Let's Talk About Sugar

With Halloween quickly approaching and the holidays right around the corner, I thought this might be a good time to write about sugar and the impact that it has on our body.

If you are like me, when you start eating foods containing sugar, it’s difficult to stop.  This is because sugar disrupts our hormonal balance, and creates cravings.  New neurological research indicates that many of us, including most children, are addicted to sugar and processed foods.  This is due to the fact that sugar stimulates the brain’s pleasure or reward centers through the neurotransmitter dopamine.  PET scans (brain imaging) shows that high-sugar foods light up the brain in similar patterns as addictive drugs such as heroin, opium or morphine.  In addition, we develop a tolerance to sugar, and over time need more and more of it to satisfy our desires.  According to Dr. Hyman, sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine; and just like drugs, after an initial period of enjoyment of the sugary foods, we continue to consume it not to get “high”, but to simply feel “normal”.  This is due to the tolerance effect.  Even more shocking (no pun intended), studies of rats have shown that they will continue to eat sugar even when doing so results in the receiving of an electrical shock.

In addition to the effects that sugar has on our brain, it also has detrimental effects on our body.  It’s important to understand that when we consume sugar or refined carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta, and processed foods), our blood sugar spikes.  Our body then responds by producing insulin to counteract the sudden spike in blood sugar.  Insulin is also known as the fat storage hormone.  This means when insulin is “on”, fat burning is “off”.  But this is not just a weight issue, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, dietary sugars and refined flours are the biggest triggers of inflammation in our body.  This is due to the spike in insulin levels which drives inflammation and oxidative stress, as well as a myriad of downstream effects including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low HDL, high triglycerides, poor sex drive, infertility, thickening of the blood and increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and depression. 

Research shows that on average we consume about 58 pounds of sugar and processed flour per person per year!  (As a side note, our ancestors consumed about 5 pounds per person per year.)  When we consistently over consume refined carbohydrates and processed foods, we flood our systems with insulin on a regular basis.  Overtime, our cells slowly become resistant to the effects of insulin, and need more and more of it to keep our blood sugar levels balanced.  This problem is known as insulin resistance, which can eventually lead to Type II Diabetes.  Type II Diabetes is a diet and lifestyle driven disease.  And if we do not change the way we are eating, recent statistics predict that one in three children growing up today will be diagnosed with Type II Diabetes in their lifetime. 

The good news is that WE are in control of what we eat, and therefore, our related physical and emotional health and wellbeing. 

Here are some tips on how to reduce your sugar intake and manage sugar addiction:

  1. Slowly wean yourself off of sugar.  Going cold turkey will cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, lethargy, and moodiness.
  2. Keep junk food out of your home.  If it’s not in the house, you are less likely to run out and buy it when a craving hits. 
  3. “Crowd Out” sugar by eating more fruit and sweet vegetables.  The natural sweetness of fruit and many roasted vegetables will satisfy your cravings for sweets.
  4. “Add In” good, healthy fats (like nuts and coconut oil).  The healthy fat will help keep you satisfied as well as fuel your brain.
  5. Read labels to identify hidden sugar in foods.  When buying foods that contain a label, be sure to look at the ingredient list as well as the nutrition facts.  Avoid items that contain sugar as one of the first three ingredients or contain ingredients you cannot pronounce.
  6. Exercise.  Moving your body through regular exercise decreases the production of the “hunger” hormone, ghrelin, which signals your brain that it’s time to eat.
  7. Take the emotion out of eating.  Check in with yourself to make sure that you are really hungry and are not eating to “stuff down” or comfort an emotion, or simply using food as an activity because you are bored.
  8. Drink plenty of water.  Oftentimes we mistake thirst for hunger.  Consuming a glass of water before meals helps control appetite and ward off cravings.
  9. Add sweet joy into your life. Spending time with friends and loved ones, and/or doing things that bring you joy increases the “happy” hormone, oxytocin, which helps stave off cravings.
  10. Seek help and support.  And don’t forget, I’m here to help you if you need additional support!

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