Everyone knows that sugar is bad for you. It causes inflammation which leads to heart disease, diabetes and cancer - and don't forget, it makes you fat. But why does the average American still eat about 20 teaspoons of sugar a day? The short answer is that sugar is addictive.
You may have heard about the rat study in which 94% of the rats chose water with sugar or saccharin over IV cocaine, and even the rats who were previously addicted to cocaine switched their preference to sugar water. Dang! I have never tried cocaine but I know it is highly habit forming, so can you imagine sugar being a bigger hook than cocaine? (Some experts have criticized the rat study findings, but seriously, it is common sense that sugar is addictive). Both sugar and cocaine have the same effect on your brain- They stimulate your nucleus accumbens (your reward center) that secretes dopamine which makes you feel pleasure. You basically get high.
But over time, just like other drugs, you need more and more sugar to reach the same high. Your dopamine receptors become less sensitive to sugar and your addiction grows stronger. Also, when you eat sugar, your blood sugar level rises and your pancreas secretes a burst of insulin which signals your body to store fat. Then when your blood sugar falls, your lust surges and you seek out more sugar. It is a vicious cycle.
Here are some signs that you addicted to sugar:
1. You make excuses for sugar- its okay, its natural or organic.
2. You drag yourself to the store in rain or snow for that special pint (or two) of Haagan Dazs.
3. You have a secret stash of chocolates and candy.
4. You tried quitting but you can't do it- You'd rather cut off your pinky toe.
5. You eat the whole bag of cookies when no one is watching.
6. You use sweets as a reward or motivation - "I deserve this piece of cake".
7. You feel guilty about the amount of sugar you eat and you feel bad about yourself after a binge.
The good news is, you can quit sugar. It is not easy, but you can do it. It takes about 2 weeks to get off sugar and another 8 weeks to solidify your rehab.
Steps to quit sugar:
1. Ditch the fruit juice, sodas, and even the diet sodas. (More on artificial sugars later)
2. Quit eating all processed foods- 80% of processed foods contain a large amount of sugar. You have to start cooking- There is no way around this (unless you are rich and can hire a cook).
3. Eat high quality protein, fat, and high fiber foods.
4. Avoid sauces (The low fat salad dressings have a lot of sugar in them. So do ketchup, BBQ sauce, and spaghetti sauce)
5. Eat leafy green vegetables.
6. Limit fruit to only whole fruit, and eat only a small serving a day.
7. Sour and bitter foods can stave off cravings.
8. Dark chocolate may increase endorphins without spiking blood sugar.
9. Drink more water.
10. Get outside and exercise.
What about the fake sugars? Well, it turns out that artificial sweeteners are not the answer. People who drink a lot of diet sodas are more overweight than those who don't. We are not sure why, but a theory is that its sweetness is so intense that they dull your taste buds and ramp up your craving for more intense sweetness and high calorie foods. So pay attention if artificial sweeteners do that to you- if so, look for alternatives. If you do have to use artificial sweeteners, Stevia is your best option because it is made from the Stevia plant. Still, the intensity of sweetness can be an issue, so use sparingly.
Other alternatives to sugar:
Coconut milk and flesh, summer squash, sweet potato, honey, maple syrup, and molasses.
Yes, our society places high value on sugary foods. They are associated with reward, celebration, and success. And don't be too hard on yourself if you are addicted to sugar- Humans were designed with a strong drive to acquire sugar for survival in the cave man years. But let's help evolution and RETRAIN OUR TASTE BUDS. It may be crazy hard to go off sugar cold turkey, so maybe cut one sweet food from your diet each week - pass on the dessert or put one less teaspoon of sugar in your coffee. After a while off sugar, you will be more tuned to your body and you will experience true hunger and satiety. And your taste buds will be more sensitive to sweets so that banana or orange will be the most delicious intense sweet treat you've had all week.
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