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?
Like other carbohydrate sources, sugar plays a strong role in our reward systems. Once you have a taste, your dopamine spikes up, leaving you begging for more.
Unfortunately, this can be a vicious cycle that often leads to weight gain, inflammation, or even worse — chronic disease. In fact, even some ‘low carb’ sweeteners can still trigger that same dopamine response due to the sweetness your body reacts to.
This leads us to the question of what exactly is sugar and why does it create this strong response from our body?
What is Sugar?
First, it’s important to point out that there are a few different types of sugar that 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 for the sweetest monosaccharide and is present in most fruits as well as honey.
Unlike monosaccharides that only have one ring structure holding their atoms together, disaccharides have two rings.
These create more work for your body because it has to go through the process of breaking down the disaccharides. Just like anything, your body has to first 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 that are made up of many units of glucose and different bonds keeping them together.
Polysaccharides are important due to their ability to store energy as well as 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. In fact, you can find alongside of 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 can began making its way to the Philippines and then to India, where it started the revolution of refining sugars.
But what does ‘refined’ sugar mean?
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 gone through a chemical process that removes different elements — some of the elements being beneficial nutrients.
Refined sugars are the sugars responsible for the rapid raise in blood sugar levels. Needless to say, it’s not great for your health — and definitely not optimal for a low carb diet.
In fact, one cup of refined sugar has about 265 grams of total net carbs with no noteworthy nutritional value or fiber.
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 just be out of the question for you. 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 crave so much.
While refined sugar should be avoided completely due to its damaging effects to the body, there are some healthier low carb sugar substitutes.
These options would be fine on low carb or ketogenic diet if you’re in need of 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 down the line. 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.
In fact, a study done in 2014 showed that individuals consuming 17 to 21 percent of their total calories from sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who received only eight percent 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 rather terrifying study. In 2013, they demonstrated that for every 150 calories of sugar an individual ingests a day, they actually increase their risk of type 2 diabetes by about one percent. That’s as much as drinking a single can of soda once a day[*].
Gulp, is right.
#4: Increased Chance of Leaky Gut Syndrome
It turns out, sugar may affect much more than originally thought. Not only does sugar negatively affect blood sugar and heart health, but it tears up your gut microbiota as well. This creates a majority of issues, but the main concern is leaky gut symptoms.
This means that substances from the gut can leak into the bloodstream which can ultimately lead 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 whatsoever. However, there are some great low carb sugar substitutes that give you that same sweet taste without the damaging effects that sugar puts on your body. These substitutes are low carb friendly when used in moderation 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 types of ketogenic diets. One of those diets being 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 that need to refill their glycogen stores, such as athletes that have extremely intense workouts and are unable to completely refill their glycogen stores on a strictly ketogenic or low carb diet.
Sugar is not low carb or ketogenic friendly.