Let’s investigate how refined sugar might be affecting your delicate hormonal balance. In the Western diet, there’s an abundance of hidden refined sugar in everyday foods, making it challenging to avoid. Interestingly, during my first degree, I was taught about deceptive practices used to conceal refined sugar in ingredient lists. While I was trained in these methods, I choose not to employ them.
My aim is to shed light on the impact of refined sugar on your hormonal balance and provide guidance on making choices to eliminate it from your life, thereby preventing its adverse effects on your well-being.
Consuming refined or processed sugar..
It differs from natural fruit sugars, primarily referring to the sugar hidden in packaged and processed foods. When you eat these foods, your blood sugar levels spike quickly. This surge in blood sugar prompts the pancreas to release insulin. The primary role of insulin is to manage and store this elevated blood sugar. The excess blood sugar can be stored in muscles, as fat deposits, and even in the liver.
Insulin’s job is to bring down the elevated blood sugar, as excessively high levels are harmful to the body. If you consistently consume a lot of sugar, your body requires more insulin; over time, the cells can become insulin-resistant. This means the cells stop responding to insulin’s effects, much like when your kids continuously nag for something, and eventually, you tune them out. Insulin becomes background noise for your cells.
As a result, insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar, irregular blood sugar levels, and even pre-diabetes. Weight gain, especially around the waistline, tends to be a common side effect. Many women have noticed unwanted weight gain in their abdominal area, which was less prevalent in previous generations.
Additionally, consuming high-processed sugar-laden foods triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels further increase blood sugar, making insulin’s job even more challenging. Long-term exposure to high cortisol levels often leads to weight gain around the waist and disrupts the balance of crucial reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone. This hormonal imbalance can result in menstrual irregularities, mood swings, irritability, and unexplained weight gain.
The root of the issue lies in maintaining a balance because consistently high blood sugar levels trigger the release of cortisol. Your body interprets elevated blood sugar as a sign of stress as if you need to escape from a threat like a tiger. This heightens your stress response.
The excessive consumption of refined and processed sugars disrupts the function of a vital appetite-regulating hormone called leptin. Leptin signals to your body when it’s time to stop eating. In this case, your body doesn’t receive the signal that you’re full, leading to overeating and persistent cravings. The outcome is weight gain as you eat more than necessary, not realising when you’ve had enough.
You might have experienced moments when, even after finishing a regular-sized meal, you still feel hungry, as if your body isn’t acknowledging fullness. This can result from insufficient leptin signalling to your brain.
As a Western society, our sugar consumption often resembles a rollercoaster ride. We experience highs and lows in blood sugar levels, followed by more highs and subsequent crashes. Initially, you might feel great for about 20 minutes when your blood sugar is high. Then the insulin effect kicks in, dropping the blood sugar, leading to jitteriness, restlessness, and fatigue.
The descent from this “sugar high” can be challenging. You may start to feel irritable, get headaches, experience mood swings, and feel fatigued as you crash from the elevated blood sugar levels. These crashes trigger cravings for more sugary foods, propelling you back up the rollercoaster. The cycle perpetuates itself, resulting in an increased production of insulin, more cortisol, intensified sugar cravings, additional fat storage, and overall overeating. This cycle affects your waistline, moods, and energy levels.
Breaking free from this cycle, putting an end to the rollercoaster, and regaining control over your eating habits are pivotal steps toward a healthier you. Here’s how:
Choose to Eat Whole Foods
One effective strategy to escape this sugar rollercoaster is to transition to whole foods. Whole foods include fruits, which contain natural sugars along with fibre and essential nutrients like chromium, magnesium, and B vitamins. These nutrients support your body in managing blood sugar levels, preventing rapid spikes. Whole foods raise your blood sugar levels more slowly than refined sugars, contributing to a more stable blood sugar profile.
Opt for whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. The more closely a food resembles what comes from the earth or trees, the better it is for your body. Embrace a diverse diet filled with foods of various colours—a rainbow of choices. This approach ensures you receive all the necessary nutrients to sustain hormonal balance, emotional well-being, and a trim waistline.
In addition to choosing whole foods, staying well-hydrated is essential. Often, when you feel hungry and reach for those tempting but unhealthy snacks, you might actually be thirsty. This is because your body’s signals for thirst and hunger are interconnected. In the past, during tribal times, a significant portion of our hydration came from the water content in foods. Consider the high water content in foods like watermelons and lettuce.
Opting for whole foods naturally incorporates more hydration into your diet. However, this isn’t the case in today’s world of processed foods. As a result, we often misinterpret thirst as hunger and end up reaching for processed sugary snacks when all our body truly craves is some hydration.
So, alongside your whole foods, remember to drink plenty of water daily. This practice will help quench your thirst effectively and reduce your cravings for unhealthy snacks.
Read the Labels…
An essential practice for maintaining a sugar-smart lifestyle is examining food labels. Unlike natural foods like apples or bananas, packaged products require ingredient lists. Have you ever wondered why? It’s because these items are crafted in a lab, and food scientists work their magic to make you crave their product over and over, ensuring repeat business. Their primary concern isn’t your health but your return as a customer in a world full of choices.
Please pay close attention to any food with a label and give it a thorough read. Be on the lookout for ingredients with “-ose” at the end of their names, such as sucrose and maltose. These are typically best avoided. Additionally, steer clear of high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, dextrin, and several other chemical-sounding names. The world of sugar-hiding aliases is extensive, and there’s no need to delve into all of them here.
If you’re unsure about a specific ingredient, consider using apps like “The Chemical Maze” to unveil what’s behind those complicated names. This app allows you to type in any ingredient, discover if it’s a sugar, and understand its potential effects on your body. Don’t underestimate the power of reading labels; it’s a good way to make informed, health-conscious choices.
Practice Attentive Eating…
It’s also essential to be mindful when you eat. How often have you rapidly consumed a meal? Perhaps in front of the TV, at your desk while checking emails, or while rushing out the door to drop the kids at school? Have you ever truly enjoyed the taste, texture, and nourishment your food provides? Probably not, as many of us lead busy lives.
When you’re eating, make a conscious effort to sit down, enjoy your meal, and savour the flavours. Pay attention to your body’s responses to the food. Does it make you feel nourished and satisfied? Sometimes, we keep eating because we’re not in the moment and don’t notice when we’re full. Being attentive while eating helps signal when you’re satiated and prevents overeating, that bloated feeling, and the post-lunch energy slump (commonly known as the 2 o’clock slump).
Simply being mindful while eating can positively affect your waistline and overall well-being.
Choose Healthier Alternatives…
If you often crave sugary treats, don’t worry; there are plenty of delicious whole-food snacks to satisfy your sweet tooth while being good for your body.
For instance, you can try making homemade bliss balls by combining dates and cacao. This offers a delightful chocolatey flavour and natural sweetness while providing your body with essential minerals, vitamins, and fibre. These nutrients also help stabilise your blood sugar levels, keeping you feeling more balanced throughout the day and reducing those pesky food cravings. Plus, they support the beneficial gut microbes, contributing to overall health.
By minimising your refined and processed sugar intake, you’ll be on the path to balanced hormones, steady energy levels, and better weight management.
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This is how gut microbes can influence weight!
Probiotics can help you gain weight or lose weight by interacting with our genetics, food and metabolism.
And yes, I did say lose or gain weight……..
Firstly, let me explain that the trillions of microbes in the gut need to be varied, meaning that there should be a large variety of species. There are many different species (or breeds) of microbes, and they all have their place in aiding health — the more variety and balance, the better health results.
Back to the weight loss or weight gain issue….
Do you eat yogurt and berries for breakfast? Thinking that it’s helping you lose weight?
Well, Lactobacillus acidophilus (like the species found in yoghurt) has been connected to weight gain.
I am not saying throw your yoghurt and berries in the bin. Instead, I am suggesting looking at the overall picture. If Lactobacillus acidophilus is the predominant micro-organism of the gut, then weight gain can result.
It is about the variety of species of gut microbes. Imagine if we only have trained german shepherd guard dogs in the world. It may be a safe world, but I am sure that other breeds may be more suitable as a family pet.
While Lactobacillus acidophilus is associated with weight gain, other Lactobacillus species correlate with weight loss.
Species like Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus gasseri, and Bifidobacteria animalis have been found to support weight loss.
Want to lose weight?
Look at your gut flora to support your goal.
Tests can be performed to identify the predominant species of the gut, and specific species can be utilised to support weight changes.
Want more information about your gut health?
Or want to look at all the factors contributing to weight gain, I’d love to be able to help.