Hmm, sugar. What makes all the yummy sweets we love to snack on, give as gifts, and use to celebrate special occasions. Little did we know that sugar isn’t only predominant in the candy and sweets we enjoy but is also being found in most products we consume today. A staggering and unhealthy amount of sugar is being put in our foods and we don’t even realize. This post is going to answer the question: “What is sugar addiction?”, how it came to be, how far its gone, and how you can break the cycle (if you so chose, and I hope you do, even if it’s just a little).
History of Sugar in America
Sugar has been in our lives for a long, long time but it was never abused like it is today. In the 1950’s heart disease was becoming a major problem in America. When President Eisenhower had a heart attack while in office, both scientists and the government decided to get to the bottom of the heart disease dilemma. Two theories came about from research. One believed that fat in foods was the root problem for the heart disease epidemic. The other thought it was the amount of sugar in foods that was the cause of the problem. In the end it was the theory that fat in food was to blame and the low fat diet began. Corporations began to remove the fat from their products and decided to replace it with sugar to make up for the taste. Here is where a long line of obesity and metabolic diseases would begin for America.
Sugar and Us
Our ancestors never had the access to straight sugar products like we do today. Their diets were simple. They hunted and gathered what they could from the land. Meats, fish, fruit, nuts, and seeds were really all they ate. There was a primal response the brain gave when it would see sugar in nature. Natural sugar, the sugar that comes from fruits. When our ancestors saw fruit in nature they knew it was important to grab that fruit and get that little pick me up that sugar gives us.
The difference between sugar then and now is we have found a way to take all the sugar out of something and consume it in large portions. Nature designed a perfect portion for us in the form of fruit. An apple has the sugar, fiber, and nutrients to keep us healthy and full. When we turn fruit into juice or a smoothie we are taking fruit and throwing away that fiber and nutrients and just taking out the sugar. If you were to eat an apple you would probably just eat one or two and then you would feel full or at least satisfied. When you drink juice you’re consuming multiple apples which means 2, 3, 4 times the amount of sugar.
When sugar enters the body it is split into categories, two of which are fructose and glucose. Glucose is sugar or a carb that is mainly used for energy by the brain and body cells. Fructose is sugar that comes from fruits and is the type of sugar that is now mass produced and used widely in everything.
Sugar Vs. The Body
When these sugars enter the body they head to the liver. Glucose is used up right away. It is converted into energy and what isn’t used is stored for later. When these stores get full the liver no longer has a method for converting or dealing with fructose. So, what happens? Nothing good, unfortunately. The fructose then stays in the liver and turns into fat. Some of it is sent out into the blood stream as triglycerides which can lead to weight gain, clogged arteries, heart conditions and nothing else good.
It’s a cycle and the more glucose and sugar consumed unchecked the more your body will store fat, gain weight, and potentially lead to other health concerns. A big concern is gaining visceral fat. Visceral fat is fat around the abdominal area and is also known for causing people to be “fat on the inside, thin on the outside” because it can start to crush and harm your organs.
Sugar Vs. The Brain
When we eat sugar, our brain produces doses of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain for pleasure. So once it gets a taste it tells all the other nerves in the brain that sugar is something we need to feel good. It is, however, a fleeting high. You may notice when you eat sugar you have a spike in energy and then you crash. This is because glucose levels are fluctuating and they’re not stable.
Here’s an explanation. Imagine your brain has a medium where it’s happy. Happy in its natural state. When we eat sugar and we get that “high” our happiness or energy level spikes above our brain’s happy medium. Insulin is then sent out to process the sugar and our high is turned into a crash and we plummet below the happy medium. When we’re down, adrenaline is sent out into the body and it tells the brain “Hey, we need more sugar so that we can feel happy again!”. The brain responds “Yeah, that would be nice”. And when you see sugar again you feel a craving, something that is hard to dispel. So you eat more sugar and then you spike back up into that high. Up, down, up, down. This is one way that mood swings, difficulty concentrating, depression, and anxiety can be caused.
The “Healthy” Foods
The average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar in a year. This equivocates to 3 pounds (6 cups) of sugar every week. Imagine that every time you’re hungry you go to the cupboard, pull out a sac of sugar and just started eating it. Now imagine eating 3 pounds of sugar every week. That is how much sugar is in our foods. And when I say food I am not talking about junk food. Cookies, chips, sodas. I am talking about foods that we perceive to be and are told are healthy. Foods that are labeled “healthy”, “all natural”, “diet” foods. The food or even sugar industry has become very creative at selling us the same thing in appealing new ways. You have to be careful and really look at the food you’re eating because looks can be deceiving.
If you were to remove all the items containing added sugars from supermarket shelves, there would only be about 20% of items remaining. 20%. That is like removing almost everything in the center aisles and a few things along the outer edge. The idea we’ve been sold on is that all calories are the same. But this is not the case and for every one who has been trying to count calories for their diets, sadly you may have it all wrong. Eating 200 calories worth of cookies does not equivocate the same in your body to eating 200 calories worth of vegetables. It is the nutrients in our foods that make a difference.
Curbing the Sugar Cravings
The question people have been asking is “How to break sugar addiction?” Really, it will differ from person to person. Some people may try to just quit cold turkey. If you can do that, great you will be saving yourself a lot of time! It is the quickest way and if you can manage to go a week or two with no sugar your body will start to adjust to the change. It will get used to life with no sugar and you will be all the better for it. Your mind will clear, you should have more energy and be able to focus more. Make sure you while you detox you incorporate lots of proteins, healthy (non-starchy) carbs, and healthy fats into your diet.
If you can’t quit cold turkey that’s okay too. That method is hard and change doesn’t typically happen overnight. If you need to take baby steps then take those small changes over time versus no change at all. If you drink multiple sodas a day, try giving up one more than you normally would have drank. Ween yourself off of it slowly.
Some things that might help you through the process are to try in think of sugar amounts in real terms. A 12 ounce can of soda equals about 10 teaspoons of sugar. So when you crack open a can of soda imagine yourself taking a spoon and pouring in 10 spoon fulls of sugar into your drink. That way it can be put into a more real perspective for you. I am a visual person so I knew it helped me to think of it this way.
Other tips I would give are to get a good nights sleep, and manage any stress you have the best you can. Try meditating, taking a warm bath, go be in nature. What ever you got to do to be at peace. If you can stay relaxed that is going to help you make a big change like this.
Sending You Onwards
You may have learned a lot more about sugar today than you ever wanted too. I hope this helps you see the problem we have with our food system and that this influences you to make a change. Now, I am not saying you can never eat sugar again. I will definitely indulge myself in some much needed chocolate from time to time. But while this post was to educate you, it was more so about letting you know you’re being mislead. Healthy foods in stores aren’t as healthy as we may think they are. I believe that you deserve to know what’s in your food and how it’s affecting your life. I hope this post will encourage you to look at your food a little differently and be able to make informed decisions for your health and safety.
This post was drawn from and inspired by “That Sugar Film” which discusses this topic even further. If this article interested you and you would like to watch this documentary, you can watch it for free on Vudu.