Okay, I need to confess. I’m addicted to sugar and I’ve relapsed. I’ve been trying to break my relentless addiction for the past week and the cravings are slowly getting easier to control. As a true dessert lover, I have forced myself to go cold turkey many times throughout my life. The struggle is real at first, but it really does get easier to eat less sugar. As a matter of fact, I’ve gone years without really craving simple carbs or sweets.
What I’m talking about here is refined table sugar (aka sucrose, corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, glucose or fructose); the stuff that’s extracted from sugarcane or beets. This sugar is refined, so the body goes into overdrive to absorb it properly. Instead of providing nutrition, sugar depletes it.
I know from personal experience, once you eliminate added sugar from your diet, your health skyrockets! You have more energy and your skin glows. To be honest, there are a lot worse things for your health than splurging on something sweet from time to time. It’s the amount of sugar that you eat regularly that has the potential to wreak havoc on your health.
Why Do We Crave Sugar?
People crave sugar for various reasons, and each craving is generally different for each person. Food cravings are caused by the regions of the brain that are responsible for memory, pleasure, and reward. Sometimes sugar cravings are caused simply by habit! When we eat and digest sugar, it signals to the brain that it was good and we naturally crave more.
Additionally, an imbalance of hormones, such as leptin and serotonin, can also cause food cravings. While sugar isn’t necessarily an excitotoxin – chemicals that aggravate neuro receptors to fire at an accelerated rate until they wear themselves out and eventually die off – it works similarly. Sugar stimulates the appetite center in the brain. This is what sometimes causes a person to “mindlessly” overindulge.
Why Too Much Sugar is Terrible for Your Health
Quite simply, you’re going to have a really hard time achieving your goals if you don’t get your consumption of sugar under control. For starters, eating too much sugar leads to eating too many empty calories! It helps us pack on the pounds. Being overweight can lead to an increased risk of serious illness, like heart and circulatory conditions, or even Type 2 diabetes over a period of time.
A diet high in sugar also affects your body’s internal pH levels. It is believed that an acidic environment is a breeding ground for disease, whereas an alkaline body promotes good health. An acidic body’s immune responses become altered, and a breeding ground for pathogens by allowing opportunistic microorganisms, such as Candida (a yeast), to build up in the system and give rise to infections (1).
Consuming too much sugar also has the potential to alter healthy cell function. Research has found that when sugar increases in the body, mitochondria in subsets of brain neurons rapidly change their shape and their function is altered. In other words, consuming too much sugar alters our cells at the basic structural level (2). Study’s have also found that sugar might produce brain changes similar to highly stressful situations, such as neglect or abuse (3). This was due to the body over producing cortisol (aka the “stress” hormone) from too much sugar consumption.
This overproduction of cortisol makes it hard to keep trim and fit. Stress and sugar are both terrible for your skin! Too much sugar raises insulin levels and puts unnatural demands on your body to deal with the food you just ate. The more sugar you eat, the more likely it is you will develop insulin resistance, which may show as excess hair growth, dark patches on the neck, and/or acne! A sure fire way my body tells me I’m eating too much sugar: I break out around my chin and my psoriasis starts to show (a flare up). No bueno!
The problem is the vicious cycle of addiction: consuming, feeling the rush, crashing, and then craving more!
Here are some simple ways to decrease your sugar intake:
Read Your Labels!
Awareness is key, so start checking the serving size, ingredients, and percentage of sugar on your nutrition labels. Many ultra-processed food-products are labeled “healthy” and/or “natural, but are actually loaded with strange additives and sugars! Added sugars in the diet drive sugar cravings by elevating insulin levels and making your body crave more. Manufacturers sometimes come up with odd names to disguise sugar on their labels. In general, avoid any kind of sugar, syrup, malt or cane product and chemicals ending with ‘ose’ (like dextrose, glucose, lactose, or maltose).
Eat More Fiber
Bodies need a balanced intake of good, high-fiber carbs, lean protein and heart health fats each day. Most people consume less than 20g of dietary fibre per day (4). Fiber is an underestimated ally that serves a valuable role in your health and wellness. Eating foods naturally fiber rich – like vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains – help to curb cravings you have by keeping you full for longer.
Consume Lean Protein
Eating both healthy fiber and protein help to keep blood sugar steady by slowing down the digestion and absorption of sugar. Regularly consuming lean proteins and dietary fiber results in less of the highs and lows of blood sugar imbalance that result in cravings for sugary foods.
Drink Enough Water
Filling up with water or delicious hot tea can take the edge off most cravings, so make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Dehydration mimics hunger, so often if you think you need a snack, you may just be thirsty. Drinking water before meals also helps to fill you up and may help satiate hunger and sugar cravings.
Make Healthy Substitutions
It has been said that sugar is just as, or even more addictive, then cocaine. The only way to break our sugar addiction is to decrease intake. Here are a few healthy substitutions:
Agave Nectar – This sweetener is made from the juice of the agave cactus. It is almost 2x sweeter then sugar, but does not create a rush.
Honey – This is one of the oldest, natural sweeteners. Raw honey actually contains enzymes, minerals & vitamins. This is my go to alternative.
Stevia– A leafy herb 100-300x sweeter than processed sugar. It’s available in powder or liquid form and has been used by Native South Americans for centuries
Coconut Sugar – Dried & granulated sap from coconut palm treels. A very low glycemic sweetener.
(1) Gerry K. Schwalfenberg. The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence That an Alkaline pH Diet Benefits Health? J Environ Publc Health. 2012, 2012: 727830.
(2) UCP2 Regulates Mitochondrial Fission and Ventromedial Nucleus Control of Glucose Responsiveness (2016). Toda, C., et al. VOLUME 164, ISSUE 5, P872-883 from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2016.02.010
(3) Sugar consumption produces effects similar to early life stress exposure on hippocampal markers of neurogenesis and stress response (2016). Maniam, Jayanthi, et al. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience 8:86
(4) The Lancet. (2019, January 10). High intake of dietary fiber and whole grains associated with reduced risk of non-communicable diseases. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 13, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190110184737.htm