It’s FRIDAY! I’ve been feeling pretty awesome about learning so much over the week. Today I’m going to talk about something near and dear to my heart. Sugar. Specifically, added sugars (sugars outside of fruits, milk, and vegetables).
How much added sugar do we eat anyway?
First, click here to take a fun little quiz to see how quickly added sugars add up through the day.
Any surprises for you in that quiz? Turns out we eat a lot of sugar without even realizing it. Of course, most people know cake, cookies, treats, and sweets have added sugars.
But what about those sneaky sugars in pasta sauce, yogurt, granola, breads, peanut butter, oatmeal packets, energy bars, crackers, and more?
Many folks think they are choosing healthy options. But they are unknowingly shoveling in added sugars!
Sugar is everywhere, and it’s not easy to avoid.
How do I know if something has added sugars?
I encourage everyone to read the nutrition labels on every product purchased. The most important part of the label, for my purposes anyway, is the ingredient list. Sugar has many aliases.
Added sugars include the following:
- Any type of sugar (beet sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, coconut sugar, powdered sugar, raw sugar, etc)
- Molasses and honey
- Any type of syrup (maple syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sugar cane syrup, etc)
- Anything that ends in -ose (fructose, dextrose, glucose, sucrose, lactose, maltose, etc)
- Anything that is called a sweetener (corn sweetener)
- Fruit juice concentrates or nectars, including agave nectar
If you see ANY of the above terms, your product has added sugars.
Ingredients are listed by order of weight, so the closer the added sugar is to the beginning of the list, the higher percentage of added sugar in the product.
There is also a line on the nutrition label for sugars that you can find as a sub-header under Total Carbohydrate. This line contains sugars naturally occurring in a product in addition to added sugars. Your best bet right now is to read the ingredients. However, a new nutrition label is coming in mid 2018 that has a specific line for added sugars. YAY!
But why is sugar consumption a problem?
Personally, what bothers me most are the addictive effects of sugar and the negative effects on my energy and mood.
When you consume sugar, your brain lights up reward pathways. These pathways induce a surge of feel good hormones like dopamine.
This was a great thing for our ancestors. It made them want to eat naturally sweet fruits, which are filled with good things like vitamins, minerals, fibers, etc.
The problem comes in with having sugar all the time, constantly lighting up that reward pathway. It can create a tolerance, which can cause you to crave sugar to keep an elevated level of feel good hormones. The more sugar you eat, the more you will need more sugar to get that same surge of feel good hormones. Here is a great little TedTalk on how this process works.
It’s not just your brain chemicals that sugar affects. When you have the sweet stuff, your blood glucose levels spike. Hello, sugar rush! When your glucose levels fall, they crash. Hi, sugar crash! Your body wants additional sugar to boost your blood sugar back to the higher levels. If you give in to the craving and eat more sugar, the process starts all over again.
My Own Addiction
I often joke that sugar is my drug of choice. Even though I may laugh it off, that statement isn’t untrue.
I don’t think everyone is highly susceptible to sugar addiction just as I don’t think everyone is highly susceptible to alcohol, nicotine, or drug addiction. However, addictions are prevalent in my family’s health history. And I am all too familiar with that sugar rush, sugar crash cycle.
Craving sugar leaves me with a very real loss of control and a feeling of helplessness. When I’m caught in that cycle, I have a very difficult time saying no to a treat. It’s nearly impossible really.
I’m anxious, moody, and often tired. I’ve been able to take note of how sugar consumption makes me feel after reading about the effects of sugar. And thinking about sugar consumption as an addiction has made it easier for me to stop the cycle.
What happens when I give up sugar?
When I go without added sugars for multiple days, a few things happen. First, I get that sugar crash. I have low energy and a headache for a few days. My cravings are through the roof.
Then once my body stabilizes, my energy increases. I feel GOOD, like REALLY GOOD, all day. I no longer feel exhausted by midday, wanting to nap when my girls nap in the afternoon.
My cravings subside, and I can EASILY say no when offered a treat. I don’t feel that uncontrollable urge to indulge.
If that isn’t a testimonial for the addictive qualities of sugar, I don’t know what is.
If any of my story sounds familiar or if you want to read a couple other personal testimonies, please see here and here. One comment that resonated with me in the first link was that removing sugar from his diet was a way of fixing a broken appetite control system. I can relate to that feeling because when I remove added sugars from my diet, I feel less hungry throughout the day. I’m not ravenous between meals. My meals are more satisfying.
Removing sugar made a difference for not just for my sweet tooth but my entire appetite. It’s truly a life-changing and freeing feeling to be in control of myself and to not be controlled by food.
If you have an hour and a half to spare, I highly recommend watching this eye-opening, fascinating video. It’s technical but has lots of information to explain why added sugars are not supposed to be consumed in the amounts that we as a general population consume.
Do I really have to miss out on cake for the rest of my life to feel good?
Even with how great I feel without sugar, and this may be the sugar-addict in me talking, I cannot imagine a life without ever indulging in the pleasure of a birthday cake, an ice cream cone, or a brownie. The way I look at it is like this: Avoiding added sugars in general during my everyday life gives me the freedom and the choice to fully cherish the sweet bliss of sugar when I do indulge.
It’s about me being in control of my own health and diet. I’m making a conscious decision about the sugar I eat rather than letting my sugar-addicted brain make the choice.
Phew! It’s pretty scary to share my addiction with the world, but I guess everyone has something they have to work on, right? 🙂 I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments!