Most of us have had childhoods chock
full of sugar laden "rewards."
Scarcely is a child's birthday party
complete without the gaudy, colorful, super-sweet theme cake that makes
everybody psychotic immediately after eating it. Every bakery I have ever been
to with my children had the obligatory sprinkle sugar cookie at the ready to
give out to children to forge a positive relationship. Teachers, grandparents,
and yes, even parents, use candy, ice cream and cookies to bribe or win
children over. The promised dessert is the rainbow at the end of a meal a child
does not want to eat. Just the smell of cotton candy and belgian waffles
reminds us of happy times at a street fair or amusement park when we were
carefree kids getting sick on the tilt-a-whirl but enjoying it all the same.
It is no wonder we have such a positive
association with sweets. They viscerally evoke memories of happiness and make
us feel like good people. Each
taste of sugar harkens back to feelings of love, approval, security and good
times. We are Pavlovian creatures. Once the association between sugar and approval
is forged we are victims of its lure.
We crave it physically, for its
salivary yumminess in the mouth and momentary rush of energy in the
bloodstream, and psychologically for all those happy aforementioned
Craving sugar is also biologically very
natural. Carbohydrates (sugar being a simple form of carbs) are broken down
into glucose in the digestive tract. It is the stuff that fuels our physical
and mental activities. When we are tired, sleep deprived and overworked — as,
sadly, such a large percentage of our culture is — we reach for sugar to
provide us with a compensatory pick-me-up. Our physiology associates sugar with
the energetic boost which kicks in quickly as the refined sugar surges into the
bloodstream. Numerous studies have shown that chronically sleep deprived individuals
tend to a higher body weight than folks who value their sleep. The sleep
deprived population tries to fight its fatigue with food, and the most
efficient, and therefore attractive, food for someone desperate for energy is
something sweet and sugary. Besides, refined sugar products surround us
everywhere. When on the run, it is easier to pick up a candy bar or soda from a
vending machine than a banana from a supermarket.
If you did manage to score a banana to
enjoy as a snack you would benefit in many ways. Fruits are complex
carbohydrates, along with vegetables, whole grains, potatoes and legumes. They
are high in fiber, promote healthy digestion, give you a satisfied feeling and
keep blood sugar stable. On the flip side, if you give in to eating some simple
carbohydrates, such as candy, cookies, cakes, sodas, fruit juices, white flour
breads and pastas, and most commercial packaged breakfast cereals, your body
will experience a drastic spike in blood-sugar levels causing mood swings,
cravings, compulsive eating, weight gain and eventually an impressive slew of
chronic and degenerative illnesses.
Wait a second, what happened to the
happy, feel-good part about sugar?
Well, in the body, as in this story, it
doesn't last long…
Refined sugars are unnatural. All the
valuable constituents of a whole food,
such as vitamins, minerals and fiber are processed out of it leaving it
in more of a chemical than a food form. This pure substance basically slips through
the digestive tract straight to the liver since there is nothing for our
digestive systems to "chew on." The liver is overwhelmed and is not able to
prevent a barrage of sugar from entering into the blood stream which causes
damage to the liver itself and all the cells of the body. This incomplete sugar
metabolism creates toxins and interferes with cell respiration which leads to
cell abnormalities and degenerative diseases. Frequent sugar intake will cause
the liver to swell. The excess
sugar from the liver is sent back into the bloodstream as fatty acids and is
cleverly distributed throughout less active parts of the body like the belly,
thighs, breasts and derriere.
Coincidentally, 63.1% of American adults are either overweight or obese.
Most of us know that sugar is not good
for you but have little idea of how much sugar they actually consume and how
far reaching the harmful consequences really are.
The typical American eats the
equivalent of about 31 teaspoons of sugar every day. This daily sugar intake
totals almost 500 extra calories — about 25% of the average person's caloric
intake. This rate of sugar consumption adds up to about 2 to 3 pounds of sugar
each week or 135 pounds per person per year.
These sugar calories are often masked
in breakfast cereals that claim they are heart healthy or full of healthy
fiber. They are found in innocent looking iced tea and sports beverages and
snuck into condiments, salad dressings, crackers and commercial breads. A
serving of McDonald's oatmeal, which is touted as a healthy breakfast choice,
contains more sugar than a Snickers bar! It adds up even if one tries to avoid
the obvious sugars in desserts and sweets.
Now, lets take this 25% of an average
person's caloric intake comprised of refined sugars and consider that these
calories are not just devoid of nutrients but they actually leech vitamins and
minerals from the muscles and bones in order to be metabolized. Sugar
consumption is what makes the vast majority of Americans overweight and
under-nourished. This one omnipresent, "feel good" substance is making almost
every American sick. Refined sugar and simple carbohydrates are enormous
contributors to, if not entirely responsible for, all of these health
conditions: heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, hormonal imbalances,
depression, anxiety, tooth decay, premature aging, migraines, allergies,
osteoporosis, digestive disorders, suppressed immunity, kidney damage, and
hyperactivity — especially in children.
The positive associations we have with
sugar-laden holidays and special events are a strong pull on our heart strings
and our salivary glands. We may never be able to over-ride them completely with
the knowledge that sugar is really bad for us. But there are steps that we can
take and techniques to empower our bodies and minds that can enable us to break
the addiction and arrive at happier and healthier boundaries in our
relationship with sugar.
Giving up sugar is not difficult! It
requires a resolute desire to do so, a period of complete abstinence to break
the addiction, learning what to substitute for the times that one would
normally eat something sugar sweetened and then making a decision regarding any
sort of reasonable sugar allowance.
There are two major motivators for
people to change their diets. One is inspiration and the other is suffering.
Through inspiration we have the desire
to change to better ourselves with the wisdom of knowing that thoughtful
decision-making and discipline will pay off down the road. Inspiration to
create change reflects self love and self respect and a willingness to rise
above our base desires to achieve something great for ourselves. Some people
give up sugar for this lofty reason.
More often, people decide to give up
sugar because they do not feel good. Perhaps they are getting colds too often and
are constantly struggling with fatigue. Frequent and migraine headaches are
debilitating enough to encourage a change. The desire to have clear skin can
even convince an image conscious teen-ager to lay off the sodas and chocolate.
More seriously the scare of a pre-cancerous pap smear, a diagnosis of
prediabetes, or a debilitating digestive disorder will drive a patient to do
whatever needs to be done to turn his condition around.
Consider this: A patient with Crone's
disease will notice significant improvement to his condition in 24 to 48 hours
after completely abstaining from sugar. Drinking one soda per day can make a
person 10 pounds fatter in one year. Imagine the potential weight loss for an
overweight person that drinks 3 cans of soda per day! Going cold turkey on
sugar is guaranteed to even out and enhance a person's energy and mood, and
enable more mental clarity. Eliminating sugar will lower blood pressure for
people with hypertension and normalize blood pressure for people that have
episodes of extreme hypotension because low blood pressure and erratic sugar
levels go hand in hand.
Quitting the sugar habit is powerful
Are those girl scout cookies in the
cabinet drastically losing their appeal?
you ready to quit? Here's how!
You need to go cold turkey for three weeks. Throw out all the sweets in your house
(or give them to your least favorite neighbor). This includes sodas, ice cream,
cookies, pastries, candy, chocolate, sweetened cereals, granola bars,
"nutrition" bars, many snack foods, etc. The only sweet things you should have
left are fruit, unsweetened dried fruit, and raw honey.
Natural sweeteners such as maple syrup,
agave nectar, and brown rice syrup, seem pretty innocent but are still
unnaturally concentrated sources of sugar when compared to the original food
they are refined from. Brown rice is sweet, but you would have to eat
buckets-full to get the amount of sugars that are in a tablespoon of brown rice
syrup. Fruit juices present the same problem. An orange is good for you but a
glass of orange juice (even freshly squeezed) contains the juice of about 6-8
oranges. That's too much for your blood sugar. So, you'll have to get rid of
the juices too.
Go out and buy some delicious, fresh,
organic fruit, and a nice variety of it. You will crave sugar for the first 2-5
days and eating a banana, some berries or an awesome mango will give you a lot
of satisfaction. Why organic? Because it's better for the planet, is not
produced with toxic chemicals, and tastes much better! What is good for the planet is good for
Plan your meals and snacks with a
regular intake of protein in mind. There is nothing better than a nibble of
protein to alleviate a sugar craving. It is commonplace for vegetarians, and
especially vegans, to have strong sugar cravings due to a deficiency of
protein. Eggs, small portions of meats or fish, beans and nuts provide the body
with satisfying slow burning fuel which stabilize blood sugar and reduce sugar cravings.
If you are used to eating sweetened
breakfast cereal in the morning you will have to replace it with either a
completely unsweetened variety or something entirely different. Unsweetened
cereals are hard to find and may taste a lot like compressed sawdust or shards
of hockey pucks. You may want to get more for your money and opt for an egg and
a piece of whole grain toast. (Better to get that from a local bakery than a
packaged variety from the supermarket. Bread from the supermarket shelf is
likely to contain sweeteners.)
When you are sitting with your friends
or family at the table after dinner and someone mentions dessert… be strong!
Stick with your resolution and learn to decline. After doing this a few times,
it becomes easy. It's just a habit. The hardest part for me is shunning the mini
Kit-Kat bar that I've had plopped down in front of me on my airline lunch tray.
But I've learned to just tuck it under my napkin and remind myself that the
pleasure I may get from it will only last about a minute.
Good job! You've stood tough, nibbling
on nuts when you had to, and now you have not eaten sugar for five days. At this point the strong
craving is really gone, and you have found nutritious and yummy foods to take
the place of desserts and other sugary snacks. You will likely feel a greater
mental clarity and sharpness. Bonus!
Some say that the standard amount of
time it takes to entirely change a pattern, addiction or habit is 21 days,
other sources say 30-45 days. There are no hard and fast rules. If you were
drinking a liter of soda and a box of cookies per day it will take much more
mental and physical reprograming than for someone that had one cookie after
lunch each day. Both will crave the habit for a longer time than the body will
crave the sugar. I find that after completely eliminating sugar (that means
100%) for 3 weeks, you will get up from the dinner table and realize that your
brain did not even consider dessert.
When you reach that benchmark in
quitting the sugar habit it is best to stick with it. Just one pastry with your
coffee at Starbucks will find you considering another the next time. Hopefully,
if you cheat, you will get a headache from the sugar as your body reminds you
that it is not doing this anymore.
Yet on the rare occasion…since a
giant piece of carrot cake can pop up in front of you on your birthday
accompanied by an embarrassing group of singing waiters, there is a grace in
asking for more forks for your friends and having some, and enjoying it.
Image by aleksands, courtesy of Creative Commons license.