Sugar 101: Know Thy Enemy
Sugar is an addictive substance – just like caffeine and alcohol. Getting off sugar is not just a matter of restraint and willpower – there are underlying physical and emotional reasons behind the addiction. In the next few weeks, I will show you these causes and guide you through ways to counter them.
In this series on sugar, you can expect to learn ways to gain sustained energy without the ups and downs caused by sugar; how to use the right kind of food to curb your sugar cravings; how to understand food labels so that you can spot the hidden sugars in packaged foods; and get information on various sugar substitutes, as well as their pros and cons. We will talk about yin/yang balance, the relationship between energy level, stress and sugar cravings, as well as how nutritional deficiency can lead to cravings.
In a lot of the work that I do with my clients, sugar is the main culprit for many of their health issues, including weight gain, fatigue, emotional imbalance as well as brain fog.
In my practice, I help my clients build a healthy, balanced diet, nourish themselves with the right foods and make appropriate lifestyle adjustments so that they don’t need a big sugar hit from candy bar or soda to boost their energy.
Before we dive deep into strategies to reduce your sugar cravings, I want you to “know thy enemy” and tell you a little bit about sugar.
Humans love sweet things – that is in our nature. Even before mankind started refining sugar, our ancestors sought out foods with sweet tastes. Our caveman body is programed to desire sweet taste because sugar and carbohydrates provide energy that our bodies need for our day-to-day activities. Sweet foods contain a high concentration of sugar, which means a lot of easily accessible energy. That is why sugar is so attractive to our caveman body.
So what is sugar? Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that occurs naturally in foods such as grains, beans, vegetables and fruits. When unprocessed, sugar contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and proteins. When brown rice or other whole grains are cooked, chewed and digested, the natural carbohydrates break down uniformly into separate glucose molecules. These molecules enter the blood stream, where they are burned smoothly and evenly, and you get a sustained stream of energy.
However, refined table sugar, also called sucrose, is very different. Extracted from either sugar cane or beets and then refined, it is stripped of its vitamins, minerals and fiber. It actually requires extra effort from the body to digest and assimilate. The body must deplete its own store of minerals and enzymes to absorb sucrose properly. Therefore, instead of providing the body with nutrition, it creates deficiencies.
As this simple sugar enters swiftly into the bloodstream, it brings about negative effects on our blood sugar level – first pushing it sky-high, causing excitability, nervous tension and hyperactivity, and then dropping it extremely low, causing fatigue, depression, weariness and exhaustion.
Most people are aware that their physical energy level fluctuates widely on a sugar-induced high, but they often don’t realize that it also comes with an emotional roller coaster, during which we feel elated and energetic for a while, and then suddenly and unexplainably, we find ourselves angry, depressed or aggressive.
If sugar causes us so much trouble, why are we still hooked? The reason is, sugar is an addictive substance, because:
- Eating even a small amount creates a desire for more; and
- Sudden quitting causes withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, mood swings, cravings and fatigue.
It is important to realize that sugar is an addictive substance – just like caffeine and even alcohol – because then psychologically you won’t blame yourself for being “weak” and give up when you fall off the wagon. It’s not just about willpower – your cravings have a physiological cause and I am going to teach you the tools to get to the root cause of your cravings, and wean off your intake gradually and painlessly.
Why do we want to get off sugar, besides the obvious fact that overeating sugary food causes us to gain weight?
Sugar has a lot of negative health impacts: it can suppress the immune system, weaken eyesight, cause hypoglycemia, cause weight gain, exacerbate arthritis, contribute to the development of osteoporosis, increase cholesterol, lead to prostate and ovarian cancer, contribute to development of diabetes, speed up skin aging, contribute to acne and skin conditions, increase fluid retention, cause poor concentration, and lead to mood swings and depression. Sugar is also related to ADD and ADHD, in both adults and children. I hope that this long list of issues will give you enough reasons to take action!
Today, sugar is found in many of the usual suspects, such as cakes, cookies, and candy. But you will also find it in canned vegetables, baby foods, all cereals (even “healthy” ones like oats or muesli, peanut butter, all bread (white, whole, multigrain), all pasta and even canned tomato sauce. Anything made from wheat, whether white or whole-wheat, will turn into sugar in your body. Another sugar culprit is dairy.
It is often disguised in fancy languages, labeled as corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, glucose or fructose. So keep in mind, it really pays to spend the extra couple of minutes to read the ingredient list on the nutritional label-or avoid food that comes with a label to start with!
Even some so-called healthy foods contain a large amount of sugar. For example, a popular “health” food protein bar has 21 grams of sugar, an equivalent of 5 teaspoons. Compare that to a chocolate-glazed cake donut from Dunkin’ Donuts, which has only 14 grams of sugar, or 3 teaspoons. You may think your afternoon cup of coffee only has a little sugar… think again! A 16-oz Starbucks Frappuccino contains a whopping 44 grams of sugar – equivalent of 10 teaspoons – that’s like eating 3 donuts! No wonder with hidden sugar in this large quantity in our everyday foods, our society is faced with an explosion of hypoglycemia and type 2 diabetes.
Speaking of children, fruit juices – although they sound healthy and are often labeled as “all natural”, they may not be as nutritious or “good for you” as they claim. Items labeled as “juice drink” or “juice beverage” may not even be 100% natural fruit juice – sugar, corn syrup or other flavorings are often added, so again, it pays to read the labels. Even if the product is 100% fruit juice, they actually don’t provide that much nutrition. They are usually quite sweet, and they don’t have all the micronutrients and fiber that you get when you eat a piece of fruit. Commercially available juices – ones that you buy off the shelves in the supermarket – are pasteurized, so they also lack the valuable enzymes, which are present in raw, fresh fruits and vegetables. When you drink juices, you ingest the volume, but without the bulk, your stomach may not register the sense of fullness. You don’t get the kind of satisfaction as eating a piece of fruit – so you will move on to eat more food.
And this same process happens when you eat a bowl of pasta, a piece of bread or a bowl of cereal…
Stay tuned for next week when I help you understand the reason behind your sugar cravings.