We don’t often think of our taste for sugar as an addiction, but studies show that, over time, our brains actually become addicted to the natural opioids (psychoactive chemicals that are among the world’s oldest-known drugs) triggered by sugar consumption. If you’ve started thinking it’s time to tame your sweet tooth, you’re right. We’ll tell you why – and show you how to do it once and for all.
From foods that are clearly sweetened with the stuff (cakes, cookies, candy) to more unlikely candidates (ketchup, hamburger buns, low-fat salad dressing), sugar is everywhere. And whether you call it corn syrup, molasses, glucose, fructose, dextrose, sucrose, sorghum, galactose, maltose or any other name, the fact remains: it provides less nutritional value than virtually any other food we consume.
It’s true. Beyond the energy in its calories, sugar doesn’t have much going for it. It may taste good, but when you consider the many ways in which it can undermine your health and wellbeing, you may think twice before putting excess amounts of it – especially the refined version of sugar – into your system.
“The refinement of sugar has removed all the beneficial nutrients, enzymes and other plant compounds that give naturally sweet foods their goodness,” according to alive magazine. “In small amounts sweeteners cause no problems to most people, especially when they are eaten in natural forms [like fruits, vegetables and most whole grains]. Large amounts of sugar on a regular basis, however, cause insulin resistance, a state in which the body does not respond to the hormone responsible for controlling blood sugar correctly.”
The article goes on to name insulin resistance as a “significant step” toward weight gain, obesity and adult onset diabetes. Too much sugar can also:
produce a significant rise in triglycerides, which have been linked to heart disease and stroke;
increase the risk of certain types of cancers (breast, colon and prostate, for example) and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as high blood pressure and fatty liver disease;
raise harmful cholesterol levels and cause headaches (including migraines);
increase bacterial fermentation in the colon, as well as water retention and bloating;
contribute to anxiety, depression and difficulty concentrating;
promote tooth decay; and
and speed the aging process (by causing wrinkles and grey hair).
In fact, a recent report by 60 Minutes (see below) exposed how new research is starting to find that sugar, the way many people are eating it today, is a toxin, and that the consumption of added sugars has plunged America into a health crisis. According to Robert Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, sugar is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease – and 75% of it is preventable.
Lustig recently posted a lecture on YouTube called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” to bring his message to the masses. In it, he asks viewers to join him in the “war against bad food,” like table sugar, syrup, sugary drinks and desserts, as well as just about every type of processed food you can imagine where sugar is often hidden, like yogurt and sauces, bread and peanut butter.
Turning to artificial sweeteners to try and reduce the sugar and calories in your diet may sound like a good idea, but with research still being done on the long-term effects of aspartame, sucralose and saccharin (to name a few), it’s hard to say how “healthy” these substitutes really are. Better to stick to the natural stuff, making sure that you place reasonable limits on how much of it you consume.
Rather than devouring a Danish, for example, reach for a piece of fruit. Though whole fruit contains fructose, it also includes nutrition your body needs (think fibre, vitamins and minerals), and is usually a good way to satisfy a sweet craving. The list of low-sugar fruits is long – just avoid eating too much of the following fruits, which are highest in sugar: grapes, kiwi, oranges, pineapple, tangerines, bananas and mango. All dried fruits are high in sugar, as they are concentrated.
Other natural sweeteners include:
? Honey: 3/4 cups will replace 1 cup of sugar. Choose raw unpasteurized honey, which contains numerous enzymes, vitamins and minerals.
? Maple syrup: Great for baking, 1/2 cup will replace a cup of the white stuff. Pure maple syrup is an excellent source of the trace mineral manganese and a good source of zinc.
? Blackstrap molasses: Gingerbread and spice cake love this stuff, and 1-1/2 cups will replace 1 cup of sugar. Blackstrap molasses, extracted from the third pressing of whole sugar cane, is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium.
? Stevia: Though Health Canada has yet to approve the use of stevia in foods and beverages, this intensely sweet leafy plant (available in powdered or liquid form) is a near-non-caloric alternative to sugar (just 2 tbsp replaces a whopping cup of refined white sugar) that won’t contribute to tooth decay or elevate blood sugar levels.
Taming Your Sweet Tooth
To reduce the amount of sugar you consume, try the following tips:
Stop sipping sugary drinks, including soda and fruit juices containing high fructose corn syrup (choose water instead).
If you spoon the sweet stuff into every cup of coffee (and tea), cut the amount in half to start and then slowly eliminate sugar altogether.
Eliminate fat-free and low-fat packaged snack foods from your diet. These often contain high quantities of sugar to compensate for lack of flavour and fat.
Cook and bake with natural alternatives to white and brown sugar (just be sure to get the conversions right).
Experiment with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, cardamom and cloves to naturally sweeten your food.
Eat a serving of whole grains once or twice a day to keep your blood sugar (and mood) stable.
Fruit for dessert – or even a handful of raisins thrown into your rice – can go a long way in satisfying your sweet craving. Sweet-tasting vegetables can work in a similar way.
Stick to natural, whole foods and stay away from processed items (even organic packaged foods can contain significant amounts of sugar); always read the label! Making your own salad dressing at home, for example, will ensure you avoid hidden sugar that may be contained in the bottled stuff you buy at the store.
Get “professional help” by signing up for a detox like the one offered by BYV student and certified nutritionist Maria Viall (her next 21-Day Sugar Detox starts June 6; read all about it and sign up now!).If you normally use sugar to deal with stress or sadness, replace the habit with a positive activity like Bikram Yoga. It’s much more effective in the long run – and totally good for you, too! If you haven’t joined us in the hot room yet, your first class is free!
If you’re considering making any types of changes to your diet, speak to your doctor first. The opinions expressed on this blog are not meant to replace the advice of a qualified health practitioner.
Got any advice on how to kick the sugar habit? Share it by leaving a comment below!