Most Americans are addicted to sugar. Some don't even know the amounts of sugar that they are consuming because it is hidden in so many foods with a variety of different names. Sugar causes a multitude of physical ailments from headaches and chronic infections to crankiness and mood swings. Let's examine sugar, how it affects the body and how we can deconstruct our cravings and reduce them so that we can feel better.
Sugar comes from two different places, sugar cane and beets. From both plants, the juice is extracted, crystallized, cleaned and processed so that the end result is the white stuff you see at every restaurant and dinner table around the world. Simple table sugar is made up of sucrose, a simple sugar that burns quickly when it enters the body. When we eat these simple sugars, a few reactions occur in the body. The first place the sugar goes is into your digestive system. Because sugar is processed down to one molecule, it is missing all of the vitamins and minerals the body needs to digest it. In order for the body to process sugar it must release its own stores of vitamins and minerals to aid in digestion. Sugar robs the body of essential vitamins and minerals that it needs.
When foods are digested, they are broken down and the nutrients are moved into the bloodstream. Because sugar is made of only one substance, it breaks down rapidly and moves quickly into the bloodstream. Sugar in the blood triggers the production of insulin by the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that moves sugar out of the blood as it binds with receptors in the body. On average, Americans consume about 150 pounds of sugar per person, per year. This excess sugar is stored in fat, which is why we gain weight from eating sugar. However, there is another reason that sugar causes weight gain; when the pancreas is producing insulin, it cannot produce another hormone called glucagon, which is responsible for telling the body to release and burn fat stores for energy. So, your body grows its fat stores and prevents them from being burned for energy when you eat sugar.
Sugar is not the problem as much as is the solution to sugar cravings. Cravings are caused by the excess amounts of sugar we typically consume. Constant exposure to excess sugar causes the body to overproduce insulin. This excess insulin causes the blood sugar to drop to a low, which then triggers the body to crave sugar, which at this point it needs. So, you eat some sugar and the whole cycle starts again. This sugar cycle is the high burst of energy we get from eating sugar followed by the crash and burn later. There is no need to feel bad about any lack of will power when it comes to sugar because it is highly addictive. Trying to stop eating sugar is as hard as quitting smoking or drinking coffee, so cut yourself some slack and check out these ways to curb your sugar cravings.
Reduce the amount of sugar you consume - the less you eat, the less you crave. Soda and juice are high in sugar so read your labels carefully.
Eat some sweet vegetables. Root vegetables like yams, sweet potato, carrots, beets and onions provide a sweet flavor that satisfies the palate, reducing your craving for a sweet dessert.
Eat some leafy green vegetables to replenish the vitamins and minerals you have been losing to sugar.
Drink more water! We often mistake thirst for hunger. The next time a craving strikes, drink some water and see how you feel.
Gain awareness of the many names of sugar as they appear on food labels. Sugar is called fructose, maltose, dextrose, cane sugar, turbinado, organic sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup, just to name a few.
Remember that processed foods act like sugar in the body, so stay away from white bread, white pasta and white rice when you are trying to reduce the amount of sugar you consume. Replace these with whole grain versions for a slower burning food.
Stay away from artificial sweeteners! Aside from being a chemical and not a food, artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than regular sugar. Studies have shown that zero calorie sweeteners cause weight gain by tricking the body into thinking that they are the real sweet. Because artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar, people overeat when exposed to sugar, trying to reach the sweetness of the fake.
Try natural sweeteners like raw honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar in place of sugar. These sweeteners are less processed than sugar and still have their nutrients intact. Although they have calories like sugar, they do not cause weight gain as quickly because they burn more slowly in the body. If you want a zero calorie sweetener, try stevia leaf, an herbal supplement that is extremely sweet and can be found in your local health food store.
By understanding the way that sugar affects the body,
we can make smarter decisions about the foods we eat and avoid getting
caught in the sugar spin cycle. Side effects from reducing sugar include
weight loss, better mood, more energy, better skin, hair, and nails, and
a healthier, happier you!
Rachel Leslie is a certified holistic health counselor
and founder of A Cup of Life, Holistic Health Counseling. She is also
a partner in Green Parties CT, an organic catering company located in
Fairfield County, Connecticut. Rachel lives in Stamford, Connecticut with
her husband and son. For more information: www.acupoflife.com.