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Ah, sugar. How can something that tastes so good get such a bad rap? And, how is it able to work its way, basically undetected, into practically everything we eat? Not only is all of the above, well, just darn confusing, it's also exactly what makes navigating the not-so-nice side of sugar feel as out of control as your sweet tooth.
“Many people have a love affair with sugar, and it is easy to see why: It gives us a quick energy and mood boost,” says Sara Vance, a nutritionist in San Diego and founder of Rebalance Life. “But, the downside is that the high is followed by a crash, and that is when we reach for more sugar, which then creates a dangerous cycle that I call the sugar roller coaster. It is no surprise that people can feel ‘out of control’ around sweets.”
The news with sugar isn't all bad. As with all food, sugar has a major impact on the chemicals in the body, some of which can be good for you. “When we eat something sweet, the pancreas releases insulin to deliver the glucose to the cells and in doing so, it provides our cells with fuel." says Vance. This results in that initial burst of energy, and your mood is elevated because that sugar delivers serotonin to the brain.
"When our insulin is working right, it also lowers the elevated sugar levels in the blood. However, many people are eating too many sweets, and doing this too often, which can, over time, create a condition called insulin resistance, where the body is no longer able to as effectively deliver the fuel to the cells, nor lower the levels of sugar in the blood,” she says. “This is unfortunately becoming more of a common problem, which in addition to stubborn weight gain, can lead to diabetes and increased risk of other diseases.”
Because the health effects of sugar are quite serious, we asked experts to weigh in on everything from what happens in the body after a sugar free-for-all to how to identify sugar in all of its various forms. Read on for the straight-up sugar facts. Your sweet tooth is so not gonna like this...
Photographed by Christy Kurtz