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Do you drink ‘no added sugar’ soda? Do you think low-sugar, high protein ‘nutrition bars’ are healthy? Do you read food labels to to look for hidden sugars? If you’re regularly drawn to sweets- or foods laden with artificial sweeteners-try going without them for a few days and see what happens. Are you having headaches, irritability, cravings, and symptoms that could only be described as withdrawal? Do you find yourself so uncomfortable that you’re drawn right back to those same foods? It could be you’re trapped in what is called a cycle of sugar addiction.
Sugar is a carbohydrate, one of the major nutrient groups, but it doesn’t provide vitamins, minerals, or even fiber to our diet. Still, added sugar is hiding in foods including ketchup, fruited yogurt, cereal, canned soup, certain brands of lunch meat, salad dressing, condiments, bread, and more. While we require some sugar (glucose) in order to function property, all of this added sugar is harmful to our system.
When we ingest sugar, our body generates a response similar to that seen in addictions, which is why we develop cravings for more. It’s often called the cocaine of dietary additives.
Here’s how it works: Sugar — whether natural, processed or artificial — enters the bloodstream quickly, causing your blood sugar level to spike. The body recognizes this imbalance and acts to bring blood sugar back to normal. Insulin, a hormone, pushes glucose into the cells to be used for energy. But if you eat a lot of sugar, the body can’t keep up. Insulin has to work harder and the body overcompensates, causing blood sugar to drop too low – and your brain reacts. You feel depleted, irritable, and crave more sugar.
Sugar names you might recognize are sucrose (table sugar), fructose (found in fruits, some root veggies, and honey), and lactose (milk sugar). Naturally occurring sugar in fruit and vegetables has a place in a balanced diet. But added sugar, artificial sweetener, and processed ‘natural’ sugar like high fructose corn syrup are detrimental to your health.
Learn where sugar hides. On ingredient lists, look for words ending in ‘-ose,’ which equate to sugar. If they’re among the first five items, it’s not worth buying. When sugar is among the last items in the list, that’s a better choice.
Avoid the fake stuff. Products containing artificial sweeteners are not a healthy alternative. Diet soda, ‘fat free’ and ‘sugar free’ candy and cookies are associated with weight gain and cravings, creating a cycle of addiction.
Sip with awareness. A single can of soda, flavored water, Gatorade, or a juice box typically contain nine or more teaspoons of sugar.
Make sweet substitutions. Look for snacks labeled ‘no added sugar’ or ‘unsweetened.’ Use canned foods packed in water or natural juice. When baking, swap table sugar with applesauce, date paste, molasses, or fruit puree. Cinnamon or vanilla powder is a great way to sprinkle flavor onto yogurt, oatmeal, or coffee. Opt for brown rice syrup or cane sugar over other processed sugars.
Reprogram your sugar meter slowly. If you put two sugar packets in your coffee, cut back in half-packet increments. Keep sugar off the kitchen table. Small steps add up to sweet success!
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