I believe that refined sugar should be classified as a drug, not a food. When you take sugar cane and “refine” it, you remove all of its fiber, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. You are left with a pure crystalline substance with no nutritional value other than calories. Let’s look at some of the properties of sugar:
- Consumption can give you a kick of energy, a temporary mood boost, or even sedate you if you eat a lot of it (sugar coma).
- If you are used to eating lots of sugar and then you stop, you will probably get withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, headaches, shakiness, depression, anxiety, and cravings.
- The more sugar you eat, the more you tend to crave.
- Despite knowing all of the horrible health effects (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.) people continue to consume vast amounts of sugar.
This list easily could have been written about cocaine or heroin. In fact, sugar has a similar affect on the brain as heroin- it temporarily increases dopamine, the body’s pleasure neurotransmitter. In laboratory studies, rats that were allowed to drink sweetened water became obsessed with it, taking sips every few minutes. When the sugar water was removed, they had acute withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, teeth chattering, and extreme aggression. The scientist who performed the experiment said he had never seen such aggressive rats- they actually tried to gnaw his fingers off!
While sugar may not be as dangerous as narcotics in the short term, it can lead to serious health problems over the long term. It is a huge factor in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It depletes your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections. It causes inflammation in the body, which can cause or worsen arthritis, allergies, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer. It promotes osteoporosis by leaching calcium out of your bones in order to alkalize the acidic byproducts of sugar metabolism. It also interferes with your serotonin levels, leading to depression and chronic fatigue.
Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to remove all refined sugars from the diet. Start looking as some labels and you will find it hidden in all types of foods, even things like ketchup and salad dressings. Some other names that sugar may go by include:
- Anything with the word “sugar” (cane sugar, beet sugar, brown sugar, turbinado sugar)
- Anything ending in –ose (sucrose, fructose, maltose, dextrose)
- Any type of syrup (High fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, maple syrup)
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Corn sweetener
- Agave nectar/syrup (almost 100% fructose)
Artificial sweeteners may seem like a good alternative, but they are just as bad or even worse! When you taste something sweet, your body expects sugar. When it doesn’t get it, it craves it even more. Studies have shown that diet soda drinkers tend to be more obese than regular soda drinkers. Artificial sweeteners can also have side effects such as migraines, bloating and gas, and diarrhea. Some have even been linked to certain types of cancer. Be on the lookout for these artificial sweeteners in your foods:
- acesulfame potassium
- sugar alcohols (maltitol, sorbitol, anything ending in -ol)
With sugars and sweeteners so easily available and ubiquitous, it may be impossible to eliminate all of them from your diet, but any reduction you make will have positive effects on your health. Try these simple tips to start reducing your sugar consumption:
- Eat more whole foods instead of packaged, processed foods. Think to yourself, “Could a caveman have eaten this?” If the answer is no, then you probably shouldn’t be eating it either.
- In order to eat more fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains, you are going to need to go grocery shopping more than once a week. Keep in mind that different stores have different quality produce. Market Basket might be fine for your dry goods, but their produce leaves much to be desired. It may cost a bit more to go to Hannaford’s or Whole Foods, but you are going to get fresher food that you are more likely to eat. Your health is worth the few extra dollars.
- Start cooking more. If you are pressed for time, make big batches of soup or chili on the weekend so that you have easy lunches throughout the week.
- Eliminate all beverages other than water and unsweetened tea/coffee. Drinking any kind of sweet beverage, even “diet” soda or juice, throughout the day will only encourage your sugar addiction.
- Try to keep your home a “sugar-free zone”. If someone else in your family must have their sweets, ask them to hide them somewhere you can’t find them.
- Never skip a meal. Being overly hungry makes it harder to resist cravings. It is also better to eat several small meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar level.
- Always include some fiber, protein, and healthy fat with each meal to slow down carb absorption.
- If you are going to buy a processed food, read your labels carefully! Things like “all natural” and “multigrain” are meaningless and food companies are very sneaky. If the ingredient list has any type of sugar/sweetener in the first five ingredients, you should probably stay away.
- Educate yourself about sugar and carb addiction. The more you know, the less you will want to eat it.
- Get your friends and family on board. Kicking your sugar habit will be easier to do if you are not alone in your endeavors.