Addiction is often a word associated with illegal substances and rehab programs, not fruit roll ups and homemade cookies. However, sugar addiction can be ubiquitous and dangerous. A diet filled of high glycemic foods and processed carbs not only creates weight gain but increases risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Sugar consumption is linked to mood swings, depression, skin issues, fatigue and dementia. While you may be thinking, “But I don’t have a sweet tooth” and eschew cookies, cakes and chocolate, look a little closer. Do you drink alcohol? Do you eat bread (yes, whole wheat, too) or pasta? You are on the sugar train, friend, which can be as dangerous as addiction to alcohol or drugs.
What makes this such a big problem is that so many people think they are eating “normally” and are oblivious to the cascade of side effects that sugar can have. The overuse of sugar also weakens the taste buds, so the subtle flavor of naturally sweet fruits lose their flavor. Natural sugars become “bland,” building a tolerance of sorts and keeping you addicted to unnaturally sweet and sugar-laced foods. Further, processed food companies know this and capitalize on it. Have you ever looked at the sugar content in your pasta sauce? Ketchup? Yogurt (tons here)? Coconut water? – (I was shocked by that one when I looked). Many processed food company executives came from alcohol and tobacco industry, and are experts and making and advertising addiction. Sugar is added to so many foods simply because it sells more of them. Think about the Lay’s potato chip motto: “you can’t just have one.” Someone is being paid handsomely to assure that. If the detrimental effects of sugar on your body weren’t enough, hopefully not being a victim to mass marketing is.
THE SUGAR TRAP
To see if you are in fact, hooked on sugar, try an experiment and cut it out for a few days. You may be surprised by what you find. Just like quitting any other addiction, you may experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and hunger. The normal “sugar addict cycle” looks something like this: eat sugar > feel energized > digestion finishes >you feel queasy, tired or lightheaded > you assume you are hungry again > eat more > your digestion restarts and the bad feelings go away. This cycle repeats itself and leads to you being sick and overweight. If you can let these mild uncomfortable sensations come and go over a few days, you will find it’s much easier to control your food cravings and desire to overeat and eat sweets.
CUT IT OUT FOR 3 DAYS
So what to do about it? While quitting some things can be accomplished by tapering (caffeine, nicotine, etc.), sugar is not one of them. It’s most effective if all sugar and processed sweets are cut out completely. This means – simple carbs like bread and pasta, alcohol and all forms of sugar: agave, maple syrup, brown sugar, honey. While simple, it’s not easy, but within a few days it will reset your body so you are not craving sweets and will reset your palate so that you know what natural sugars taste like. After three days your headaches and fatigue will lift and you’ll have less intense needs for a sugar fix. Then we can really begin the work of retraining the taste buds, to enjoy food with a lower level of sugar intensity and in normal amounts.
BE PREPARED FOR TOXIC HUNGER
Some people experience “toxic hunger.” This is a form of withdrawal that people misinterpret as being hungry may be a tough 72 hours, but you won’t be left without a life raft. We are going to be putting some great foods, in sugar’s place that will minimize the discomfort and arm you with what you need to make the transition easier. And, over time, your taste buds and food preferences change, and the old addictive drives and cravings fall away.
WHAT TO EAT INSTEAD
Eat more fats, proteins and slow carbs. Slow foods are foods that take a long time to digest, and these squash sugar cravings because they provide you with a steady stream of calories in your bloodstream, versus a flood all at once. Fast carbs, like white bread, fruit juice and pasta, turn to sugar, spiking a rise of glucose in your bloodstream. This causes an excessive spike in insulin, leading to wide swings in glucose and setting you up for fat storage and cravings (see cycle above). Your body also can’t burn this huge caloric load for energy, so they ramp up the fat storage hormones and store them as fat.
These types of food also cause that “toxic hunger,” symptoms triggered when your glucose is at its lowest, which will send you in search of more sweets soon after you finish digesting those fast carbs and fats. The king and queen of slow foods are beans and nuts. Shoot for at least two ounces of nuts and seeds a day, with meals, not snacks and a half cup of beans, preferably a cup. While you should be cognizant of increased mold exposure with beans, they can be great for moderating sugar withdrawal initially. Bean consumption has been shown to stabilize blood sugar even in the meal following the time they are consumed. For carbs, replace refined ones with butternut squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, lentils or peas.
After a minimum of three days, you may begin to add in some sugar, but only in the form of fruits and natural sugars. Use dates, applesauce or bananas to replace sugar in baking, and almond or alternative flours like coconut or chickpea instead of white flour.
A NOTE ON SUGAR REPLACEMENTS
While you may be tempted to sub out saccharin for sugar, please please don’t. Saccharin and even Splenda are neurotoxins that are detrimental to your brain and irritating to your gut. Splenda is a molecular bond away from chlorine, and saccharin products have been linked repeatedly to cancer.