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A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, right? Well, that spoonful of sugar could be the reason you're having to take medicine in the first place!
We all know that sugar is bad for you. Well, if you're conscious about what you put in your body, then you're probably aware, but the typical American has no idea (and if they do, they probably don't know enough about the facts to understand why it should be avoided). That's because of the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is supposed to give us all the nutrition we need, yet most of the food “products” that are part of the SAD are loaded with sugar, simple carbohydrates, processed and fake fats, artificial chemicals, colors, flavors, sweeteners and much more. The typical American doesn't stand a chance at true health.
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My Battle With Sugar
Writing this post has been somewhat emotional and nerve racking for me. Here I am, going before the world admitting that I am not perfect. Not that I think I'm perfect (because believe me, I am FAR from it), but as a real food blogger, I hold myself to a higher standard. I expect myself to lead by example. I love to teach people and share my knowledge with them, which is why I am working towards becoming a holistic health coach. I want to help people live healthier, happier lives, but in order for me to do that, I must master my own health and happiness. While I have made great strides over the last year, I still have a long way to go and much more to learn. So thank you. Thank you for reading and following along on this journey. I am going to start opening up more on this blog and sharing more of my personal experiences with my readers so that I can connect with all of you on a deeper level.
Now, on to my battle with sugar.
I have always known that sugar is bad for you. I grew up with a mother who was buying organic long before it was trendy. She fed the family meals that were full of real foods – lots of veggies, whole grains, homemade bread, grass-fed meat like elk and deer, as well as eggs and meat from their own chickens. On occasion, she'd fry me up some chicken livers. We ate real butter and raw milk cheese when she could get it. The kitchen didn't have much, if any sugar in it, and when it did have white sugar, that was strictly for the hummingbirds. Most of the time, we would make our own treats, which wasn't too often and on occasion, she'd let me have a donut or some candy, but that was few and far between. They were real treats. Do we even know the definition of treat anymore? P.S. Thanks Mom!
According to Google, when you type in the word “treat“, the definition is:
“An event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.”
Oh! So, that's what a treat is? It's something out of the ordinary. Which means once a week, or once a month, or once a year, not every day, which is what most people do. And I'm not pointing fingers – I'm just as guilty as anyone!
Yet, even though I grew up with a mother who fed me all the right things and instilled in me a good sense of nutrition, as I got older and was exposed to more of the world, I started wanting the sweet, white, crack-like substance known as sugar. It started with some candy every now and then, but over time, it evolved into needing to have dessert after every dinner. Needing sugar when I was stressed or sad. I have battled sugar addiction like you would not believe and it's still a struggle that goes on to this very day. As a matter of fact, this last weekend, I consumed WAY too much processed sugar and simple carbs and by Monday morning, I felt like I needed a detox. Because I am becoming more aware of the effects of sugar on my body, I can actually feel my health diminishing after a binge session. Most of the time I do really well – maybe some maple syrup on my oatmeal or some coconut sugar in my tea or coffee. But, those sugars don't affect me the way processed sugar does, and, I am very conscious of how much I use (neither one of them are cheap). Don't get me wrong, maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, palm sugar, etc., are all sugars and should be used in moderation. However, I believe that there is something different about consuming those in moderation than consuming white cane sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, etc.
So, why do I overindulge in sweets and treats, even though I know they're bad for me? Well, because eating for me, like many people, is an emotional thing. I tend to gravitate towards food, primarily sweets, when I am emotional – stressed, sad, bored, and yes, even when I'm happy. These are the times where I feel like eating. And sugar is my kryptonite. For some people it's salty foods, for me, it's sugary foods. And, I know I'm not alone. I don't know what the statistics are for food addicts and when I Googled it, I didn't find a lot of info, but I imagine it's staggering. I think many more people are addicted to food, and in most cases, a specific type of food, like sugar, than we think.
According to Wikipedia, sugar addiction is “a perceived difficulty controlling intake of sweet foods or beverages.” Notice that it says “perceived”. That's because the medical community as a whole has not yet recognized sugar addiction as an actual form of addiction. According to science, the jury is still out. According to me, sugar addiction is alive and well in many people, myself included.
Sugar addiction is really a form of an eating disorder. It has been shown to have both physiological and psychological effects. I can attest that both of these are true, because (1) When I eat sugar, I get that “high” feeling, followed by a crash a little while later that leaves me craving more sugar, and (2) When I eat sugary products, I feeling comforted and soothed. But, those are not real feelings. Real comfort and soothing comes from a hug from my husband or a cuddle with my dogs, not a big plate of cake and ice cream.
Eating sugar affects the opioids and dopamine that the brain produces. Because of this, it has the potential to be addictive. The changes in the brain that occur when eating sugar are very similar to those that occur when consuming other addictive drugs. In a study done by Nicole Avena in 2008, she states:
Recent behavioral tests in rats further back the idea of an overlap between sweets and drugs. Drug addiction often includes three steps. A person will increase his intake of the drug, experience withdrawal symptoms when access to the drug is cut off and then face an urge to relapse back into drug use. Rats on sugar have similar experiences. Researchers withheld food for 12 hours and then gave rats food plus sugar water. This created a cycle of binging where the animals increased their daily sugar intake until it doubled. When researchers either stopped the diet or administered an opioid blocker the rats showed signs common to drug withdrawal, such as teeth-chattering and the shakes. Early findings also indicate signs of relapse. Rats weaned off sugar repeatedly pressed a lever that previously dispensed the sweet solution.
I know that this test was done on rats, but I believe wholeheartedly that it affects humans the same way. My sugar addiction cycle tends to be one of binging. I will go days or weeks without consuming sugar, but then something will trip me up and I might have a piece of cake, or some candy, or a drink from Starbucks. I have noticed in the past that when I consume sugar after being “off” of it for some time, it doesn't even taste that good. But, the second those sweet molecules hit my taste buds, I'm done for. The cravings return full force and even if I don't want to eat it, I feel obligated to eat it. It's hard to explain that feeling, but this reinforces the fact that it is both a physical and a psychological addiction.
This whole process typically led to a binge-fest, where I consumed a lot of sugar in a short amount of time – usually a weekend, or a stressful day (or days) at work. I would quickly realize that I needed to get it under control again, so I would stop cold turkey. I can't say that I have ever had the shakes, but I would deal with obsessive thoughts about all the things I couldn't eat and the cravings would almost be too much to handle.
I love this video from Dr. Robert Lustig called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”. If you haven't watched it, I highly recommend it.
Sugar is Not The Only Culprit
One thing to keep in mind is that the brain will react the same way to sugar as it does to something that has the taste of sweet, like artificial sweeteners and yes, even stevia. This is because sweet and the taste of sweet both stimulates the brain by activating the endorphin receptors. Artificial sweeteners are a whole different subject, so I won't allow myself to digress. However, in regards to stevia, even though it is a calorie-free sweetener and doesn't have the metabolic impact on your body that sugar does, it can still work in your brain like sugar. For this, and other reasons, stevia should be used in moderation and not used as a replacement for sugar. I use stevia occasionally in my iced tea or in baking, but I don't use it daily.
On a side note, since we're talking about stevia, one thing that I always like to keep in mind is that the more commercialized a product, the more I try to avoid it. I can think of countless products that I have witnessed over the years that make health claims – soy milk, soy burgers, acai and pomegranate juice, the list goes on and on, but the most recent are stevia products like Truvia. While this product is better than the artificial sweeteners like Splenda and NutraSweet, there is some debate as to whether or not this product is safe. It is still a refined, artificial sweetener that is attached to sugar alcohols. If you're going to use stevia, I recommend the organic liquid that you buy at your local health food store, not one of these chemically processed products.
Like Michael Pollan preaches, if it makes a health claim, walk the other way. Any food that makes a health claim is not really food. Real, wholesome food doesn't have to make health claims and have fancy packaging. It's simple. Natural. Beautiful. Delicious. All without the help of an advertising agency.
We're Headed Down a Dangerous Road
Obesity rates are at an all-time high, with over 1/3 of all Americans being obese. That's 30%, a number that will only continue to grow if we don't get our eating habits under control. But, it's much more than that. Many Americans aren't overeaters – they don't pig out and binge eat, yet they continue to gain weight. Why is this happening? Because of the foods we eat (along with a lack of exercise). Most households are eating pre-packaged, highly-processed foods. Within these foods, there are hidden sugars, fats, and chemicals that all contribute to weight gain and decreased health.
In Part 2 of this series, I will discuss the illnesses and disease associated with the consumption of sugar. In Part 3, I will discuss ways to eliminate sugar from your diet and start taking steps towards a refreshed, rejuvenated, healthy you. Part 4 will be a Q&A session, so please let me know if you have any questions! I would love to cover them. I would also love your feedback regarding this post. What are your sugar eating habits? Do you, or someone you love, have a sugar addiction?
“Is Truvia Safe?” – Mark's Daily Apple
Sugar Addiction – Wikipedia
“Sweet Sabotage …” – The People's Chemist