Sugar addiction isn’t always about eating too many sweets (although that is, of course, one sign that you’re addicted!) The truth is that you can get addicted to sugar even if you don’t have what you consider to be a “sweet tooth”.
Your brain needs sugar to function. So we all need to consume food that breaks down to glucose. Research has shown that refined sugar activates the reward system in your brain (dopamine) just as addictive substances like cocaine and nicotine. What’s more, complex carbohydrates like bread, pasta and white potatoes can do the same thing. So even if you don’t crave sweets, if you crave starchy foods you have a similar problem.
This article discusses how binging on sugar releases endorphins, which is your body’s natural “feel good” drug. Endorphins are neurochemicals that reduce the perception of stress and pain. You commonly hear them used in conjunction with the runners’ high that a person can get after prolonged vigorous exercise.
So if sugar can give you a similar high, you can see how a person would crave it to feel good or even feel normal. Suppose you say – “I don’t binge on sugar.” Even if you don’t intentionally eat large quantities of sugar, you can still consume much more sugar than your body needs by eating processed foods. Many prepared foods contain sugar.
Here are a few foods that contain added sugar:
• Pasta sauce
• Low fat milk
• Salad dressing
• Anything that says “Fat free”
• Smoothies and coffee drinks
• Unflavored milk alternatives like rice milk, almond milk and soy. You have to look for unsweetened options.
• Sauces and condiments like BBQ sauce, mustard, and mayonnaise
• Canned or packaged fruit
• Cereal, protein, and sports bars
• Instant oatmeal
• Fruit juice (it often has added sugar in addition to the natural fruit sugars)
• Teas and energy drinks
• Prepackaged frozen meals
The presence of excess sugar in your food contributes to you developing a sugar addiction.
Here are some signs that you are “addicted” to sugar:
1. You find it hard to say no to sugary treats.
2. You regularly crave sugary foods even when you aren’t hungry.
3. Once you start to eat the foods you crave, you find it hard to stop.
4. You get a short-term mood or energy boost – and it quickly crashes.
5. If you do try to cut down, you get very strong cravings or even withdrawal symptoms.
Remember – all of these can apply to starchy foods like fries as well as sweet foods!
How To Reduce Your Sugar
You can always try to stop “cold turkey.” But chances are if you take this approach, you’ll suffer withdrawal (irritability, sadness, fatigue) and you’ll rebound later.
A good approach is to gradually remove the hidden sugars from your diet while also reducing the obvious sugar sources like the chocolate chip cookies.
As mentioned in my article on smoothies, you can retrain your taste buds to prefer more savory foods. You can accomplish this by slowly eliminating foods with added sugars.
This will require you to read labels.
When reading labels, if you see any of the following then you know the food has added sugar
• Agave nectar
• Brown rice syrup
• High-fructose corn syrup
• Evaporated cane juice
• Malt syrup
Some sugars are considered healthier than table sugar because they have other nutrients or they are more natural. Table sugar goes through a refining process from sugar cane and sugar beets. On the other hand honey and Agave nectar are consumed more in their original form.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that you’ve made a good move by using organic raw honey instead of table sugar; at least not if your goal is to reduce your sugar intake. Sugar is sugar. You are simply substituting one sugar source for another one, even if it is one with more nutrients.
Keep in mind almost all packaged food have some form of sugar. This would include lunchmeat, frozen meals and even breakfast sausage. It takes some work and discipline to remove these items from your diet.
But just as with any habit, checking labels can become quick and automatic for you. It will get easier to select items that don’t have added sugar. Over the course of the next month gradually substitute the high sugar items in your diets for whole foods.
For example, if you are used to eating a high sugar or high carbohydrate meal for breakfast, try adding a protein like a boiled egg to replace the toast with jam. Consuming protein and a healthy fat with your meal helps you feel full longer because proteins and fats are digested slower than carbohydrates.
The idea is, if you feel full sooner, you won’t crave more toast to feel satisfied.
A Word on Sugar Substitutes
Too much sugar is damaging to the body. If you set out to drastically reduce your sugar intake, you don’t want to use sugar substitutes. Sugar substitutes like stevia, agave or aspartame keep your food tasting sweet and they don’t help you reset your taste buds.
But more importantly, artificial sweeteners have been linked to weight gain and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels, and abdominal fat. Having some or all of these conditions increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Therefore, drinking several diet sodas a day doesn’t mean you’ve won the sugar war. You’ve just switched to a different poison that has it’s own detrimental effects on your health.
So if you’re going to reduce your sugar, go all the way. Don’t fall back on sugar substitutes. Do it gradually over months and target the obvious culprits like desserts. Next, dive deep into eliminating the processed food with added sugars. The reason it’s important to eliminate these foods is because even if you stop eating cake, you will still consume enough sugar in the processed foods to keep you craving the cake.
Lastly, keep your expectations realistic. It’s not reasonable to consume zero sugar. In fact you will still get “sugar” in the form of fructose from fruit or glucose from the break down of carbohydrates in vegetables and grains.
What you are trying to accomplish by reducing the added sugar sources is the overconsumption of sugar to the point that it causes you to crave and need to consume sugar in large amounts.
If you become accustomed to only consuming small amounts of sugar that is found in fruits and veggies, you will have a hard time tolerating the taste of refined sugar. Those foods will taste too sweet for you and you’ll only eat them occasionally. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful endpoint?
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