THE SUGAR TRAP
The start of a new year is a good time to plan out beneficial lifestyle changes. Cutting back on refined sugar consumption is a great place to start. Refined sugar has become a dietary staple in most developed nations, and many are at a loss as to how to avoid this pernicious ingredient. Refined sugar can be found in virtually every processed food — typically in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Over-eating sugar is one of the worst things you can do for your health. At the same time, sugar cravings are hard to ignore. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome them.
Why is sugar bad for us?
Our brains are built to crave sugar. Sugar is a form of carbohydrate that gives us lots of fast fuel as energy, but not all sugars are created equal. Back when food wasn’t available in the nearest supermarket, humans needed food that was rich in sugar for energy. The problem today is that carbohydrates are mostly consumed in the form of white refined starches such as white sugar and flour products as well as soft drinks, which are a major source for added sugars in our modern diet. A far distance from the carbohydrates our ancestors consumed in the form of non-starchy whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to name a few.
Today, our lives look vastly different, but our brains haven’t caught up. So, we still crave sugary foods, even though too much of it isn’t good for us. And the more we have them, the more we crave them! Refined sugar consumption can be an addiction and it is no wonder why sugar is considered to be the legal drug of the 21st century! “White, pure, and deadly” - and most of us are addicts.
The average American consumes about 17 teaspoons of added sugar every day. The daily recommendation is 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men! The health effects are startling. A high-sugar diet can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart problems, fatigue, dental problems, sleep problems, gut imbalances, mood disorders and inflammation, as well as expanding your waistline, to name a few of the side effects.
Many people are simply unaware of just how much sugar they're consuming. Added sugar often times hides under different less familiar names, such as dextrose, maltose, galactose, and maltodextrin, for example.
What happens in the body when we consume sugar?
When we eat refined sugar, our blood sugar will spike and release insulin to lower it to normal levels. But if blood sugar levels fall too low, the body wants foods that will increase it again — that is, sugary foods. So, sugar causes us to want more sugar. It is indeed a vicious cycle!
That’s why you need to stop the cycle of needing sugar to keep energized. Instead of cookies or chocolate, we need to eat the right foods that keep us full and satisfied, give us a sustained source of energy so that we don’t crave sugar. Learning how to swap good sugars for bad sugars will heal your body and transform your life.
How to break sugar addiction?
Fortunately, there are solutions to unhealthy junk food cravings. Not all sugar is bad for you - in fact, we need sugar/carbohydrates in our diet. Foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables contain natural and complex carbohydrates. This type of complex carbohydrate sugar is fine for many people, and is only a problem for those with blood sugar issues. The problem happens if you eat too much added sugar. The biggest sources of added sugar in our diets these days are soft drinks (25%) and snacks and sweets (31%).
Eating real food is the answer.
Real food is food that is close to the way nature created it. You should try to decrease the amount of processed foods you eat, and replace it with high-quality whole foods.
Read labels and learn to identify sneaky sugars to avoid.
Remember, virtually ALL processed and packaged foods are (to some degree) designed to have a high "crave-ability" element. To protect your health, it’s recommended to spend 90 percent of your food budget on whole foods and only 10 percent or less on processed foods. Unfortunately, most Americans do the opposite, which is in large part why so many struggle with junk food cravings.
Plan your meals.
One of the main reasons we indulge in sugar is because energy levels don’t remain stable. If you eat a varied diet that includes all the nutrients you need, energy levels won’t dip and you won’t feel the need to eat sugary foods. In case of emergency work or travel, carry food to prevent you from going off the rails in a moment of weakness. Find fast, easy, tasty options to grab and go. When sugar cravings hits, pop a handful of berries and let them linger in your mouth. Have nuts, seeds, hummus, and delicious veggies available.
Keep up healthy routines.
Research shows that healthy routines, such as keeping active, sleeping enough, and drinking enough water helps to curb sugar cravings.
Address the emotional component of food cravings.
Often our emotions, self-image, or stress may be the worst enemies when it comes to altering our relationship with food. There are many helpful techniques to fine-tuning the brain to a "positive" mode.
One of the main reasons we crave sugar is due to dehydration. Drink 8-10 glasses of clean pure water per day.
Stay active, do air squats.
Inactivity can cause blood sugar imbalances. Stimulating your system with an intense exercise, like squats, helps to burn up stored sugar and stimulate anti-aging hormones that make you feel good. Next time you crave sugar do 10-20 air squats before you do anything else.
Have some good fats.
Your body needs to burn fat as its primary fuel. Consuming high quality fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds) can help stop sugar cravings and provide alternative fuel source (ketones) for the body to run. You are burning fat as fuel instead of sugar. Balancing your meals with a combination of high-quality protein and fat can help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep your hunger at bay for a longer time.
Talia Segal Fidler is the Holistic Nutritionist at The Lodge at Woodloch. To learn more, look for her nutrition classes and one-one-one consultations.