Sugar – Are you addicted?

Sweets sure are tempting.  Look at this sundae being sold in NYC.  It’s 900 calories!

This was my inspiration to create my Sugar Cravings workshop at Down to Earth (a local organic market).  I appreciate all the people who came out to learn more about this controversial health crisis. Eating too much sugar has been linked to a host of health issues such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, chronic inflammation, heart disease, and even cancer.

Is an addiction to sweets running your life? Sugar is very addicting and the answer lies in our brain.  Eating even a small amount of sugar creates a desire for more.  Sweet tastes activate dopamine receptors in our brain that are responsible for most addictions.  Dopamine (beta-endorphin) is that “I must have it” hormone.  Dopamine can be released even when we anticipate pleasure.  Because food has the power to bring people together and can produce cherished memories, food manufacturers try to make us think that their product will produce that effect for us.  Children playing with puppies and people having fun at a party is what really causes people to feel good, not the soda they are drinking.  But manufacturers have us hooked. When your hormones become imbalanced, your food cravings increase, and you will likely gain weight

Today, a person eats 30 to 40 teaspoons a day which is as much as 160 grams of sugar!  The average American now consumes up to 150 pounds of sugar and sweeteners per year.  Most of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams of added sugar, and a 12 ounce can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of added sugar according to the World Health Organization.   They recommend eating no more than 25-40 grams of added sugar each day.  You have to read food labels to understand how much added sugar is in every processed food!

When you eat sugar, you crave more sugar!  A sugar craving is simply your body asking for energy. Cutting out, or cutting down on your refined sugar intake can be one of the best things you can do for your health, but it can be hard!  When you suddenly try to quit eating all sugar, you will experience withdrawal symptoms like headache, mood swings, fatigue and cravings!  It’s not just because you lack the willpower, but it’s also biochemical.  Sugar changes your brain!  It is important to start slowly and gradually replace foods containing added sugar with whole foods containing easily digestible veggies and protein.  Sugar addiction is a real, physiological state and changing the foods you eat is a way to treat it.  You don’t want to try to cut back too quickly and sabotage your chances for success.

You do need wholesome carbohydrates to fuel your body (in balance with protein and fat), but excessive intake of sucrose (refined table sugar) and fructose (especially high fructose corn syrup) will cause a host of health problems.  Because fructose can only be metabolized in your liver, a Harvard study says eating too much fructose can cause:  increased blood pressure, increased LDL cholesterol, (known as bad cholesterol), increased triglycerides, buildup of fat around organs and waist, insulin-resistant tissues (metabolic syndrome), and increased inflammation which can damage DNA.

Are artificial sweeteners a good substitute for added sugar?  In many cases, artificial sweeteners are actually worse.  When you eat something sweet, even if it has no calories, your brain is tricked into wanting more calories because your body is not getting enough energy to be satisfied.  Artificial sweeteners have been proven to stimulate your appetite, increase sugar cravings, and promote fat storage and weight gain.  They have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), spikes in blood sugar, allergic reactions, blurred vision, and seizures.

I have talked enough about the negative aspects of added sugar.  My next blog will reveal the 7 Ways to Limit Your Sugar Cravings.

One of the best resources for understanding what is in the foods we eat is the Nutrition Almanac.  You can order this book here.