Have you ever noticed that when you’ve been consuming a lot of sugar, your body begins to crave it more and more? Yet when you cut sugar out of your diet completely, the cravings stop (after a little while).
Why is that? Does sugar have some magical power over us that completely neglects any impulse control we may have over this satiating taste?
Sugar plays a strong role in our reward systems like other carbohydrate sources. Your dopamine spikes up once you have a taste, leaving you begging for more.
Unfortunately, this can be a vicious cycle that often leads to weight gain, inflammation, or chronic disease. Even some ‘low carb’ sweeteners can still trigger that same dopamine response due to the sweetness your body reacts to.
This leads us to what is sugar and why it creates this strong response from our body?
What is Sugar?
First, it’s important to point out that a few different types of sugar come from different sources. The three types of sugars include:
Simple sugars with only three to seven carbon atoms are in the monosaccharide family, including glucose and fructose.
Glucose is the most important monosaccharide found naturally as it is the key source of fuel for cells to function properly. It’s present in most fruits as well as in your blood. However, fructose takes the cake as the sweetest monosaccharide and is present in most fruits and honey.
Unlike monosaccharides with only one ring structure holding their atoms together, disaccharides have two rings.
These create more work for your body because breaking down the disaccharides has to go through. Just like anything, your body has first to be able to break it down before it can use it for energy.
Maltose is a type of disaccharide that consists of two glucose molecules. Sucrose is another type of disaccharide that consists of glucose and fructose.
Polysaccharides require the most breakdown. They are large chains of simple sugars consisting of many monosaccharides. Starch and glycogen are prime examples of polysaccharides made up of many units of glucose and different bonds keeping them together.
Polysaccharides are important because they store energy and structural support and protection.
Different sugars can be found in different places. For example, sucrose is found in stems of sugarcane and roots of sugarbeet, but that’s not the only place you can find it. You can find fructose and glucose in some fruits and vegetables.
Where Does Sugar Come From?
Sugar is originally native to New Guinea. In 8,000 B.C., the people of New Guinea would chew reeds to enjoy the sweetness. It wasn’t until 2,000 years later that sugar cane began making its way to the Philippines and then to India, where it started the revolution of refining sugars.
We’ve all heard the term refined, and we know by now it’s best to stay away from any food described as such, but what does it mean?
Refined sugar means it has undergone a chemical process that removes different elements — some of which are beneficial nutrients.
Refined sugars are responsible for the rapid rise in blood sugar levels. It’s not great for your health — and not optimal for a low carb diet.
One cup of refined sugar has about 265 grams of total net carbs with no significant nutritional value or fibre.
How Does Sugar Fit Into a Low Carb Diet?
With that type of carb count, you may realize that if you want to try a low carb diet or maintain ketosis, sugar might be out of the question. And for refined or baking sugars, you would be correct.
However, there are still ways to get that dopamine rush from that sweet taste our bodies to crave so much.
While refined sugar should be avoided completely due to its damaging effects on the body, some healthier low carb sugar substitutes are available.
These options would be fine on a low carb or ketogenic diet if you need a healthy sugar substitute when you’re hoping to cook or bake up something delicious.
Perhaps even Keto Cheesecake? Yes, please.
When Should Sugar Be Avoided on a Low Carb Diet?
There’s no question that refined sugar should be avoided at all costs, but what exactly does it do to damage your body?
High sugar intake has been shown to lead to serious health issues. Some of these issues include:
- Increased risk of Cardiovascular Disease
- Increased risk of Fatty Liver Disease
- Higher chance of Type 2 Diabetes
- Increased chance of Leaky Gut Syndrome
1: Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Dietary fats have been taking the blame for this one for a while now. The real enemy behind the risk of cardiovascular disease is sugar.
A study done in 2014 showed that individuals consuming 17 to 21 per cent of their total calories from sugar had a 38 per cent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who received only eight per cent of their total calories from sugar.
2: Increased Risk of Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty liver disease occurs when — you guessed it — fat builds up in the liver. This is referencing non-alcoholic fatty liver, so can you imagine if it factored in alcohol and sugar?
The statistical rise of fatty liver disease is becoming increasingly similar to those high-risk numbers of insulin resistance, obesity, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. This increase is mainly due to the high amounts of high-fructose corn syrup (sugar) found in artificial drinks and processed foods.
3: Higher Chance of Type 2 Diabetes
The journal PLOS ONE published a terrifying study. In 2013, they demonstrated that for every 150 calories of sugar an individual ingests a day, they increase their risk of type 2 diabetes by about one per cent. That’s as much as drinking a single can of soda once a day.
4: Increased Chance of Leaky Gut Syndrome
It turns out that sugar may affect much more than originally thought. Sugar negatively affects blood sugar and heart health, but it also tears up your gut microbiota. This creates many issues, but the main concern is leaky gut symptoms.
This means that substances from the gut can leak into the bloodstream, ultimately leading to obesity and other chronic diseases. This all happens because of the inflammation that sugar creates in the gut in the first place.
So Is Sugar Low Carb Friendly?
When it comes to refined sugar, it’s neither low carb friendly nor is it good for your health to consume. However, some great low carb sugar substitutes give you that same sweet taste without sugar’s damaging effects on your body. When used in moderation, these substitutes are low carb friendly if you’re looking for an alternative when baking or cooking.
If you’re concerned about your sugar intake strictly for your keto macronutrient intake, then a tiny amount would be okay during certain ketogenic diets. One of those diets is the cyclical keto diet (CKD). This diet allows you to have two carb-loading days while maintaining ketosis the other five days of the week.
However, this type of diet is only recommended for those who need to refill their glycogen stores, such as athletes who have extremely intense workouts and cannot completely refill their glycogen stores on a strictly ketogenic or low carb diet.