By: Dr. Keith Kantor
It is no secret that sugar addictions are real, the obesity epidemic and increase in people being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes is proof of that. Sugars in small amounts from natural sources like fruit and unprocessed grains are essential for our body to use as energy it needs for daily activities. The problem is the processed potent sugars in our foods and drinks that we are exposed to today are highly addictive. Additional side effects include inability to focus; nutrient depletion, depression, gut flora imbalance, dehydration, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and increased risk for cancer cell production.
Sugar and the Brain
Animal studies have shows that the brain responds to sugar in the same way it responds to alcohol and recreational drugs by stimulating the opiate receptors in the brain.
It is very common to see those who have overcome substance abuse gain a substantial amount of weight, as a result of turning to sugar instead of the once abused substance. Research has proven that we can develop a true addiction to sugar, especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup very quickly. Processed foods like soda, candy, some juices, yogurts, and cookies are usually very high in sugar and should be avoided completely or at least very limited.
When you get that blood sugar crash, your body craves sugar. It is best not to put the body in this vulnerable state that could result in a craving that is completely out of control. Intense cravings are usually a result of the opiate receptors being stimulated. Following a nutrition plan that suppresses the opiate receptors is the key to overcoming a sugar addiction long term.
Binge eating on junk foods is initially impulsive and may feel somewhat comforting. By channeling energy over to healthy lifestyle habits like healthy cooking, regular exercise, sports and meditation, the addictive patterns are disrupted. Journaling behavior and mental triggers is a major factor in the success of overcoming a sugar addiction. If you break those patterns and habits that trigger cravings you will have success.
Stress is a common trigger for sugar cravings. When we are emotionally overwhelmed we tend to want comfort from foods that stimulate opiate receptors and have a dopamine response. Developing an action plan to avoid stress eating is critical. If you crave cookies then find a healthy recipe that is a good alternative for your favorite cookies or other high sugar food. Ensuring that vitamin D levels are not low and that you are getting adequate sleep can help boost mood also resulting in less sugar cravings.
Strategies for avoiding sugar addiction:
- Do not consume processed foods.
- Eat a minimum of 6 servings of all natural vegetables and some fruits daily.
- Fruits should be low sugar fruits like dark berries, avoid high sugar fruits like bananas and melons especially at first.
- Consume healthy fats at every meal, healthy fats from seeds, nuts, avocados, oils, etc. are anti-inflammatory which can help reduce or eliminate cravings completely. Fat from healthy unprocessed sources actually promote fat loss and maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water daily. Sometimes being dehydrated can result in sugar and salt cravings.
- Practice daily exercise, both moderate and intense styles of exercise. Regular exercise promotes optimal hormone levels, reducing potential for sugar cravings.
- Make sure you are consuming quality all natural proteins at most or all of your meals and snacks. Consuming optimal amounts of all natural proteins will promote steady insulin levels, reducing carbohydrate cravings while keeping you feeling full and satisfied.
- Aim to sleep at least 7 hours per night. Being sleep deprived can result in insulin fluctuations, promoting sugar cravings.
How many grams of sugar should you have per day?
Keeping sugar consumption below 25 grams per day is optimal. The 25 grams should come from natural sources like fruits, not processed snacks, syrups or drinks. The fiber that goes along with the sugar in whole fruits can help offset the damage from the insulin response; fiber keeps the insulin from spiking reducing symptoms. Keeping added sugar form jelly, jams, syrup, honey or granulated sugar grams under 5 grams per day is also a great way to reduce consumption. It will take time for your taste buds to adjust and actually taste unprocessed foods like you should. Be patient and know that carrots will taste sweeter and more satisfying if you are patient and let your taste buds repair.
Ditch artificial sweeteners.
Although diet soda or sugar-free gum has been known to help many dieters get through initial sugar detoxification, you still need to cut out aspartame, sucralose, saccharine — stevia is okay in small amounts — since large amounts can make you desire sweet food. Experts believe that it actually changes your palate, so you need more and more to feel satisfied. A study from Purdue University has suggested a link between increased consumption of the artificial sweeteners and weight gain.
Moderation may not be the answer.
Sugar is best to be cut out cold turkey, avoid any of the brain “reward hormone” responses. Clean out your pantry, stock up on healthy fats, quality all natural meats, protein, vegetables and fruits. You may feel a little irritable and “fuzzy” for the first few days but science shows that your physical addiction can be broken after 3 days of not having it.
Identify sugar-craving triggers like places, people, or stress. Clean out your house and remove all temptation, instead come up with some healthy recipes that replicate your favorite sugary snacks.