The Five Levels of Sugar
We all know we need to give up sugar. And yet it remains to be one of the most stubborn cravings to control. Research has repeatedly compared sugar to addictive drugs. In this blog, I’m going to talk about sugar facts that prevent us from quitting it.
If you have read my recent blogs, particularly The 5 Levels of Walking and The 5 Levels of Resistance When Starting a Healthy Diet Plan, you will notice that I always look at the five levels of being to assess health, diet, or fitness concepts: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social. Knowing how these things work together make our understanding and our determination to make health changes stronger.
I’m going to talk about sugar from these five levels with the additional of a moral perspective. We all have a physical life, an emotional life, an intellectual life, a spiritual life, and a social life. How can we relate these to sugar? By understanding them from all these different levels, we'll get better at being able to stop eating sugar.
Sugar is a carbohydrate and our body uses it for energy. When we think of sugar, table sugar may come to mind. But there are actually different kinds of sugars. We have fructose, the sugar found in fruit; sucrose, which is your table sugar derived from sugar cane or sugar beets; lactose or the milk sugar, maltose; found in malted foods and drinks; and galactose, which you can find in milk and yoghurt.
Humans love sugar. We are wired to eat sugar, along with salt and fat as these were important to survival in primitive times. I'm going to focus on our sweet tooth and explore the positive and negative sides of this desire for sweetness, particularly how it impacts our lives and the decisions we make.
1. Physical level of sugar
If you eat carbohydrates and sugar, your blood sugar goes up. Your body releases insulin, which is there to allow the sugar to get into your cells to be used as energy. Then we also have a storage mechanism in our body called glycogen, which stores some of the sugars for later use in your liver as well as in your muscles.
If sugar is consumed without any fiber and phytonutrients, it's almost always damaging. The only exception is when you’re going to have an enormous amount of strenuous activity like a marathon where your body is going to need sugar and expend it immediately.
At some point, when people develop metabolic syndrome, their bodies become incapable of handling the sugar the way they used to. One of the things that we want to focus on when we start thinking about sugar, leaving aside the issue of metabolic disease, is how your body reacts to sugar in the presence of other things.
For example, when juices are loaded with lots phytonutrients like pomegranate juice and blackberry juice, and then you compare that to apple juice, there's a different blood sugar response. We should also realize that when sugar is combined with fat or fiber, it's also going to modify the effect on your body. That means that whole fruits are always better than juices, if you are going to consume juice make sure it is nutrient-dense juices like pomegranate or blackberry.
If you have some metabolic issue and you're dealing with early stages of diabetes, then you need to try to avoid sugar as much as possible. But from a physical perspective, sugar is aging your body. When your blood sugar goes up and it drops quickly, you are causing the body to age a lot faster because when your blood sugar goes up, it binds protein. It's irreversibly bound, which means that your blood sugar spikes and the sugar latches onto those proteins forever which damages their function. .
As an example, it could affect your muscles. Over time, this could make your muscles age faster, making you less flexible. Chronic sugar spikes can also damage small blood vessels in your retina, which can affect your eyesight.
Sugar Ages You
Your body is made of all kinds of different proteins and as a result of that, these sugars are actually aging you. In addition to the fact that we are often not active when eating those sugars, there’s going to be an excess energy that will be stored into fat. Certain types of sugars yield more fat than others. For example, if you consume fructose and it's above the level you need, especially if you’re not that active, it hits the liver and gets converted into fat almost instantly.
We do need to be careful with fructose, which is found in fruits, especially if we have issues with blood sugar to begin with. For people who don't have problems with blood sugar and they're eating nutrient-dense fruits in moderation, then it's generally not much of an issue but a benefit.
In the skin, when these sugars are bound to the proteins, it actually causes the collagen, a type of protein in your skin, to change into a different type of collagen with different elasticity. This means you’re going to get more wrinkles.
Keeping your blood sugar steady is actually going to help slow down aging. It's going to increase the strength of your skin, making you look younger. Think about what it's doing to blood vessels in your body and your muscles. From a physical perspective, this sugar spike is something we want to avoid.
Hemoglobin A1C Level
We always need to distinguish whether or not we have an issue with blood sugar. The most readily available test to know this is the Hemoglobin A1C level. Ask your doctor about it. It measures the sugar being bound to protein. It measures the amount of that in the red blood cells. The higher the level, the higher your average blood sugar is.
I think everyone, regardless of whether you think have or don't have an issue with blood sugar, should have his or her Hemoglobin A1C checked. Check it when you’re young and as you get older as it gives a general idea of how much you're actually aging. If your hemoglobin A1C is up, it means you're actually aging faster.
Pay attention to artificial sweeteners. In addition to affecting the gut microbiome, studies have shown that these change the bacteria in your gut, which can have a whole host of effects, one of them being your weight. These also have been shown to increase appetite, which can make it more difficult to stick to your diet plan or to avoid sweets. It's like shooting yourself in the foot. You think you're avoiding the calories, but in reality it’s affecting your gut microbiome and intensifying your cravings. We need to avoid this.
The palate is like a thermostat that can be set to a higher level to appreciate sweetness. Once it’s set to a high level, you would need more sweetness to satisfy your sweet cravings. That's why when I have people go into diets and there's transition to eating fruits, the fruits don’t taste sweet in the beginning.
Obviously, there's a difference in pleasure between having a seven-layer chocolate cake and a cup of blueberries. That being said, there is also a difference to recuperating the natural ability of your palate to appreciate the sweetness in the fruits you're eating. It often takes two to three weeks to recover this appreciation for natural sweetness. Be patient and it will come and one day you will crave blueberry with the same intensity as chocolate cake but without the guilt. I know that might sound hard to believe but I have seen it in thousands of patients since 2000.
Stevia and erythritol seem ok, but the same thing goes with these in regards to recuperating your palate sensitivity, so when you do indulge with those sweeteners, do so in moderation.
2. Emotional level of sugar.
When we eat sugar, it lights up the pleasure centers of our brain. It feels as though we are receiving genuine comfort every time we have sugary treats and get emotional satisfaction from them. I'd like to disassociate the two and just look at it from a medical perspective.
When we eat these sugars, we are getting almost a drug-like effect in our brain that's causing us to feel pleasure. Even with this knowledge, it doesn't mean we can completely disassociate it because we're not robots. We're living in this body and we need to deal with all of these things as they come, but we need to understand that there are emotional considerations that happen that are physically based on eating sugar. Consuming sugar based on our emotions is making us feel pleasure on a physiological level.
Sometimes, certain desserts and sweets are associated with memories and we anchor these treats with things that happened to us in the past. Maybe these remind us of our mothers baking us apple pie or of times when we were celebrating. We anchor with a lot of the physiological response to a previous episode in our past.
Getting to the root source of why you’re eating sugar helps us become more rational about making that decision to eat sweets. Besides comfort and pleasure, there are also other emotions that go into having sweets. Another common emotion is anxiety or stress. I'm sure you may have your own reasons. If you do, let me know in the comments section below.
3. Intellectual level of sugar.
The intellectual component of sugar is the awareness of what happens to your body when you’re eating sugar. Keep in mind the aging process that happens when you eat sugar and also the metabolic damage it can cause.
While it doesn't provide all the strength that you need to avoid sugar completely, the resolve to avoid sugar gets stronger when this intellectual understanding of what sugar does to the body is linked to other levels—physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
4. Spiritual level of sugar.
The Abrahamic religions like Judaism, Islam and Christianity, have the belief that our body is not our own. We are given this body and it's owned by God. As a result, we're supposed to be treating it as a holy receptacle for the holy soul that's within us.
We can look at our bodies from that perspective, that we are more than just our physical body. We have this remarkably miraculous body and even more precious is the soul that's inside. We are given this body for this lifetime and we need to treat it in a way that recognizes this holy soul that is residing inside of us, which in many ways is never tainted by the outside world. It's always precious and always pure inside, encased in this flesh and blood that we have to take good care of.
We have a spiritual obligation to take care of our body in the best way we possibly can. Avoiding all the sugars that we know are damaging our bodies is the spiritual aspect of it.
5. Social level of sugar.
The social level sugar is related to our social interactions. In social interactions, we're pressured to eat in a bad way. Just recognizing and separating out all these different categories gives us a little bit of additional strength or at least additional understanding that we are going to be tested here.
Look at eating in social settings as a test because it is a test. We will always be asked to choose between healthy choices and unhealthy choices. We're always given a choice. This is also reflected in the statement from Exodus that says, “I set before you have life and death. Choose life so that you shall live.”
In each level, we are constantly given these life choices that are either life-affirming or life-denying and you can clearly see this in social situations. Don't let social situations kick you off the health-affirming path and put you on the other fork in the road.
We are given a binary choice, one way or the other. It's either the healthy plate at the social event or the unhealthy plate. The same thing can be said about the conversations you make. It's the healthy conversation or the unhealthy conversation.
If we can visualize it as a choice between the two, then it makes it a little bit easier to come to a decision because it's either yes or no. In a social setting, embark on that life-affirming choice and realize you're on that path. Once you've made your choice, stick with that choice. Also realize when you make that choice, you gain strength and the next time it becomes easier and easier to choose in that same setting. Avoiding cake and bad food used to be hard for me, but over years of learning to say no, it is not even a choice anymore.
6. There is also a moral perspective to all this.
Realize that food companies and marketing companies and even sometimes people around you exploit your natural weakness to sugar which is morally questionable.
We’ve gone through the physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and social levels of sugar plus the moral aspects. These levels work like a rope—the stronger each strand of the rope is, the better you will be at making decisions when it comes to sugar. You can also read about these four nutritional additions to help control your cravings. Join us our Weight Loss Awakening Friendship Group on Facebook to get community support on your health and weight loss journey.