Are you a secret sugar addict?
I must confess I also crave a lot of sugary foods…chocolate in particular is my weakness. Since attempting to really reduce the amount of added sugar I’m eating, I feel much better physically, although I crave it even more! I would normally eat a whole bar of chocolate in one sitting because I felt down or low on energy, but this would only satisfy me for a short amount of time and then I would be back to square one. It’s a vicious cycle many of us are stuck in.
However, since I have stopped binge eating, my moods have been more consistent and I feel more energised as a result. So why do we reach for sugary foods as a pick-me-up?
Is sugar actually addictive?
Yes. Sugar stimulates the same pleasure centres in the brain as heroin or cocaine. When you eat sugar it releases dopamine, which is known as the reward chemical, meaning you to want more. Coupled with the release of serotonin, your brain associates the taste of sugar with happiness, making it extremely difficult to quit!
So how much sugar are we eating?
The average American will consume approximately 71kg of sugar per year. Imagine that…that’s equivalent to you eating almost a cup of sugar (195g) every day!
The World Health Organisation recommends consuming no more than 5 teaspoons of added sugar per day. If you’re a tea or coffee lover that likes 2 teaspoons of sugar per cuppa then you might think this guideline is far too modest, but sugar can be hidden in certain foods and you might not be aware of how much sugar you’re actually consuming.
This short video easily illustrates just how much sugar is in certain foods:
How Much Sugar is in Your Food?
Are you experiencing any of these symptoms?
From low sex drive to poor memory, too much sugar has been proven to have both physical and psychological effects on the body.
- Weight gain
- Tooth decay
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Type II diabetes
- Increased LDL and decreased HDL
- Lowered libido
- Addiction to sugar
- Poor memory
- Difficulty learning new things
So what’s the big deal?
Even a healthy diet will always contain a significant amount of ‘natural’ sugar from carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables, honey and grains, but the problem is with added sugar.
It’s crucial to understand the difference as we are affected to a great degree by sugars in our diet. Our brains need a regular influx of glucose (the simple molecule that is the basis of all sugars) in order to function properly and for us to have energy. Sudden spikes in glucose, however, have effects on our mood and energy levels. If we are not aware of how much sugar we are consuming then it’s difficult to control. Added sugars are found in sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks and refined grains such as white bread and pre-packaged foods.
What’s so good about complex carbohydrates?
Complex carbohydrates from sources such as whole grains and fruit and vegetables contain fibres that take longer to digest. These fibres also trigger the release of hormones that tell you that you are full and make you feel satisfied. Most people reach for a sweet snack for a quick source of energy, which is rapidly digested and leaves you with cravings.
The blood sugar rollercoaster
Do you regularly feel any of the following?
If so, then you could be riding the blood sugar rollercoaster (imbalanced blood sugar levels). When you consume a high amount of added sugar, your body releases insulin to remove the excess glucose. However, it can remove too much, resulting in a blood sugar crash (very low blood sugar levels), which can leave you feeling light headed, dizzy and low in energy.
Low blood sugar levels often means low mood, so sweets are eaten to improve this low mood and the whole cycle starts again. These symptoms occur as a result of depriving your brain of the necessary fuel it needs. So what can you do? Replace simple, added carbohydrates with more complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, whole grain pasta and crackers, beans and green vegetables!
*Photo credit: Nutrition To The Edge
Sweeteners…an appropriate alternative?
Personally, I don’t recommend sweeteners. Although some sweeteners have been found to have benefits (e.g. xylitol preventing tooth decay), there is also a lot of evidence that has linked sweeteners to health problems such as weight gain and diabetes. Sweeteners should be avoided completely if you suffer from adrenal fatigue or blood sugar issues.
I would recommend cutting down on sugar gradually to get used to the taste and getting the sweet taste from other foods instead, such as whole grains, fruit and veg. Honey and Yacón syrup are safer, more natural alternatives that contain some nutrients and are good for the gut, but have disadvantages such as tooth decay or laxative effects. Basically, all sweeteners have their downfalls, but the less processed the sweetener, the better.
Take a look at this guide to further educate yourself on the benefits and disadvantages of different sweeteners:
5 ways to cure your sugar addiction and revive your sex life!
- Include whole foods in your diet, e.g. oatmeal, whole grain pasta, rice, crackers, nuts, beans and green vegetables!
- Eat more beans to slow down the release of glucose from the carbohydrates you do eat
- Avoid processed foods with added sugar
- Add cinnamon to your food as it can help to regulate blood sugar levels
- If you can’t stop yourself, then choose a natural source that also contains beneficial nutrients!
Shannon Shaw is a guest blogger at EatLiveLovefood and an undergraduate of BSc Exercise, Nutrition & Health (Hons). Currently gaining some practical experience in Amsterdam whilst completing her degree at Coventry University, UK. She is searching for inspiration in preparation for her final year dissertation and learning everything it takes to succeed in the world of nutrition.