We know it’s not great for us. So why can’t we quit sugar easily? The answers may surprise you!
By Diane Small
It’s everywhere. In bread, cereal, and even savoury things like tomato sauce. We give it to kids frequently, and we eat it on special occasions like birthdays as a ‘treat’. We think of it as harmless, even cute. But the truth is, my friends – there’s nothing that sweet about sugar.
From rotting your teeth and causing diabetes to being fully addictive and causing behavioural issues, sugar can do your body (and mind!) a lot of damage. And most of us know this already.
So why can’t we quit sugar?
I wanted to write this article because not only have I had trouble letting go of the ‘white death’, but so has my whole family. Doing this research did make a difference in my case, though. And I hope it does for you, too.
Why Can’t We Quit Sugar Easily?
1. It’s Cheap
In the United States where sugary foods are prevalent, farmers who grow sugar cane or sugar beet receive heavy subsidies from the government, which allows them to produce their crops cheaply.
The sugar industry argues that this is good for the economy, as it helps sustain an industry that employs 142,000 people. This may indeed be true, but like most subsidies, they benefit very few at the expense of everyone else.
According to Bloomberg, each year, the federal government gives $25 billion in handouts to the farm industry. Most of it goes to large agro-businesses and farmers who on average earn much more than the average American. According to one analysis, about three-fourths of all agriculture subsidies go to just 10 percent of the nation’s farms.
The results of this are not only lower prices on foods that are far less healthy than non-subsidised, more expensive ones, but also the addition of sugar by manufacturers to ready-made foods. And why not? It makes their product tastier, and you’re more likely to buy it because our brains are wired to love sugar. Which brings me to my next point…
2. It’s Literally Addictive
The main reason why we can’t quit sugar is because it’s so addictive.
Addiction is a tricky thing. While some addictions, such as to heroin, are pretty obvious, others, even the signs and symptoms of alcohol dependency, can be more difficult to detect. And even others, such as addiction to coffee or sugar, are barely even recognised as being a ‘thing.’
For example, an article in Psychology Today debated whether or not sugar can actually be addictive and cause ADHD in children. The gist of the argument behind this was that some studies have proven that there is a direct link between sugar and ADHD, while others contradict those findings. Psychology Today didn’t make a definitive link, but suggested that parents try their own experiments giving sugared foods to their kids one week, and withdrawing them completely another, and then checking the results.
What the authors did state rather conclusively is that: “from cavities to suppressing the immune system, to taking the place of healthy foods, to increasing the risk of diabetes, to obesity, it’s well known that too much sugar can cause a range of health problems, even if ADHD is not an issue.”
And one of those health problems is definitely addiction.
Recent research proves that a high intake of carbohydrates, including sugar, releases the feel-good chemical in the brain called serotonin. This leads to what we quite appropriately call ‘a sugar high’. Like any drug-induced rush, this feeling is only temporary, though. After a few hours – or even minutes – you start to crash. You’ll feel tired, cranky, and crave even more sugar to lift you up.
And no big surprise, since sugar is 8 times as addictive as cocaine. And yet, it’s not only legal, it’s all around us! The worst part is, the more sugar you eat, the higher your tolerance becomes. What would make some people’s teeth hurt is exactly the level of sugar you learn to love. While hormonal and genetic factors may play a cause in food preferences, it’s ultimately your own dietary habits and food choices that create a deepening addiction.
3. It’s Deliberately Hidden
Another reason why we can’t quit sugar is because we don’t even know when we’re eating it.
Would you expect to find sugar in bread, tomato sauce, soup, soy sauce, yogurt, sushi, peanut butter, packaged chicken, salad dressing or crackers? Probably not, yet almost any brand you find will list sugar as an ingredient. And given the fact that as mentioned above, sugar makes you want more and more of a food, why wouldn’t food manufacturers try to get you hooked if they could?
Even when the label doesn’t say ‘sugar’ directly, it could still be hidden in food under a different name, such as glucose, fructose, corn syrup, maltodextrin, agave syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses, or as one of the other hundreds of different forms of sugar.
The addition of sugar to our food is quite recent and it shows: almost 37% of the global population is overweight or obese, and 2/3 of Mexicans and Americans are dangerously overweight or obese. And the trend is growing.
Dieticians have often stated that we need to cut down on fat and do more exercise to lose weight. Despite this being fairly common knowledge, the obesity crisis shows no signs of abating.
4. We Don’t Even Understand What Sugar Is
Even when we avoid it in obviously sugary foods, and even when we read labels and avoid products that contain added sugars, we still may be consuming too much sugar! White bread, pasta, potatoes and fruit juice are just some of the foods we consume that still have a high GI Index.
The key to understanding what sugar is lies in understanding what the Glycemic Index is all about. This is a relatively new way to measure how energy is released from carbohydrate containing foods, and their impact on our blood sugar, and some of the ‘bad’ foods that have a high GI can actually be 100% natural–think dried pineapple, dates, and pumpkin.
Previously, most meal plans designed to improve blood sugar analysed the total amount of carbohydrates (including sugars and starches) in the foods themselves. GI goes beyond this approach, looking at the impact of foods on our actual blood sugar. In other words, instead of counting the total amount of carbohydrates in foods in their unconsumed state, GI measures the actual impact of these foods on our blood sugar.
Lowering our sugar consumption means lowering our GI levels. This is vital if you want to reduce your risk of a range of diseases. High sugar consumption has now been linked to myriad serious illnesses, including: cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke, depression, chronic kidney disease, gallstones, neural tube defects, formation of uterine fibroids, and yeast infections. It’s even thought to increase your risk of cancers of the breast, colon, prostate, and pancreas.
This video is one of the most convincing and well known documentaries on the dangers of sugar.
5. We Don’t Really Get How Bad It Is For Us
We all know it causes cavities, diabetes, and some of the diseases mentioned above But the truth is, another reason why why we can’t quit sugar is because few of us think we’re eating too much of it.
The average American consumes 82 grams of added sugar per day, which is more than three times the maximum of 25 grams per day for women recommended by the American Heart Association. To be clear, that’s less than the average small sized can of Coke (which has 39 grams) and is just over the amount of sugar found in one small Kit Kat chocolate bar. Now, you might think: I only have a few chocolate bars a week, so I’m fine. But given the huge amounts of hidden sugars in everyday foods, if that’s the case, you’re already far over the recommended daily intake.
While some throw caution to the wind regarding their health despite knowing the risks (just ask any smoker), maybe knowing what sugar does to your looks could help you kick the sugar habit.
Consumption of sugar causes glycation, in which the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end-products (or, appropriately, AGEs for short). The more sugar you eat, the more AGEs you develop. And the older your skin starts to look.
Why? Because the fibres in your body that are most vulnerable to this damage are collagen and elastin, the protein fibres that keep skin firm and elastic. In fact, collagen is the most prevalent protein in the body. Once damaged, springy and resilient collagen and elastin become dry and brittle, leading to wrinkles and sagging. These ageing effects start at about age 35 and increase rapidly after that, according to Prevention Magazine.
The good news about sugar-damaged skin is that it’s never too late to turn back the clock. One way is to build new collagen with products that contain retinoids. Look for retinol in OTC serums and lotions or prescription creams such as Renova, Avage, and Differin. And quit sugar!
How To Quit Sugar
So, how can you quit sugar, you may be wondering? Follow these points, and you should be fine!
- Remember that sugars are often hidden in processed foods. Give them up if you can
- Start checking labels and ditch anything that contains actual sugar
- Start planning your meals. There are plenty of websites that can suggest great recipes, such as this one or this one.
- When you go shopping, be sure you check the GI Index of every packaged food you buy. A good score is anything less than 55. There’s plenty of yummy natural stuff to choose from. But don’t assume that just because it’s a natural fruit, grain or veggie, it’s got a low GI: remember that dates, mango, pumpkin and many other whole foods still have a high GI. Check lists like these to make sure.
- Remember than you’re meant to have a TOTAL of around one small chocolate bar’s worth of sugar a day. No more. And that includes all places where sugars are found naturally or added: fruits, coffees, teas, bread, and so on. In short, you should start perceiving sugar as a very rare treat indeed.
- Don’t be fooled–organic sugar is still sugar. And honey and agave syrup are not much better than the white stuff
- Don’t depend on artificial sweeteners. They will just maintain your cravings for sweet things, and most sugar substitutes (with the exception of pure stevia) are even worse than sugar itself.
- Know that it CAN be done! And you’ll feel – and look – better once you ditch this toxin.
The bottom line? If you want to protect the health of yourself and your children, educate yourself about the dangers of sugar, in all its forms. There’s nothing sweeter than knowledge!
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