Why we’re addicted:
The first sugar refinery in the United States was built in 1689. Its product, white sugar, was very popular. Shortly after the first refinery was built, colonists began to sweeten their breakfast porridge with sugar, and within 10 years total consumption per person was four pounds a year. Current estimates show that the average American consumes 142 pounds of sugar a year! Sugar qualifies as an addictive substance for two reasons: first, eating even a small amount creates a desire for more, and second, suddenly quitting causes withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, mood swings, cravings and fatigue.
White sugar, a simple carbohydrate, is found in various foods in varying amounts. As the most common form of sugar, this is the refined sugar of the cane or beet plant. Complex carbohydrates, known as starches, are a chain of glucose molecules. Both sugars and starches are found in natural foods such as grains, beans, vegetables and fruit. In their natural state, they are linked together with vitamins, minerals, enzymes and proteins and add to a balanced diet.
Table sugar requires extra effort to digest because it lacks vitamins, minerals and fiber. The refining processing strips necessary nutrients from the sugar, so our body depletes its own store of minerals and enzymes to absorb it properly. Sugar is described as empty calories. Instead of providing the body with nutrition, sugar causes a deficiency. Raw, brown or turbinado sugars, at 96% sucrose, are hardly better than white sugar, which is 99.9% sucrose—they are still highly refined. In the last few years, we have been inundated with products made using organic evaporated cane juice, florida crystals and fructose. These products have been created to seduce “health-conscious” consumers into believing they are having something sweet while still being healthy.
Today we find sugar not only where we’ve come to expect it—in children’s cereals, cakes, cookies and other desserts—but also in such foods as canned vegetables, baby food, bread and tomato sauce. In some cases it is called corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, glucose or fructose. (See More: The Many Names of Sugar)
After a sugar splurge, blood sugar levels go up sharply, then back down quickly often causing mood and energy swings. Many people don’t realize the emotional roller coaster ride that accompanies that sweet, seductive flavor; feelings of happiness and energy for awhile followed by argument with a friend or loved one. These refined sweets, and the standard American diet (SAD) in general, also lead to diabetes and hypoglycemia. Diabetes is when the body does not release insulin to reduce sugar levels in the blood. Hypoglycemia is the opposite, when our blood sugar gets too low and the pancreas cannot release anti-insulin to raise our blood sugar to the proper level. Today half of Americans are hypoglycemic. We crave sweets uncontrollably. We experience unexplained mood swings, anger, tiredness and major binges. If you’re kicking the habit, you’re in for a challenge. The white stuff is sneaky and seductive and wants to keep you hooked.
How to Overcome the Addiction:
- Reach for some fruit! Rather than immediately grabbing a piece of chocolate or a cookie when trying to appease a sweet tooth, try having a piece of fruit instead. Any fruit will do: berries, apples, mangos, peaches, pears, oranges, etc. All of them are better for you than the refined sugar you would be eating otherwise.
- Eat your sweets directly after a meal. If you eat sugar after you’ve had the fiber and fats in a meal, you will not get the same spike and subsequent crash sugar brings on it’s own. The sustained blood glucose levels will be less likely to lead to a craving later – and keep you from the mood and energy swings!
- Eat Breakfast. Breakfast sets the tone for your day. What you eat for breakfast will influence your food choices for the next 12 to 15 hours, subsequently, influencing your energy level, your mood, and your overall health. Typically, your blood sugar is at fasting levels when you wake up in the morning. If you feed a body with fasting blood sugar levels a muffin and a latte, you are choosing to ride the roller coaster. If, on the other hand, you begin your day with a veggie omelet and fruit (or a less-conventional bean burrito with sautéed greens), you are opting for a balance of foods that will ensure slower absorption and a steadier flow of blood sugar, establishing a rhythm that is far easier to maintain than the one fueled by a muffin, bagel or cup of coffee. Studies show that people whose first two meals contain balanced portions of carbohydrates, proteins and fats consume, on average, 2,000 fewer calories a day. By eating breakfast, you are stabilizing your energy and mood, less likely to indulge in sugar, and eating fewer calories throughout the day!
- Always strive to eat before you get too hungry. Eat within an hour of waking up. Since your glucose levels are already low, you don’t want to let yourself get so hungry that your body responds with a desperate need to eat. Desperation rarely informs smart food choices. When we allow ourselves to get very hungry, the body releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. High levels of cortisol affect your ability to lose weight and maintain balance in your life. Also, when you allow yourself to get too hungry, you’re much more likely to grab a candy bar instead of taking the time to prepare or buy a healthy meal.
- Use gentle, natural sweeteners. Natural sweeteners are gentler than the refined white stuff, easier on the body’s blood sugar, and available in most health food stores. Some great examples are honey, agave nectar, stevia and maple syrup (the natural kind, not the kind made with high fructose corn syrup).
- Increase your water intake. Often times, people mistake the need for energy as the need for sugar. One way to immediately boost your energy levels is to increase your water intake. Most of us are constantly dehydrated, which leads to many problems beyond mistaking dehydration for a sugar craving. So, drink up! You should be having at least half your weight in ounces a day (150lbs = 75oz).
- Eat more nutritious foods! When your body has the nutrients it needs, you’re less likely to get a sugar craving! Increase your leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats to ward off those sugar desires. (Note: too much animal protein leads to sugar cravings. Eating only 4-6oz is ideal).
There are many reasons to decrease your sugar intake; sugar suppresses the immune system, interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium, can cause hypoglycemia, increases cholesterol, can cause a rapid rise of adrenaline levels in children, and contributes to obesity arthritis, heart disease, emphysema, osteoporosis, prostrate cancer, ovarian cancer, and of course, diabetes. But, the biggest reason to change the amount of sugar you’re eating is its affect on how you feel on a daily basis, and the subsequent choices you make in regard to your diet. By making these small changes, your health will drastically improve, and you won’t have to worry about the aforementioned health issues, because you will have busted the habit before it became irreversible!
Don’t be overwhelmed. Make the changes slowly, and before you know it, you’ll be saying “What sugar addiction?”