Our Love of Sugar, how it's hurting our health, and why it may not be your fault
Should sugar be treated like a recreational drug? Is it really THAT bad? We eat more sugar now than we ever have in human history. In the past, it was found naturally in foods like fruit and honey and was something we had once in a while. Today, there is sugar in everything from bread to pasta sauce. Other hidden sources of added sugar include condiments (careful of those salad dressings), Greek yogurt, milk, nut butter and trail mix or granola bars. Sometimes we think we are doing a good job eating healthy, but check the labels, even on your favorite healthy foods, to look for added sugar.
As we eat it more and more, our bodies have become used to the increased amount of sugar, and guess what? Our brains become addicted to that sugar high. Actually, in brain scans, sugar lights up the same reward centers of the brain as cocaine.
Of course, we think of cocaine as a highly addictive substance, but sugar... are we really addicted to sugar? Based on the research, sugar works the addiction reward pathway in our brain. Perhaps we become conditioned to feel like we need something sweet to make us feel complete or satisfied. We may feel like we are using sugar to boost our mood or our energy, or as a reward, but this boost is often only temporary. I would also add refined carbohydrates to this list of sugary foods as they turn into sugar in the body.
Our love of sugar is really not our fault. Have you ever said you wish you had the willpower to quit sugar? Here's the thing: it can be a physical addiction and the food industry strives to get us hooked on sugar. Companies are investing in everything from creating highly palatable addictive foods, to marketing those foods in hopes of building long-term loyalty. What does this mean? It may not be just about willpower, but perhaps more about biochemistry.
Diets high in added sugar can cause inflammation in the body. Sugar can lead to the production of inflammation in the body that, over time, leads to chronic inflammation and disease. Inflammation can look like everything from joint pain, to hair loss, to the inability to lose weight.
I spoke this week about how sugar is fueling chronic disease in my Facebook live. In short, it creates inflammation in the brain, slows metabolism, and shuts down the body's ability to burn fat thereby promoting the storage of fat in cells. Want to age more quickly? Eat sugar! There are other downsides, and feel free to hear about them here.
What are some signs that you maybe need to eat less sugar and that it's the "problem child"? Perhaps you are doing one of the following: hiding sugar (we aren't hiding broccoli under the bed), needing more over time, substituting with sugar alternatives like artificial sweeteners (which are not good for you), or knowing sugar doesn't serve you, but eating it anyway. As I said above, it may be about biochemistry and less about your willpower to quit sugar.
Yes, sugar is not the best for your health, but you probably already know that. What are some tips to eat less sugar? Ones that are reasonable and that you can incorporate into you daily life? Try these ideas:
Choose whole foods: a food closer to its original form and not processed will have less sugar.
Eat more protein: protein helps us feel full longer and adding a source of healthy fat with your protein? Great idea! It will help control blood sugar levels and keep you feeling full longer.
Do not substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar: they are still processed and often your brain doesn't know the difference between artificial and real sugar.
Get better sleep: if we are tired, we may use sugar to counter that fatigue. People who don't sleep well also often eat more sugar (and calories) in a day.
Be mindful of the names of sugar which include agave, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, molasses, maltose, and rice syrup. It doesn't just have to say "sugar" to be sugar.
Cut back on sugary drinks: this includes pop and those Starbucks coffees/Frappuccino's. Some Frappuccino's have the same amount of calories as a Big Mac from McDonald's.
Do your own baking: want a treat? Try making things like cookies or muffins at home instead of buying them. Baking without refined sugar is easy and if you would like some of my favorite recipes, send me an email at email@example.com and I would be happy to send you some!
In Health, Tara