.

Doug enjoys research, writing and teaching others about the virtues of natural health and good nutrition. When not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking, hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis and playing guitar.

If you have any further questions or comments, you can contact Dr. Lobay at 250-860-7622 or [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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