Why & How To Break Your Sugar Addiction
Ideally, sugar is meant to add flavour to foods and beverages. We add it to our coffee or tea, it’s in juices and sodas, in cereals, processed foods such as bread, pastries, candies, ice-cream and so much more. Alot of it is hidden in things we wouldn’t expect such as chips and crisps, salad dressings, savoury bread products and even so called health products such as meal replacement drinks and protein powders. Basically, sugar is in almost everything we consume especially processed foods that we grab in the stores.
Because sugar use is so hight, this is partly the reason why addiction to sugar is very prevalent not just in adults but kids as well. Despite the fact that people are often told to consume minimal amounts of sugar and if possible eliminate it from their diet due to all the negative health effects associated with it, it is one of the hardest things to remove from the diet as it required removing many comforting, familiar food items along with it.
The Euromonitor study indicated that Americans consume about 126 grams of sugar daily. This amounts to around 32 teaspoons. Most individuals consume the excess sugar in form of fructose. Fructose is found in processed foods and beverages and most manufacturers choose it over regular sugar because it’s cheaper and thus saves them money in production costs. The downside is that fructose is cheaper but has more adverse effects on your body and it’s more addictive than regular sugar.
Effects of Excess Sugar Intake
According to Dr. Robert Lustig who is a professor at University of California’s Clinical Pediatrics, Endocrinology Division, our bodies can only metabolise 6 teaspoons of sugar daily yet the majority of individuals consume more than 5 times the recommended amount. When you take sugar in excess, your body is not able to metabolise it adequately. The excess sugar is converted into body fat and this leads to another host of health problems.
Some of the effects of excess sugar consumption include:
- Liver damage.
Excess sugar causes a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The liver digests sugar and alcohol in a similar manner because the two act as substrates which convert nutritive starch into fat. This ultimately leads to insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and a fatty liver.
- Weight gain
The excess sugar consumed causes insulin resistance. It deceives your body’s metabolism by muting your appetite control mechanism. This, in turn, leads to your body becoming less sensitive to insulin and this leads to lower levels of ghrelin also known as hunger hormone being produced. Ultimately you’ll end up consuming more and more sugary foods and could easily end up obese.
- Excess uric acid
High fructose levels in your body lead to metabolic syndrome whose one of the indicators are high levels of uric acid. In fact, uric acid is today used to test fructose toxicity.
Fructose increases the proliferation of cancer cells. Cancer cells feed on fructose thus speeding their growth. When sugar is digested it produces acidic waste which can build up within the body causing an imbalance in ph. Nobel prize winner Otto Warburg found that cancer could not survive in an alkaline environment but cells proliferated in an acidic environment. Learn more with my article on the alkaline versus the acid body
- Alzheimer’s disease
Studies have indicated that there could be a connection between high fructose and risk of getting Alzheimer’s. This could be attributed to the fact that fructose toxicity leads to the brain constantly burning glucose for energy.
The big one which most are probably aware of. Type 2 diabetes is often associated with obesity which in itself can be attributed to poor diet and excess sugar consumption. Sugar consumption can not be directed blamed for diabetes onset but for sure we can see it as a contributing factor in a downhill chain of events towards it.
Understanding Sugar Addiction
How do you know that you have a sugar addiction? If you find yourself having cravings that you can’t ignore, if you become low or depressed when you don’t follow your cravings for sugar, and if you have an insatiable appetite for sugary foods and you can’t say no, even when the sugar is affecting your health, then you most likely suffer from sugar addiction. Just like any other addiction such as drug and alcohol, sugar addiction is not easy to beat. In fact, when you cut off sugar from your diet, you will very likely experience withdrawal symptoms which could include lethargy, skin break outs and headaches.
How does sugar addiction occur? When you ingest large amounts of sugar, heightened levels of dopamine get released in the part of the brain known as the Nucleus Accumbens. Dopamine is one of the happy hormones producing a feeling of bliss. When you consume such quantities of sugar over a period of time, the dopamine receptors start reducing. This means that each time you eat sugary foods, the effect this has on the brain will be muted and you will require higher and higher levels of sugar for you to get the same level of satisfaction and feelings of dopamine triggered elation.
Sugar and high fructose foods have the same effect on the reward cores of the brain in the same way drugs such as cocaine and nicotine do. Sugar basically highjacks the chemistry of your brain causing you to crave more and more sugar every time you indulge.
Getting Over Sugar Addiction
Fighting a sugar addiction is hard especially at the beginning, but you can make small steps gradually that will help you recover fully from it.
1.Start by making small lifestyle choices like reducing your sugar intake in foods and beverages. For instance, if you take three teaspoons of sugar in your tea or coffee, reduce to two and gradually one and eventually stop adding sugar to your hot beverage altogether. There are plenty of replacements such as date syrup, agave, coconut sugar which can make the transition easier but of course these still contain sugars but they have a lower GI causing less of an effect on your blood sugar levels.
2. Eating plenty of bitter greens such as endive, frisee and radicchio can help reduce cravings because over time they have an effect on your taste buds such that you’ll eventually find that the taste of sugar is not so appealing. Spring time is an ideal time for this as the green spaces are filled with wild, bitter herbs such as dandelion, plantain, and nettles which are ideal for setting up your tastebuds for a summer of healthy salads and greens. Dress with a simple home made vinaigrette rather then the potentially sugar-laced shop bought stuff. You could even add in a green superfood for a more powerful bitter boost which also works to dismantle and realign your craving centres to healthier alternatives more quickly.
3. You could also start making green smoothies each time you get a sugar craving. You can add a sweet fruit in them such as an apple or grapes to make the juices more palatable. Go for vegetables such as cucumbers for making your smoothies because they are naturally sweeter than many other vegetables but don’t overdo it with the pure fruit smoothies or juices which contain a lot of sugar too. Smoothies are preferable to juices as along with the sugar they contain the fibre which lessens the effects of the sugar on your blood sugar levels, watering it down in a way.
4. Don’t skip breakfast and when you take it to ensure it has adequate amounts of protein because protein helps balance blood sugars and insulin, consequently reducing sugar cravings. It also provides a feeling of fullness for longer which decreases your chances of snacking unconsciously. A protein shake is an easy way of doing this for those with time pressure in the morning or i like to add protein powder into my oatmeal to get the slow release energy too.
5. Incorporating healthy fats such as that found in virgin olive oil, seeds, and nuts, avocados, and fish can help in fighting cravings too. Healthy fats don’t actually make you fat, its sugar that does. Fats give you a feeling of fullness, they help in balancing your blood sugar and they provide fuel for your cells.
6. Fancy something a bit more radical? Fasting has been shown to be a really effective method to detox from any undesirable eating habits and reprogram craving centres and tastebuds. There are many versions to try but something relatively simple is a supported fast where you aren’t simply cutting out food but instead you are providing your body with plenty of nutrients to help your system detox along with a protein element to keep hunger at bay. I recently finished a three day fast using Miessence Fast and had great results including loosing the weight I had gained over the christmas holidays (I lost 6 lbs) plus reaffirmed my own sugar related goals. I found things so sweet after I started eating normally again that if something contained processed sugar I could tell right away. Get in touch if you want more information about that or check out my run down here.
Fighting sugar addiction cannot take place instantly. It will require time, patience and discipline. Start by making small simple changes and with time you will have the momentum to keep off sugar and processed foods altogether gaining a more consistent energy, more stamina when exercising, easier weight loss, clearer skin, better teeth and the priceless benefit of not living a life punctuated with incessant cravings!