Do you have a weakness for sugar? Have you ever wondered why you love it so much? Maybe you’ve tried to reduce your sugar intake or avoid it completely, without success.
Read on to learn more about the sweet stuff with some motivation to say goodbye to sugar for good.
Sugar goes by over 60 different names, some not immediately recognisable as sugar.
Some commonly used names include maltose, dextrose, lactose and maltodextrin, as well as fructose, found in fruit. Fructose provides your liver with energy, while other sugars are broken down to their simplest form, glucose, used for fuel to provide cells with an energy source. Your brain is a huge energy consumer, so any dip in its energy supplies and it will tell you quite clearly it wants sugar and fast.
Since you need energy for all your body’s different functions, you’d be tempted to think sugar can’t be all bad.
However, although it’s no secret sugar causes weight gain and tooth decay, it’s connected with a whole host of other negative health effects. Sugar increases the release of inflammatory chemicals and causes insulin resistance, a precursor for Type 2 diabetes. It wreaks havoc on your microbiome, adversely affecting digestion and your immune system, and it’s been linked with many chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease.
Refined sugar has no nutritional value apart from its calorie content, and your body happily obtains the energy it needs from carbohydrates, protein and fats.
Why would your body crave something so harmful?
During evolution, humans developed a preference for sweet tastes as they learned sweet foods are rarely poisonous. In times of food shortage sugar-containing foods provide precious energy. But nowadays food shortages are seldom an issue and you aren’t usually served up poisonous plants with Sunday lunch.
When your taste buds detect sugar, your brain releases dopamine, causing you to feel pleasure. Your brain will then want to repeat the activity, so tells you to eat more sugar. But as more dopamine is released, the receptors sensing it become less sensitive, meaning more is needed to experience the same amount of pleasure. This means you’ll crave the substance producing the dopamine, in this case sugar. Research suggests sugar stimulates the brain’s pleasure centres even more than cocaine.
Finally, if foods containing refined sugar are eaten, your blood sugar levels will spike, followed by a crash, leaving you feeling jittery, weak and craving sugar. If you reach for a sweet snack the cycle continues.
Many foods contain naturally-occurring sugars, neatly packaged alongside protein, fat and fibre, and your body has evolved to deal with these without problems. However, issues arise when refined sugar is added to food.
If you eat processed and ready prepared food, it’s almost impossible to avoid refined sugar. Food manufacturers take advantage of your sugar addiction by adding it to their products so you’ll want to eat more.
On average, adults in the UK consume around 60g sugar per day, about 14 teaspoons, against a maximum recommended intake of 30g per day.
Sugary drinks are a big culprit, especially for teens. Even though the sugar content of soft drinks in the UK has dropped since the introduction of the sugar tax, a can of regular cola still contains 35g sugar. Milkshakes are also crammed with sugar, while hot drinks such as flavoured lattes have as much as 23g per cup. One hot chocolate was found to contain an incredible 93g sugar per drink.
When juice is extracted from fruit it’s a rich source of sugar, without the fruit’s natural fibre to slow down the sugar absorption into your body.
According to Drinkaware, alcoholic drinks contribute around 11% of the average person’s daily intake of sugar. Wine contains between a quarter teaspoon to two teaspoons sugar per glass, with tonic water having almost 7.5g sugar per 150ml can.
Even savoury foods – most sauces, cooked meats, tomato sauce and even savoury ready meals – contain sugar. One supermarket brand of sweet and sour chicken contains 15g sugar per serving. Worryingly, recently the sugar content in savoury baby foods has increased by 16% over a six-year period.
Like any addiction, avoiding sugar although unpleasant at first will retrain your brain’s pleasure centres and your cravings will reduce.
Making sure you’re eating plenty of quality protein like organic chicken, pulses and eggs, as well as Omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish, nuts and seeds can balance blood sugar levels and so reduce cravings.
Finally, remember sugar cravings can be a sign your body is asking for pleasure and comfort rather than sugar.
Reducing sugar can be challenging because of your brain’s strong message telling you to eat something sweet, but I can help with a personalised nutrition and lifestyle programme to help you overcome your sugar addiction. Start your journey towards a positive relationship with healthy food today.
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