A recent study has crowned sugar one of the most addictive substances on the planet, reporting that it’s eight times more addictive than cocaine.
Today, the average diet is a far cry from the natural wholefoods our predecessors enjoyed during the Palaeolithic era. A plant based diet of mineral rich fruit and vegetables and lean protein has now been replaced with processed ready meals which are often packed with additives and hidden sugars. In fact, we are now eating anywhere between 10 – 20 times more sugar today than we were in previous years.
Sugar can be found naturally in many healthy foods, the two most common are fructose (found in fruit) and glucose (found naturally in non-fruit foods). However, added sugar found in processed foods is completely void of nutrients and as a result we miss out on precious vitamins and minerals.
What is hidden sugar?
Sugar can easily be identified especially on packaged goods, excess sugar is present is anything which lists more than 5g sugar per 100g and these foods should be avoided where possible. The recommended sugar intake is 6tsp for women and 8tsp for men but we are often eating a lot more due to our modern diet and love of sugary food, although the biggest offender has to be hidden sugar.
It’s fair to say that anyone with a ‘sweet tooth’ may indulge in a cake or a chocolate bar every so often. However, the white stuff can actually be found it pretty much anything white including white bread, white flour, white pasta and white rice. It also lurks in a whole host of processed foods including pizza, ready meals, sauces and even salad dressings. Sugar is a bit of an enigma and can take many guises with labels such as corn syrup, dextrose, glucose and honey to name a few.
What are the effects of sugar?
Simple carbohydrates are generally digested quickly and cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. This, in turn, causes the pancreas to release a large amount of insulin. The insulin quickly clears the excess sugar from the bloodstream but this leaves you with a blood sugar shortage. This condition is referred to as hypoglycaemia. It is characterised by low energy levels, weakness, shakiness, mood swings and hunger. The feeling of hunger can lead a person to consume more sugar laden foods and the whole vicious cycle repeats itself.
The impact sugar can have on the body is extreme and long-lasting. Refined added sugars can contribute to disease including cavities, depression, diabetes, kidney stones, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis and obesity.
Obviously, the best possible advice would be to avoid sugar altogether. However, sugar withdrawal is very difficult for many (especially after prolonged use) and can often present side effects including bloating, headaches, hormone changes, low mood, lack of concentration and stress. However, the symptoms should only persist for around five days following complete sugar withdrawal, after which time you will start to experience improved health.
Top tips to curb cravings
Remember that sugar has the same effect on the reward centres of the brain as opiates – no wonder it’s so addictive! In fact, the more we consume, the more our reward receptors get used to it therefore we often crave more.
•Plan ahead, shop when you are not hungry and with a shopping list of things you need rather than crave. If you don’t buy it, you don’t eat it!
•Increase protein intake by eating nuts, seeds, fish, lean meat, legumes, natural yoghurt, cottage cheese, buckwheat, amaranth, millet or quinoa
• Maintain adequate fibre intake by incorporating whole grains like oats, brown rice, fresh fruit and vegetables (skin on) to stabilise blood sugar levels
• Increase magnesium and chromium rich foods to help with blood sugar regulation. Include nuts, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, kelp, molasses, liver and capsicum
• Avoid soft drinks but drink a minimum of two litres of filtered water in between meals, add berries, lemon, lime, orange or mint leaves to flavour the water
• Maintain daily exercise to improve blood sugar balance and appetite regulation which should distract you from your sugar cravings
• Read food labels to avoid hidden sugars in ingredient lists as well as artificial sweeteners including corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, saccharin and sucralose
• Triggers may be lifestyle choices such as watching television or boredom so it may be helpful to change a few habits or take up a new interest whilst getting on top of your sugar cravings
• Chew food thoroughly which will benefit your digestion and absorption but will also create a sweet taste in your mouth when eating whole grains. In fact, the less refined sugar you eat the more you will notice the sweetness of fruit and vegetables