Why I “NEED” My Sugar

posted in: Nutrition | 0

If you’ve ever been to one of Mindful Café’s meditation groups, you know it’s more than just meditation. A big part of the group is the community aspect, and we often spend the first 10 – 15 minutes just sharing.

Recently, several of us brought up the addictive nature of sugar. I love sweets, but not the way I feel after I eat them. I get the jitters, followed by a crash and I’m just not as productive, or grounded, or easy to get along with as I usually am. I’ve been successful in the past, kicking the sugar habit. The last time was in 2020, yet somewhere in between then and now, I fell of the wagon and ain’t nothing pretty down that road. Sugar really is highly addictive.

Did you know that the average American adult consumes 24 teaspoons of sugar PER DAY (kids are consuming even more)? That’s 182 cups a year, about 86 pounds or about 21 four pounds bags. And that’s AVERAGE! It’s a leading cause of inflammation leading to chronic illnesses, as well as type 2 diabetes. It can lead to obesity, cavities and trouble sleeping.

So why is it so hard for me to give up sugar, when I know how unhealthy it is? I don’t have any other addictions, never have, so just what makes sugar so addictive and why is it so hard for me to stay away from it? And we’re talking sugar in all it’s processed and artificial forms. If you’re not sure what that means, it’s pretty much any sweetener that isn’t a whole food (like a piece of fruit for instance).

First of all, we’re hard wired to want sugar. It gave us the rush we needed (thanks to a rise in our adrenaline and epinephrine level) to outrun a saber-toothed tiger and other dangers. The problem is, saber-toothed tigers are extinct and we now have cars to make our get-aways.

Okay, now let’s explore the effect of eating sugar on your brain. Sugar releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It’s part of the reward circuit that leads to addictive behavior. It’s part of what explains the high that you may feel from eating a sugary food. It’s also what makes you want to do it again and again.

As you repeat it however, your brain adjusts to release less dopamine, which means you must eat more in order to feel the same high. It’s interesting to note that many studies indicate that sugar is more addictive than cocaine, but the jury is still out on that one.

Sugar also activates the opiate receptors in our brain, which affects our reward centers, leading to compulsive behavior. And every time we do this we are strengthening the neural pathways that lead us to want more.

Meanwhile, when you eat sugar, which is easily digested and hits the bloodstream quickly, your pancreas responds by pumping out insulin to push the sugar to the cells. You get a drop in blood sugar leading to sluggishness, so our adrenal gland kicks in to secrete adrenaline and pick us back up. This leads to a vicious cycle of blood sugar regulation problems and adrenal fatigue.

I’m aware of all this and yet I still find myself craving sugar. In fact, I find that the more I eat, the more I want. So I’m recommitting to a sugar-free life.

Enough with the nerdy science talk already. Most of us want some real easy-to-understand, practical ways to at least reduce their consumption. The first big step is to make the decision to stop. You’ll find that can be really difficult at first, then within weeks, it gets easier. Since it is so ingrained in us to crave sugar, you may always want some, but you can easily satisfy your cravings with naturally sweet foods. And, as you give up processed sugar, you’ll find that those naturally sweet foods taste even sweeter than before. Here are a few tips to help you on your way.

    • Become a label reader. Sugar lurks in many unexpected places: Dressings, ketchup, pasta sauce, dairy, crackers, etc.
    • Know the aka’s for sugar: Glucose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, lactose, maltodextrin, cane sugar, brown sugar, caramel, turbinado sugar, fruit juice concentrate.
    • Cut out the artificial sweeteners too: Nutrasweet, Equal, Neotame, Sweet ‘n Low, Sweet Twin, Sugar Twin, Splenda.
    • I’m not a fan of other sweeteners such as stevia or monk fruit, because there is some indication that it still triggers that craving for sweets. There doesn’t appear to be anything inherently unhealthy about those ingredients by themselves, so you do you.
    • Stay well hydrated and well rested.
    • Eat Naturally sweet foods – berries, bananas, apples and other fruits, sweet potatoes, carrots.
    • Use spices like cinnamon, nutmeg & ginger. They are naturally sweet and help balance blood sugar levels.
    • If you must eat sugar, eat in it in it’s whole form like dates.
    • Small amounts of natural forms of sugar like real maple syrup, coconut sugar and honey are ok as you’re transitioning off. They contain some nutritional value in trace minerals.
    • Avoid refined white foods – white bread, pasta, white rice.
    • If you’re having problems giving up your baked goods, try substituting bananas and applesauce for the sugar in the recipe.
    • Above all else, be kind to yourself. Yes, it’s a difficult transition, and no one is perfect. We’re all just doing the best we can.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am probably not going to give up my daily square of dark chocolate. It’s my little indulgence and so small that it doesn’t lead to a full on binge. And, it makes me happy!

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