Are you a sugar addict?
Almost everyone everywhere around the world is a sugar addict. We all love sugary foods and drinks because it is good for the taste. Candies, chocolates, ice cream, pastries, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, sugary drinks- who can resist?
Now, is there anything bad about this sweet stuff? There’s nothing wrong about it but those sweet kinds of stuff should be taken in moderation.
Sugar is a carbohydrate. Simple carbohydrates are either monosaccharides (one sugar molecule) or disaccharides (two sugar molecules). It is found naturally in most plants, but especially in sugarcane and sugar beets. The “table sugar” or “granulated sugar” most customarily used as food sweetener is sucrose, a disaccharide of glucose and fructose. Sucrose is actually two simpler sugars stuck together: fructose and glucose. The main reason why sugar is so unhealthy is because it is loaded with fructose. Regular table sugar (sucrose) is 50% fructose, 50% glucose. Due to the high amount of fructose, it can also lead to insulin resistance and all sorts of metabolic problems when consumed.
Simply put, sugar and sweeteners are drugs that just so happen to be legal. Like many drugs, sugar isn’t necessarily bad unless you consume too much. When you ingest sugar, it gets released into the bloodstream and your blood sugar level rises. Your pancreas then secretes insulin to stabilize this blood sugar level and excess much of the sugars get moved to the liver where it can be further processed or excreted with urine. The way in which your pancreas excretes insulin is called the insulin response and putting too much stress on it can wear it out. This can lead to things like weight gain and long term risks like diabetes and hypoglycemia if left unchecked.
Glycemic Index is measured between 0 and 100 of how fast carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels. The faster carbohydrates break down and raise blood sugar, the higher the glycemic index. Low glycemic index foods are usually preferred because they raise blood sugar levels more slowly and are less detrimental to the insulin response. Foods that have a GI of 70 or more are considered to be high.
Today, you can find sugar in almost all of the food we eat in one form or the other. It’s in all the expected foods but we might not realize it’s also in a lot of other foods where we would not expect it. Our daily intake of sugar averages 95 grams which might not sound like a lot but that add up to about 77 pounds per year. The only American heart association recommends a daily intake of 36 grams for an adult male, 20 grams for an adult female and 12 grams for kids. But with the level of sugar intake currently, a lot of people are already way over the limit. As a result, obesity has become a major issue with 1 in 3 adults and 2 in 5 kids showing various degrees of it. Candies, cakes, ice cream, chocolate, apple pies, soft drinks are foods that are hard to resist.
Sugar can be as addictive as drugs and alcohol and is very difficult to avoid due to its presence and addition to many food items. Consuming, or even just thinking about, sugar can stimulate the brain and release dopamine into your system, which is a process of addiction. Sugar not only tastes good but is also potentially addictive. Consuming or even thinking about sugar can trigger a dopamine release, a neurotransmitter that controls pleasure and reward-motivated behavior, into your system. Studies have shown that sugar can be as addictive as drugs and alcohol. When you consume it, you feel the same pleasure like you are into drugs. It is, however, more difficult to avoid sugar as there are thousands of packaged food items in grocery stores today with about 80 percent of them containing added sugars. The main problem, however, comes from what we drink and not what we eat. Drinking a single one of any of today’s popular beverages you’re already gone over the daily recommendation of 36 grams. The average can of soda contains about 40 grams of added sugar, while bottles have around 42 grams and one Starbucks coffee contains about 47 grams of added sugars.
Once addicted, like any other drugs of abuse, withdrawal from chronic sucrose exposure can result in an imbalance in dopamine levels and be as difficult as going ‘cold turkey’ from them. It is also found in a separate study that chronic exposure to sucrose can cause eating disorders and change the behavior of individuals.
Sugar addiction seems casual, but don’t be fooled. Starting from infancy, sugar can quickly become a habit that is hard to break. Once you have that sweet taste, you need more. If you quit sugar cold turkey, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms of sugar addiction, including feeling tired, cranky, and sick.
Sugar used to be a condiment. Now, it’s a staple. Just as with alcohol, we have a limited capacity to metabolize it before it does damage. Our bodies can handle sugar in small doses, using insulin to break it down and use it as energy. But beyond a certain amount, it is converted into fat. This has two important effects. Firstly, you get fat. And secondly, after the initial hit, your blood sugar level falls lower than it was to start with, meaning you need a bigger hit to satisfy you next time.
Over the past year, there’s been a mass of revelations about the way sugar consumption impacts on our health. It causes more obesity than saturated fat, it’s the root of that worldwide diabetes epidemic, and it creates a hospitable environment for cancer, anxiety, poor concentration, and premature aging.
Sugar is more rewarding and addictive than cocaine. In studies on rats, sugar affected the dopamine and endorphin receptors, which are part of the reward system. The more sugar they had, the more those receptors shut down. It’s a process called down-regulation, which means you need more and more sugar to get the same effect. When you give up sugar, it takes up to a week for your body to re-sensitize to your natural dopamine and for your blood sugar levels to even out. That’s when your energy starts to come back.
Harmful Effects of Excess Sugar
Sugar causes blood glucose to spike and plummet. Unstable blood sugar often leads to mood swings, fatigue, headaches and cravings for more sugar. Cravings set the stage for a cycle of addiction in which every new hit of sugar makes you feel better temporarily but, a few hours later, results in more cravings and hunger. On the flip side, those who avoid sugar often report having little or no cravings for sugary things and feeling emotionally balanced and energized.he complex carbohydrates found in vegetables, grains, and fruits are good for you; the simple sugars found in sodas, candies, icings, and packaged treats can do harm, at least when eaten in excess. Excess sugar depresses immunity. Studies have shown that downing 75 to 100 grams of a sugar solution (about 20 teaspoons of sugar, or the amount that is contained in two average 12-ounce sodas) can suppress the body’s immune responses. Simple sugars, including glucose, table sugar, fructose, and honey caused a fifty- percent drop in the ability of white blood cells to engulf bacteria. In contrast, ingesting a complex carbohydrate solution (starch) did not lower the ability of these white blood cells to engulf bacteria. The immune suppression was most noticeable two hours post-ingestion, but the effect was still evident five hours after ingestion. This research has practical implications, especially for teens and college students who tend to overdose on sodas containing caffeine and sugar while studying for exams or during periods of stress. Stress also suppresses immunity, so these sugar-users are setting themselves up to get sick at a time when they need to be well.
Sugar increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Large-scale studies have shown that the more high-glycemic foods (those that quickly affect blood sugar), including foods containing sugar, a person consumes, the higher his risk for becoming obese and for developing diabetes and heart disease. Emerging research is also suggesting connections between high-glycemic diets and many different forms of cancer. Sugar interferes with immune function. Research on human subjects is scant, but animal studies have shown that sugar suppresses immune response5. More research is needed to understand the exact mechanisms; however, we do know that bacteria and yeast feed on sugar and that, when these organisms get out of balance in the body, infections and illness are more likely.
A high-sugar diet often results in chromium deficiency. It’s sort of a catch-22. If you consume a lot of sugar and other refined carbohydrates, you probably don’t get enough of the trace mineral chromium, and one of chromium’s main functions is to help regulate blood sugar. Scientists estimate that 90 percent of Americans don’t get enough chromium. Chromium is found in a variety of animal foods, seafood, and plant foods. Refining starches and other carbohydrates rob these foods of their chromium supplies.
Sugar accelerates aging. It even contributes to that telltale sign of aging: sagging skin. Some of the sugar you consume, after hitting your bloodstream, ends up attaching itself to proteins, in a process called glycation. These new molecular structures contribute to the loss of elasticity found in aging body tissues, from your skin to your organs and arteries. The more sugar circulating in your blood, the faster this damage takes hold.
Sugar causes tooth decay. With all the other life-threatening effects of sugar, we sometimes forget the most basic damage it does. When it sits on your teeth, it creates decay more efficiently than any other food substance. For a strong visual reminder, next time the Tooth Fairy visits, try the old tooth-in-a-glass-of-Coke experiment—the results will surely convince you that sugar is not good for your pearly whites.
Sugar can cause gum disease, which can lead to heart disease. Increasing evidence shows that chronic infections, such as those that result from periodontal problems, play a role in the development of coronary artery disease. The most popular theory is that the connection is related to widespread effects from the body’s inflammatory response to infection.
Sugar affects behavior and cognition in children. Though it has been confirmed by millions of parents, most researchers have not been able to show the effect of sugar on children’s behavior. A possible problem with the research is that most of it compared the effects of a sugar-sweetened drink to one containing an artificial sweetener. It may be that kids react to both real sugar and sugar substitutes, therefore showing no differences in behavior. What about kids’ ability to learn? Between 1979 and 1983, 803 New York City public schools reduced the amount of sucrose (table sugar) and eliminated artificial colors, flavors and two preservatives from school lunches and breakfasts. The diet policy changes were followed by a 15.7 percent increase in a national academic ranking (previously, the greatest improvement ever seen had been 1.7 percent)
Sugar increases stress. When we are under stress, our stress hormone levels rise; these chemicals are the body’s fight-or-flight emergency crew, sent out to prepare the body for an attack or an escape. These chemicals are also called into action when blood sugar is low. For example, after a blood-sugar spike (say, from eating a piece of birthday cake), there’s a compensatory dive, which causes the body to release stress hormones such as adrenaline, epinephrine and cortisol. One of the main things these hormones do is raise blood sugar, providing the body with a quick energy boost. The problem is, these helpful hormones can make us feel anxious, irritable and shaky.
Sugar takes the place of important nutrients. According to USDA data, people who consume the most sugar have the lowest intakes of essential nutrients––especially vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, vitamin B-12, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. Ironically, those who consume the most sugar are children and teenagers, the individuals who need these nutrients most.
If you answered ‘yes’ to five or more of these questions, you could be a sugar addict. Your relationship with food may be stuck in a destructive pattern. Perhaps you comfort eat or binge. Perhaps sugar (including processed carbs and junk food) fills a greater void in your life than just satisfying a physical craving.
- Do you make excuses for your sugar use?
- Do you make special trips to the store or coffee shop to satisfy your sweet tooth?
- Do you reward yourself with sweet treats?
- Do you have a secret sugar stash or binge on sugar when you’re alone?
- Have you tried to cut back but can’t seem to stop?
- Do you crave a sweet treat after lunch or dinner?
- Do you eat sweet, starchy or fatty foods until you are over-full?
- Do you feel hungry even after eating a full meal?
- Do you eat large quantities of sweets or stodgy foods even when you’re not feeling particularly hungry?
- Do you feel ashamed (self-loathing, disgusted or depressed) about your eating habits?
- Do you turn to sugar when you are feeling down or upset?
- When things are bad, do you find you need more and more sweet foods to feel better?
- Do you plan to eat a small portion (such as one biscuit), but end up binge-eating (demolishing the whole packet)?
- Do you find starchy, sweet or fatty foods the most difficult to cut back on?
- Do you find it difficult to stop once you start eating starches, snack foods, junk foods or sweets?
- Do you think your eating habits have an impact on your social life, work or physical abilities?
- Do you find it impossible to stick to healthy-eating resolutions?
- Do you eat sweets and chocolates secretly and hide the wrappers because you don’t want anyone to know?
- If you cut yourself one piece of cake, do you find yourself coming back for more and more?
- Do you get a foggy head after big meals (or mid-afternoon)?
- Do you eat sugary foods past the point you intended?
- Do you eat sugary foods until you don’t feel well?
- Do you crave simple carbohydrates?
- Do you crave meat or salty foods?
How to Beat Sugar Cravings for Good
Cravings mean that the body is missing something. It’s normally caused by a lack of nutrients in the body, but it can also be for emotional reasons. The key to reducing sugar cravings is to focus on having a healthy diet by adding real, wholesome foods to it. The more we eat whole and fresh foods, the more we nourish our body, and the more the desire for sugary foods decreases.
It’s also important to be more connected with ourselves so we can see what we truly need instead of using food as a way to reduce stress and pain, or as a way to fill something that’s missing inside of us.
Here are the things you can do to reduce sugar cravings:
- Eat foods that are high in the mineral magnesium. These include dark leafy greens, raw cacao, nuts and seeds, brown rice, quinoa, and avocado. Sugar cravings may actually be a result of magnesium deficiency.
- Eat foods high in the mineral chromium. Chow down on broccoli, sweet potatoes, apples, whole grains, and pastured eggs. Chromium regulates blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and helps to reduce sugar cravings.
- Eat foods high in zinc. Zinc is abundant in whole grains, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, pastured eggs, and oysters. Zinc from animal sources is absorbed better because it does not contain phytates. Zinc is needed for insulin and glucose utilization, and a deficiency can lead to sugar cravings.
- Spice up your meals with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. These spices will not only naturally sweeten your food, but will also help balance your blood sugar and reduce sugar cravings.
- Eat a teaspoon of extra-virgin coconut oil three times a day. This will help boost metabolism, nourish the brain, and reduce sugar cravings. Add coconut oil to your smoothies, soups, and stir-fries.
- Consume fermented foods and beverages. Start eating cultured vegetables and drinking coconut kefir. Sour food helps naturally reduce sugar cravings and, at the same time, provide probiotics, which support digestive health.
- Make sure you consume healthy fats with your meals. They provide satiety and they help to keep your blood sugar stable. Healthy fats include those found in avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut, extra-virgin olive oil, and the natural fats found in animal products such as wild salmon and pastured eggs.
- Cut back on caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods. Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate the body and can lead to mineral deficiencies. Processed foods have a tendency to be very high in sugar and salt, which both lead to sugar cravings. However, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s OK to have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine occasionally. It’s all about moderation.
- Supplement with amino acid L-glutamine. L-glutamine helps to reduce, and even eliminate, sugar cravings. It also helps to heal the digestive tract and supports the immune system. If you’re on medication, talk with your health care practitioner before supplementing.
- Make sure you stay hydrated with fresh water and herbal teas. Dehydration is linked to food cravings. You should be drinking about half your body weight in ounces of water daily. Add a slice of lemon to your water to improve the taste if needed.
- Get adequate sleep and exercise regularly. When tired, we have the tendency to eat sugary foods. Exercising regularly will help to boost energy levels and reduce stress.
- Ditch artificial sweeteners. Although diet soda or sugar-free gum has been known to help many dieters get through a rough patch, cut out on aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, even stevia — since large amounts can make you desire sweet food. It actually changes your palate, so you need more and more to feel satisfied.
- Manage stress and emotions. Do more of what nourishes your body, mind and soul, and remember that stress is not created by exterior factors but by the way we perceive situations in life.
- Create a backup plan. If sugar cravings feel uncontrollable, think proactively about what kind of distraction will help you overcome them. Eat a piece of fruit.
- Go for a walk. Listen to some music. Call or text a friend. Read a fun article, knowing what we’re going to do ahead of time is what makes all the difference.