03 Apr Why Sugar is bad for you
CONTROL SUGAR CRAVINGS
It’s 3 p.m. You’re working away, but you’re exhausted. You know that you should resist ,but gooey sweet doughnuts are calling your name! Why can’t you get away from the intense pull of sugary treats?
Turns out our craving for sweets goes back to the Stone Age, says Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Connecticut. “At birth, there was breast milk, and after that there was honey and fruit, which are excellent sources for quick, readily metabolized energy.” This tendency was to ensure that humans were drawn not only to mother’s milk but to apples, oranges, bananas and other sweet and vitamin-packed foods. There was no way to overeat these natural foods in bygone days. But in the modern world, we often get too much sugar. That leads to tolerance, and cravings become exaggerated, Katz says.
What does too much sugar do to your body?
- It ages you. Too much sugar will lower your immune system, increasing inflammation, leading to essential mineral deficiencies in the body and feeding bad bacteria growth in your gut .
- It disrupts normal brain function. The brain is made mostly of fat and although it runs on glucose, it gets “shorted out” with too much sugar. Sugar can also cause increased anxiety and depression.
- It can lead to obesity and diabetes. If you exercise regularly (and you’re relatively young), you’re able to burn off the extra sugar you may eat. But if you’re mostly inactive, the response to high levels of blood sugar (or glucose) is that the body releases more insulin into your bloodstream.
Insulin (which regulates glucose levels in the blood) takes the surplus blood sugar and tries to find a place to store it. But if your muscles are full, then it places the excess glucose in your fat cells. With frequent insulin spikes comes insulin resistance, leading to more insulin production, more fat storage and more resistance, eventually going down the road of possible diabetes.
So if sugar is so bad for me, why do I crave it?
The body interprets a lack of sugar (and high-carb foods) as a nutritional deficiency, creating insatiable cravings. At the core of every chocolate bar is the cacao bean. Cacao beans are loaded with magnesium, an essential nutrient that helps combat stress and avoid early heart attacks, says Dr. Bella Altura of the New York’s Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. “Stress indirectly causes the body to excrete magnesium, which causes an imbalance that can constrict the heart.” Depleted magnesium levels have also been associated with elevated blood pressure, scientists say.
Often at the core of the cravings dilemma are modern food processing methods that remove most essential nutrients. Trying to fuel our bodies with processed foods almost guarantees continued sugar cravings. These cravings often lead to overeating—and weight gain.
And the nutrients our bodies have been designed to seek in certain foods make us crave foods that are less and less nutritious, creating even stronger cravings!
Is there a way to tame this sugar monster?
The Mindful Foodie, Lesh Karan, provides these tips for reducing or eradicating cravings:
- Eat plants grown in rich, organic soil—sweet potatoes, pumpkin and fresh corn can help satisfy your sweet tooth.
- If you go for chocolate, eat only dark 70 percent-plus cocoa. It has less sugar and fat than a typical candy bar and may be good for the heart.
- Make your own sweet snacks using maple syrup, honey, stevia and other natural sweetener— and use much less of those ingredients than what the recipe calls for.
The five steps of sugar rehab
Combine foods. Try putting together a sweet treat with a healthy one, such as dipping sliced fruit in caramel sauce, or eating a handful of nuts with some chocolate chips.
Cut it out. Some people find that going cold turkey with sugar works, as their cravings diminish after several days; others may still crave sugar but are able to train their taste buds to be satisfied with less.
Get moving! Your cravings can be triggered by stress and anxiety. This is called emotional eating. Take a walk around the block to get your mind off the food you’re craving. There’s even evidence that brisk walking can help you eat fewer sweets. In a study published in the journal Appetite, those who took a 15-minute walk were half as likely to eat chocolate at their desks compared with participants who took a 15-minute rest.
Choose quality over quantity. “If you need a sugar splurge, pick a wonderful, decadent sugary food,” says Susan Moores, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant in St. Paul, Minnesota. But think small. For example, choose a dark chocolate truffle, then “savor every bite—slowly.”
Snack regularly. Waiting too long between meals can set you up to go after sugary, fatty foods that cut your hunger but leave you empty every three to five hours. Keep your blood sugar stable with protein and fiber-rich foods like whole grains and produce, Moores says. Try eating snacks that combine a protein with a whole grain, such as reduced-fat cheese on whole-wheat crackers. Healthy snacks like this one can actually ward off sugar cravings and help you stick to your health resolutions.
HOW TO… TACKLE A SWEET TOOTH
It happens to us all: that sudden, overwhelming urge to eat a dozen cookies or finish off that bag of M&Ms. Not knowing how to tackle our sweet tooth, we cave, feeling guilty all day and promising ourselves never to let it happen again.
Though a main reason for craving something sweet is lower levels of sugar in your system than you’re used to, other reasons for craving sugar are stress, dehydration and lack of exercise. That’s right: If you make sure you’re maintaining a healthy lifestyle by staying hydrated and active, you’ll notice your sugar cravings will diminish. When that sweet tooth hits, though, be prepared and know how to stop it before giving in to the box of cookies or gallon of ice cream.
Step 1: Don’t buy junk food
Try your hardest not to keep junk food in the house. If it’s easily accessible, you’re much more likely to give in. If you have to go to the store or through a drive-through to satisfy your craving, chances are you’ll think twice. Also, keep your house stocked with healthy foods. Instead of ice cream, make a yogurt parfait with low-fat vanilla yogurt, fresh blueberries and bananas, and low-fat granola. The granola and fruit will most likely satisfy any sweet tooth craving, and you’ll feel much better about yourself.
Step 2: Avoid ‘habitual’ snacking
We all know habits are hard to break, especially bad ones, so this step is going to take some discipline. Do you find yourself eating more sugar in times of stress? When three o’clock rolls around at the office are you headed to the vending machine for a “break”? Do you unwind at the end of the day with reality TV and a bowl of ice cream? If you answered “yes” to one of these questions, it’s time to break that habit. Here are some tips for making this transition run smoothly:
- Don’t skip meals. If you’re hungry, your cravings will be more intense, making it almost impossible not to give in.
- Wait 20 minutes. Keep yourself busy for 20 minutes from the time the craving strikes. By then, it often will have disappeared.
- Drink water. Water gives you the feeling of being full. Have one or two large glasses when you feel that sugar craving coming on.
- Brush your teeth or chew gum. If all else fails, brushing your teeth or chewing gum will make the food not taste as good, hopefully making you decide not to eat it.
Step 3: Load up on fruit
Fruit contains natural sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth but also provides other essential vitamins and minerals. Fruits are generally low in calories, loaded with water and are a good source of fiber, which will help you feel full. Consider making a fruit salad of strawberries, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, bananas and blueberries each week to snack on. The key to not giving in to sweet cravings is to have healthy foods on hand and already prepared. Though this does take work, it’s worth it in the long run since eating less sugar will help you lose weight and provide you with more energy throughout the day.
Written by Lisa Armstrong.