Sugar and the Microbiome
The no-sugar diet is popular for many reasons, including avoiding empty calories, stopping cravings, and cutting an addiction. Sugars leave you hungry and craving more, while a diet high in fiber and nutrients will leave you full and fueled. People who embark on the no-sugar diet often don’t realize that cutting sugar out of their diets can positively affect their gut health. Many find improved microbiome health as an added bonus once pumping the breaks on their sugar intake, but due to the enormous benefits, it’s reason enough to cut back on sugar simply to improve your gut. One of the best and fastest ways you can begin healing your microbiome is to dial back the sugar.
The microbiome is home to all of the beneficial bacteria and fungi in the body. A healthy gut is responsible for regulating the immune system, balancing blood sugar, helping the body absorb nutrients, and for calming stress and emotional responses. A weakened gut hinders its ability to carry out these essential tasks.
In order for probiotics to thrive, they must feed on prebiotics, or plant-based fibers from whole foods. It’s no surprise then that the bad bacteria and fungi in the microbiome feed off of sugar! A high-sugar diet allows harmful bacteria and fungi to grow while decreasing the amount of good bacteria and fungi.
You may have also heard the gut coined as the “second brain.” When your microbiome isn’t in optimal shape, your cognitive function may suffer. Some doctors even refer to Alzheimer’s disease as “Type 3 diabetes” because of the affect elevated blood sugar levels and insulin resistance has on cognitive decline.
Cutting back on sugar does not mean you should turn to artificial sweeteners. Regular consumption of artificial sweeteners may have negative effects on the microbiome, leading to metabolic disorders and obesity.
Sugar’s Many Names
In order to maintain your microbiome health, avoid added sugars like sucrose, fructose, or glucose. While these sugars occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, they are also added as sweeteners to processed foods. In general, sticking to a whole foods diet will help you naturally avoid too much sugar. You may not be able to avoid natural sugars in your whole foods, but you can be a label-reading expert to make sure you don’t consume unnecessary sugar.
High-fructose corn syrup is a corn-based liquid sweetener made of fructose and some glucose. Given its ubiquity in processed foods, this sweetener is a common culprit behind weight gain and poor heart health.
Common artificial sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin. These are non-caloric, but they may have drawbacks.
Sugar alcohols, like sorbitol, xylitol or mannitol, won’t cause dental issues like most sugars, but they can cause bloating and diarrhea in some people.
If you must have sweetener in your coffee or healthy treats, opt for honey, agave, maple syrup, dates, coconut sugar, stevia, or fruit juice. But everything in moderation! Even “healthy” alternatives can have their consequences if you over-indulge.
How to Quit Sugar
Quitting sugar cravings can be a bit of a challenge, but the fastest way to stop reaching for sugary foods is to go on a no-sugar challenge. For ten days, avoid added sugars and naturally occurring sugars in fruits. This type of detox will have you craving fewer sweets and more natural, whole foods. Swap your fruit smoothies for green smoothies made with dark, leafy greens, beets, and water or nut milk.
Once you’ve begun cutting back on sugar, try pumping the brakes on refined carbohydrates and processed foods too. If you can cut back in all three of these areas, you’ll have improved gut health.
Promote a Healthy Microbiome
Support your microbiome from the overconsumption of sugar by pairing your sugar detox with a prebiotic and probiotic. Eat a diet high in plant-based foods to increase your fiber intake. Lastly, take time for relaxation and exercise—two essentials for a healthy gut.