Do you enjoy a no-sugar-added soda with dinner every night? What about a low-sugar, high protein ‘nutrition bar' after a workout? At the office, are you mindlessly grazing through the low-sugar or no-sugar added cookies? Do you read food labels to see where on the ingredient list sugars are hidden? If you're regularly drawn to sweets- or foods laden with artificial sweeteners-try going without them for a few days and see what happens. Are you having headaches, irritability, cravings, and symptoms that could only be described as withdrawal? Do you find yourself so uncomfortable that you're drawn right back to those same foods? You could be trapped in the vicious cycle of sugar addiction!
Sugar is a carbohydrate, one of the major nutrient groups, but it doesn't provide vitamins, minerals, or even fiber to our diet. Still, it's added to an array of foods, including ketchup, yogurt, cereal, canned soup, some lunch meats, salad dressing, condiments, bread, and so much more. While we require some sugar (glucose) in order to function property, all of this added sugar is harmful to our system.
Sugar's Addictive Qualities
When we ingest sugar, our body generates a response similar to that seen in addictions, which is why we develop cravings for more. It's often called the cocaine of dietary additives and recent studies have shown it to be 8 times more addictive than actual cocaine. Crazy right?
Here's how it works: Sugar -- whether natural, processed or artificial -- enters the bloodstream quickly, causing your blood sugar level to spike. The body recognizes this imbalance and acts to bring blood sugar back to normal. Insulin, a hormone, pushes glucose into the cells to be used for energy. But if you eat a lot of sugar, the body can't keep up. Insulin has to work harder and the body overcompensates, causing blood sugar to drop too low - and your brain reacts. You feel depleted, irritable, and crave more sugar.
Sugar by Any Other Name
Sugar names you might recognize are sucrose (table sugar), fructose (found in fruits, some root veggies, and honey), and lactose (milk sugar). Naturally occurring sugar in fruit and vegetables has a place in a balanced diet. But added sugar, artificial sweetener, and processed ‘natural' sugar like high fructose corn syrup are detrimental to your health.
Eliminate Unhealthy Sugar From Your Diet
Learn where Sugar Hides. On ingredient lists, any words that ends in -ose are sugars. If they're among the first five items, walk away from it. If sugar is one of the last ingredients on the list, that's a better choice.
Avoid the Fake Stuff. Products containing artificial sweeteners are not a healthy alternative since these sweeteners are highly toxic and arguable more addictive than real sugar. Diet soda, 'fat free' and 'sugar free' candy and cookies are associated with weight gain and cravings, creating a cycle of addiction.
Sip with Awareness. A single can of soda, bottle of juice, flavored water, or Gatorade typically contains nine or more teaspoons of sugar. Four grams of sugar is a teaspoon so keep that in mind when reading nutrition labels.
Make Sweet Substitutions. Look for snacks labeled 'no added sugar' or 'unsweetened.' Use canned foods packed in water instead of juice or syrup. When baking, swap table sugar with stevia, monk fruit, applesauce, date paste, or molasses. Adding cinnamon or cacao powder is a great way to sprinkle flavor onto yogurt, oatmeal, or coffee. Opt for honey, maple syrup or coconut palm sugar over other processed sugars.
Reprogram your taste for sugar slowly. If you put two sugar packets in your coffee, cut back in half-packet increments and keep the sugar bowl off the kitchen table. Small steps add up to sweet success!