Today, the average American consumes almost 60 pounds of added sugar per year, which translates to about 17 teaspoons a day. Despite this mass overconsumption of sugar by Americans, it is well understood that eating too much sugar is bad for your health. It contributes to weight gain, cavities, acne and long-term health problems like type 2 diabetes, cancer, liver disease, heart disease, dementia, mood disorders, and metabolic issues.
While most people know that sugar is not doing them any favors, the reality is much more serious than that: Sugar directly impacts your biology in addictive ways. Research presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual conference shows that sugar actually activates the reward center of your brain—the same one that lights up from cocaine and heroin. The stimulation of these neural pathways is reinforced every time we eat sweets and causes the brain to become increasingly hard-wired to crave sugar on a regular basis.
Even if you don’t think you eat a lot of added sugar, after you start to look at your diet, I bet you’ll find sugar is hiding in more places than you thought—like the smoothie you grabbed from the juice bar, the dressing at your go-to salad spot, the tomato sauce with your favorite dinner, and let’s not forget that after-dinner chocolate.
If you just read that and thought, “Crap!” you’re not alone. It’s not your fault. We’ve all been trained to think of fat as the enemy instead of sugar, which is likely why sugar overconsumption is so common.
It wasn’t until a September 2016 paper published in JAMA, a prominent American medical journal, that most of the medical community really started to understand the impact sugar may be having on our health. The paper unveiled the truth: that a major Harvard study in the 1960s, which blamed fat and cholesterol for heart disease and obesity (and downplayed the role of sugar), was actually sponsored by the Sugar Research Foundation, a trade group that advocates for the U.S. sugar industry.
Here is why sugar is so problematic. Eating too much refined sugar causes systemic internal inflammation. Studies show that sugar increases key biomarkers of inflammation in the body such as C-reactive protein (CRP). Over time, regular overconsumption of refined sugar keeps the body in a prolonged, chronic state of inflammation, which is a key contributor to the acceleration of cellular aging and the development of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. To date, more than 8,000 scientific papershave been published on the negative health effects of added sugar.
So how can you break the cycle? I find that a short refined sugar detox works for many of my patients at Parsley Health who struggle with sugar overload in their diet. A refined sugar detox can help to effectively balance blood sugar levels, improve digestion, and reduce inflammation—while helping to ultimately curve cravings.
The idea of a refined-sugar detox isn’t about deprivation. It’s about ensuring you’re getting your daily requirement of carbs and sugars from natural, whole food-based sources such as fresh fruit, starchy vegetables, and whole grains rather than processed foods like bagels, pizza, cookies, and those on-the-go “nutrition” bars.