A programme on Channel 4 last week highlighted one of the most talked about topics in health, the increase in sugar consumption. Dispatches explored the growing concern amongst health officials that we are eating too much sugar. And with sugar now being dubbed ‘the new tobacco’, there is a real fear that people could actually be addicted to it.
Sugar is present in many processed foods and in fact, the content in these foods has risen sharply over the last few years. Sugar can affect us in different ways as it stimulates the ‘feel-good’ hormones in our brains. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate and when it is consumed it quickly turns into glucose in our bloodstreams. This causes blood sugar levels to spike. You can find these simple carbohydrates in many foods such as vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. But these typically have additional fibre and proteins that slow this process down. In order to convert this glucose into energy your pancreas has to make insulin and this is what makes your blood sugar drop quickly.
Research has shown that when we consume sugar the dopamine levels rise, which is exactly what happens when certain drugs, alcohol and tobacco are taken. When you eat something that has a high sugar content you get an instant ‘high’ as your blood sugar rises rapidly. The problem is that you also get a rapid drop in sugar levels, which is where you may experience symptoms similar to withdrawal. You might feel a little shaky, anxious or even have a cold sweat. You need to replace that high with another dose of sugar.
So what to do if you think you might be addicted to sugar? Experts do not recommend that you cut sugar out of your diet completely and go cold turkey. Rather they suggest that you retrain your taste buds to expect less sugar each day.
This is done in baby steps by eliminating one sweet food each week from your diet. So if on a Monday you treat yourself to a sugary latte, swap this for a tea with less sugar, or if you have a muffin on a Friday afternoon, have an apple instead, It’s all about slowly reducing your sugar intake over a period of time. Start cutting back on the amount of sugar you sprinkle on cereals and in beverages. Another good way to retrain your taste buds is to get your sugary fix from another source, such as fresh berries, pureed fruit, low sugar yoghurts etc
By making small, simple changes to your diet you’ll find it much easier to stick to them. If you eat more fruit and vegetables, drink more water and use less processed foods you can then start to control the amount of sugar you actually put into foods. If you do find you are getting sugar cravings, try eating some protein instead, as these will digest more slowly and keep you feeling full for longer. Protein also doesn’t make your blood sugar spike the way refined carbohydrates and sugars do. Good proteins to eat include lean chicken, low-fat yoghurt, eggs, nuts, or beans. And remember there’s no such thing as a healthy sugar, so honey, brown or unrefined sugar are just as bad for you.
Health experts state that women should eat no more that six teaspoons a day, and men no more than none a day. When you consider that in the US the average person consumes over nineteen teaspoons or more of added sugar a day, its no surprise that many of us want to cut down.
If you are considering on cutting back on your sugar intake, remember, that when you first start to cut back on sugar, you may feel tired, listless, or edgy but this is very short-lived. It does get better quickly and once your sugar intake is at a healthy level your taste buds will adjust and foods you once ate will seem too sweet.
Images courtesy WebMD.