You’ve likely seen those commercials on television about high fructose corn syrup (sugar derived from corn) where a person eating something containing fructose says to her friend, “Like sugar, it’s fine in moderation”. However, when it comes to sugar, determining moderation may be difficult.
The subject of sugar, to eat or not to eat, has been controversial over the last few decades. A careful reading of food labels will show that sugar, in all its various forms (dextrose, sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, etc) is present in hundreds of foods. This makes our consumption of it inevitable and frustrating if we want to cut down and use it in moderation.
In fact, more than half the American public consumes one-half pound of sugar a day, or 180 lbs a year! Is it any wonder Americans are dangerously overweight and diabetes is running rampant in this country?
Years ago, a groundbreaking book called Sugar Blues by William Duffy shocked everyone by asserting that sugar was really an addicting drug, much like heroin, that caused diabetes, weight gain, cavities, cancer, connective tissue disease, and caused us to age faster. Yet, we need the complex form of sugar, glucose, to produce the energy that fuels our entire body.
Today, despite having several sugar replacements on the market like aspartame, Stevia, Splenda, Xylitol, saccharin, Lo Han Guo, acesulfame, many of my patients are still fighting a losing battle with sugar. Why? Can it be that, as a nation, we really are addicted to it?
Allow me to share with you some things I tell my patients about sugar, how it affects us, and what can we do to not let it control our lives with cravings and sabotage our weight, moods, or illness management.
What’s So Bad About Sugar?
Table sugar is made from sugar cane or sugar beets, so shouldn’t it be a natural food that’s good for you? Not by the time it gets to us in the supermarket. Sugar is so refined from cane or beets that it is stripped of all its vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, leaving only the sucrose. Humans cannot completely process sucrose in this form and as a result many metabolic malfunctions take place, mostly from the high acid residue sugar leaves. Here are a few important ones from a long list:
- Impaired immune function – white blood cells don’t work correctly when exposed to a high sugar (acid) environment. Illnesses can get a stronger foothold in us and eventually over power our immune system and make us ill.
- Degenerative – the high acid environment from sugar causes inflammation in the skin and joints and eats away at collagen, the connective tissue in our bodies. When our connective tissues break down, premature wrinkling of the skin occurs as well as inflammation in all the joints.
- Obesity – Eating large amounts of sugar in the food we consume directly contributes to both weight gain and diabetes by creating a condition called insulin resistance – the body has more and more trouble using insulin and so stores body fat, particularly around the waistline where it becomes a problem for the liver and other abdominal organs.
- Mineral leeching – high sugar intakes can lead to osteoporosis caused by leeching calcium and other minerals out of the bone, making them weak and likely to fracture.
- Spikes adrenaline/blood pressure – eating a high-refined sugar meal like cake, candy, etc, causes adrenaline to be released. This is why children frequently get hyper after eating sugar. However, the adrenaline also causes blood pressure to spike by several points.
- Gastrointestinal upsets – refined sugar contributes to an acid environment in the stomach and intestinal tract contributing to reflux disease and inflammation.
What Can You Do About Sugar Addiction?
It would appear that addiction to refined sugar might actually be true. Take sugar out of someone’s diet for a few days and watch the bad moods and flaring tempers surface, as well as cravings, much the same as drug/alcohol addicts going through withdrawal!
While we do need the more complex form of sugar, glucose, to make our brains and bodies function normally, we don’t need to eat refined sugar to create it. You can create high quality glucose and serotonin, a feel good important brain chemical, by doing a little work in the supermarket reading labels and foregoing those that contain sugar.
Here’s what I recommend to my patients to “kick their sugar habit” and enjoy the immediate and long-term benefits of using a cleaner “slower burning fuel” in their body:
- Dump the desserts: First, get rid of all sugar-containing commercially baked goods. Look for “no sugar added” varieties or those sweetened with Splenda, even honey.
- White Bread/White Rice/White Flour/Crackers: Though white rice doesn’t contain refined sugar, it turns into a high glycemic sugar in your body. White bread, crackers and anything made from white flour, are other high glycemic foods that turn quickly to sugar once eaten. Switch to whole grains with no high fructose corn syrup or sugar added, cooked brown rice, high protein pastas, and sweet potatoes. These are low glycemic starches that give slow blood sugar releases. They help create serotonin to stabilize your mood and sleep cycles.
- Breakfast Cereals: Many commercial breakfast cereals contain sugar. Switch to things like oatmeal, oat bran, quinoa, and wheat bran that sport low glycemic indexes (55 or below) that won’t spike blood sugars, adrenaline, or blood pressure. No rice cereals.
- Limit Juices: To 4 oz a day of commercially bottled fruit juices as most are loaded with sugar. Instead, try squeezing your own juice from fresh oranges or tangerines and don’t add sugar! Or, just eat a serving of fresh fruit instead.
- Up The B Vitamins: Sugar addictions are in many ways like alcohol addictions, they rob B vitamins out of your body, especially B1 (thiamine) and B12. Be sure your multiple contains higher amounts of the RDA for this group of vitamins, as they are crucial to quelling sugar cravings.
- Power Down The Caffeine: If you drink coffee, switch to artificially sweetened decaf or half-caff. Caffeine can ignite insulin spikes, cause blood sugars to drop and create sugar cravings. If you drink coffee out, forego the big choco-chip cookie or muffin staring at you from the snack bar. Pack a high protein snack like no-sugar nuts.
- Take a Nap: People who crave sugar are often sleep-deprived and need the jolt of energy that sugar initially gives them. However, this has a rebound effect in that it fuels chronic fatigue. Try to get at least 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night.
- Try Some Licorice – the kind found in health food stores, not the candy aisle at the supermarket. This helps quell sugar cravings. Also comes in tea form.
- Probiotics – sugar cravings often come from/cause a Candida yeast condition in the gut. Taking probiotics, as well as cutting out refined sugar, can get rid of candida overgrowths and cravings.
- Read Labels – sometimes sugar is hidden in ingredients by using alternative words such as dextrose, fructose, and high fructose corn syrup. These are all sugar and have a very high glycemic index.
Though getting rid of a sugar-habit can be tough it is well worth the doing. It’s not easy. It takes about 5 days for your body to cleanse sugar from your system and stop you from craving it so much.
After two weeks or so, your body will be getting comfortable with the idea that refined sugar is not going to be onboard any longer and you’ll start noticing some positive changes. Your skin will look tighter and more clear, your joints should not feel so creaky, you’ll have more real energy, you’ll sleep better, and emotionally all the ups and downs should level out. Best of all, you won’t feel the need to jump in the car at midnight to hit the nearest drive-thru for a late night ice cream cone or chocolate shake!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.