Sugar addiction is very real and it causes serious health problems. The good news is that it’s possible and not all that hard to get over it.
For those critics who don’t believe sugar addition is real, I’ll refer to studies that proved the similarities between sugar addiction and cocaine addiction. That’s a pretty bold statement, but the fact is that every cell in your body runs on sugar. And like any drug, sugar stimulates the secretion of dopamine, the happiness hormone, which stimulates the brain’s reward centre. The more sugar you eat, the more you strengthen this mechanism.
The similarity also extends to dips in your blood glucose levels: when sugar is used up by your cells, your blood sugar drops. And that’s followed by fatigue, a rotten mood and aggressiveness. In children, the harmful effects of sugar have been demonstrated and linked to hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder and aggressiveness. The week after Halloween must be an especially tough one for teachers!
The sugar mechanism
The sugar mechanism is relatively simple. You eat sugar, which is quickly converted into glucose and your blood sugar level increases. To use sugar as energy, your pancreas secretes the hormone insulin to help glucose penetrate the cells. Your blood sugar drops and you feel drained.
When all the sugar in your blood can’t immediately be used as energy, it’s turned into fat for storage. That’s how sugar makes you gain weight. It is also linked to numerous health problems including diabetes, excess weight, high blood pressure, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, tooth decay and even cancer.
Sugar is part of a healthy and well-balanced diet, but added sugar isn’t.
Your body has no need for added sugar, given that sugar naturally occurs in many foods including starches, fruits and dairy products. Regardless of its source, your body converts sugar into glucose and breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars, which have the same effect as “normal” sugar. Some people say there’s no difference between the sugar in a smoothie and the sugar added to soft drinks.
In truth, while the sugar molecule is the same, when it comes from natural sources, it’s surrounded by other nutrients (fibre, minerals, etc.) that slow the decomposition process and doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar. The same logic applies to white and whole wheat flour: the fibre that encloses the latter slows absorption and allows for a more stable blood sugar level.
The first step in cutting sugar consumption is knowing how to spot it. In the ingredients list, sugar can take a number of forms, including:
- Brown rice sugar
- Corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
- Malt syrup
- Agave nectar or syrup
Next, you need to train your tongue to appreciate other flavours. The more sugar you eat, the more sugar you’ll want to eat. The opposite is also true. Don’t try to cut out sugar cold turkey! It’s better to change your eating habits gradually. Start by skipping dessert and cutting sugar from your coffee. Then try removing one sweetened food from your diet each week.
These few ideas will enable to you cut your sugar consumption without too much difficulty:
- At breakfast, replace industrial breakfast cereals with natural oats combined with fresh, frozen or pureed fruits. If you’re more of a toast and jam kind of person, have whole grain bread with natural peanut or nut butter that’s free of added sugar.
- Work more fruits, vegetables and water into your diet.
- Get more fibre: it keeps you feeling fuller for longer while providing energy. Look for it in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- Eating more protein will make sugar cravings more rare. Foods rich in protein take longer to digest and don’t increase blood sugar levels.
- Add sugar yourself: take cottage cheese or plain yogurt and add some maple syrup or honey. These sugars aren’t refined and contain other components that slow their absorption so they won’t cause blood sugar spikes. What’s more, when you add sugar yourself, you’ll never put as much as found in prepared goods!
- Take the number of grams of sugar listed in the nutrition information and divide by 4 to get one teaspoon. Conversely, one teaspoon is equivalent to 4 grams of sugar. Think about it:
- 22 g of sugar in a 200 ml bottle of drinkable yogurt: 5.5 tsp
- 4 g of sugar per Tbsp of ketchup: 1 tsp. Wow, a third of every bottle of ketchup is sugar!
- 10 g of sugar per 2 Tbsp portion of BBQ sauce: 2.5 tsp
- 39 g of sugar (or more) in a sigle can of cola: 9.75 tsp... Even “just one” is too much!
Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners are not a simple solution to the sugar problem. They taste much sweeter than cane sugar, and studies have shown that they actually increase sugar cravings, so they won’t help you shake that sugar addiction or lose weight.
Exercise can help you eliminate your sugar addiction. If you’re not used to exercising, start slowly: try just walking 20 minutes a day. And when you get a craving for something sweet, have a piece of fruit and keep moving!