Sugar, and Its Not-So-Sweet Impact on Our Health

By: Kate Jay, NTP, CGP

Average reading time: 2.5 minutes

Did you know that sugar is more addictive than cocaine? I’m serious. Sugar is part of our everyday lives. When we celebrate we reach for sugar. When we commiserate we drown our sorrows in sugar. We use it to reward both ourselves and our children. And it’s extremely hard to give up!

Sugar’s Many Aliases

Sugar is hiding in our food chain, too. I challenge you to choose a selection of cans, packets, and jars from the supermarket shelves and study the labels. Try the more surprising choices, such as canned soups and vegetables.

You’ll probably need to google most of the ingredients though, because manufacturers are crafty. They know they can get away with only a certain amount of sugar, so they make up names and slip them in with the hope we don’t understand what they are. D-Tagatose anyone?

They’re not required to note sugar as an ingredient if it’s listed as a specific type—sucrose, dextrose, and maltodextrin, for example, or artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin. This is why there are a confusing number of names for what is essentially the same thing. Yep: the “S” word!

Stressing Out Your PALs

Would it surprise you to know that we should only have 1 teaspoon of glucose (blood sugar) in our bloodstream at any one time? So what happens to the excess when we go over that? Well, some of it goes into the liver and muscles for storage, but the rest is stored in adipose tissue as fat. If we keep eating more, that fat storage builds up.

The primary organs that regulate blood sugar are the pancreas, adrenals, and liver. Think of them as your PALs! Excess sugar forces the pancreas to push out insulin, the hormone responsible for transporting glucose into the cells.

The problem comes when the insulin receptor sites are full, yet glucose is still being delivered. With too much glucose circulating around the bloodstream, the receptor sites become unresponsive. Eventually, we become Insulin Resistant. If left unchecked, Insulin Resistance can lead to pre-diabetes and diabetes itself—along with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.

Excess insulin causes blood sugar levels to fall below the normal range, resulting in a “sugar crash”. At this point, we tend to reach for a pick-me-up to tide us over until the next crash comes along.

When this happens over long periods of time, the pancreas can’t keep up with the demand for insulin. Our adrenal glands now step in and release the hormone cortisol to raise blood sugar levels. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone, and consistently calling on it to get us out of trouble results in inflammation.

Sugar and Thyroid Health

When cortisol becomes involved in raising blood sugar levels, there is added strain on the adrenals. Since they take top billing in the endocrine system, when necessary they steal nutrients and hormonal precursors from the other endocrine organs (which includes the thyroid).

Elevated cortisol levels can affect TSH and decrease T3 production. When cortisol drops too low, it can impair the conversion of T4 to T3. Note, the endocrine system can only be rebalanced once blood sugar and adrenal issues have been addressed.

Sugar and Gut Health

Sugar depletes nutrients, which results in poor mineral absorption, inflammation, elevated blood pressure, and more. It also feeds pathogens such as fungi, bacteria, and parasites—all of which are very common in compromised guts.

Sugar and Weight Management

Cortisol is also known as the fat storage hormone. It stimulates the breakdown of fat and protein into the blood, which then converts to glucose. As mentioned above, excess glucose is stored in adipose tissue, which may then lead to estrogen or androgen dominance.

Sugar and Cravings

Cravings are due to an imbalance in the microbiome. It could be that your body is crying out for nutrients. Or that pathogens of some sort are calling out for your nutrients. Maybe you’re dealing with food sensitivities and your gut is getting a good dopamine-type fix from whatever you’re feeding it. Our bodies often crave the foods we’re most sensitive to.


Sugar Alternatives

I suggest using molasses, honey (raw in unheated foods), or maple syrup whilst weaning yourself off sugar. I love to create treats that are sweetened with fruits and vegetables only—check out my AIP Banana Chocolate Chip Cake and Pear and Parsnip Tea Cake.

It only takes around three weeks for our palates to change, so it can be done. I also love running my RESTART® Program, which is part nutritional education, part sugar “detox”, and a whole lot of group support.

8 Tips to Cut Out Sugar

  1. Increase the vegetables on your plate, concentrating on the non-starchy varieties
  2. Increase the amount of fat you’re eating. Go slowly to ensure you’re able to digest it well
  3. Add more cinnamon to your cooking – it acts as an insulin substitute
  4. Increase hydration – sugar cravings can be our bodies telling us that they need water, not food
  5. Walk in nature – allow Mother Earth and her surroundings to calm any anxiety relating to cravings
  6. Write down an affirmation (such as, “I love my thyroid more than sugar”) on a small card. If you have a craving, read it to reaffirm why you want to cut sugar out
  7. Do this with other people for support. It can be hard to give it up on your own
  8. Stick with it for 3 weeks – that’s how long it takes to break a habit

Our bodies are designed to deal with some stress. However, added stress from sugar takes the body into an inflammatory cycle, which can be hard to break. There is one thing that is absolutely certain, though: When we remove sugar, we remove some of our stress. And that’s a good thing for anyone who wants to feel better.

About the Author

Kate Jay, NTP, RWP, CGP, is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Certified AIP Coach, trained chef and author of the eBook, Healing Eats: 25 Recipes to Heal the Gut while Soothing the Soul. In 2014, Kate founded, a website sharing recipes with those following the Autoimmune Protocol, in addition to other healing diets such as GAPS and SCD. Kate practices Nutritional Therapy, specializing in gut health, blood sugar balance and autoimmune disease wellness, working with clients both online and in Vancouver, BC where she lives. She also runs a 5 Week RESTART® Program, which is part nutritional education, part sugar detox and part support group. The interactive in-person and online courses are kept deliberately small to ensure results.