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The Sugar Addict in All of Us

Six Ways to Become "Unsweetened"

Sugar and sweets are everywhere.  It is almost impossible to find any food or drinks (other than tap water) in either a grocery store or restaurant that doesn’t contain some sugar. Some of the sugar is naturally present in foods (e.g., dairy, fruit, vegetables, etc.) but these contribute only a small fraction to the amount we consume. 

Most of us seem unable to stop eating sugar in our diets. It may be part of our morning coffee, or in the Danish or doughnut we grab on the run.  Snacks continue the sugar trend. From chips to cookies, sodas to sports drinks, even yogurt is loaded with sugar. For lunch there are the processed meats, cheeses, breads and even the dressings on your salad. Dinner’s soups, sauces, side dishes, drinks and desserts round out the daily sugar load.

Canadians consume ¼ pound of sugar each day (approximately 90 pounds per year). Children and teens consume more than this average with older teenage boys consuming the most at almost 150 pounds per year.

Manufacturers and restaurants put it in and we gobble it up, but why? Most people know that too much sugar is bad for us, that it contributes to diabetes and obesity but we still keep eating it. Scientists believe that we may be hardwired to need and enjoy sugar. We start by drinking and eating sugary foods for the initial pleasure of the sugar, but then we get hooked. Each mouthful just serves to make us want more sugary mouthfuls. Sugar releases powerful brain chemicals that give us a pleasurable “high”.  This may be the very reason manufacturers and restaurants use so much sugar, to keep us needing their products, and bringing them profits. Studies have shown that the sweet taste can actually be more addictive than cocaine!  Unfortunately trying to cut down can cause the same withdrawal symptoms as withdrawing from nicotine, morphine and alcohol.

Healthy eating is a must. It will not kill your cravings immediately, but it is essential for permanent success because it ensures your body has all the nutrition it needs to function properly. Once your nutritional needs are met, you can address the cravings in your brain. Sugar can be consumed in moderation, which can be healthy, but it is not as simple as stopping cold turkey. A realistic goal is aiming to reduce your sugar consumption to a healthy amount. Here are some suggestions to help you reduce your sugar intake.

1) Do not use sugar substitutes: Sugar substitutes, although often lower in calories, are not part of the solution. Research has found that these substitutes help feed our sweet addiction and can increase the intensity of our cravings. It turns out that sugar substitutes change the way our bodies metabolize sugar. In one study researchers found that consuming sugar substitutes increased the overall calories consumed. The substitutes caused confusion between the gut and brain. When you eat sweets (sugar or a substitute), your gut sends a message to your brain that you will be consuming lots of calories. When you don’t consume these calories, your system gets confused and tries to compensate by eating more calories.

2) Snack Healthy: Many of us keep a ready supply of snacks … the high fat and high sugar sinful kind, at home and at work. The simple truth is if they are readily available, they will find their way into your body. Keep healthy snacks on hand to keep sugary snacks at bay. Ideal options are fruits, vegetables and nuts, all of which are energy packed and satisfying.

3) Chew gum: As strange as it sounds, trials have shown that chewing gum reduces cravings, especially sugar cravings. The researchers studied both men and women and found similar results. You can enhance the effect by choosing mint gum. Mint acts as a natural appetite suppressant so combining mint with gum should be particularly effective.

4) Eat regularly: Having too large a gap between meals can push your will power to the breaking point where you may reach for the first high fat sugary food you can find. Try eating something healthy at least every three to four hours. This will help stabilize blood sugar levels and avoid impulse-driven eating decisions.

5) Exercise regularly: When you eat or drink sweets, your brain is rewarded with pleasure. You can mimic this pleasure (and provide an alternate source to crave) by providing your brain with the pleasure chemical serotonin. The easiest and healthiest way to give your brain serotonin is through exercise. This is one reason people who exercise regularly can “crave” it. Start slowly and build up endurance as your body can handle it. Do not overexert yourself because if you do and become injured, your brain may feed its craving with sugar while you are unable to exercise during your recovery.

6) Use Gymnema sylvestre: Gymnema sylvestre, or gymnema is an Ayurvedic herb used traditionally to treat diabetes, digestion, obesity and urinary tract infections. Gymnema’s active components are compounds called gymnemic acids. These acids have two unique qualities in relation to sugar. They alter the taste sensation of sweet foods, reducing their sweetness and palatability. In essence they can turn your taste buds off of sugary foods. The second beneficial action is that gymnemic acids reduce the intestinal absorption of sugar.

Let’s face it - we love sugar and sweets. They taste great and often are integral to our comfort foods. But, by following these simple steps you can slowly train your body and mind to reduce craving frequency and intensity, and enjoy better health.