Could you be addicted to sugar?

20141204_073852What’s the one thing that most prepackaged food items have in common? Sugar. Sugar is everywhere; it’s in our snacks, pasta sauces, soft drinks and breads. It’s added to practically everything we eat, not mention the natural sugars found fruits in the form of fructose and in dairy in the form of lactose (for those who choose to consume it). So how do you know if you’re getting too much in your diet or worse, if you’re addicted? Lets look a deeper to see what’s the real deal with sugar.

Ever notice how anytime you eat something really sweet, you get a bit of a sugar high? This is because during digestion sugar gets broken down and then transported to the bloodstream to be used as energy, any sugar that isn’t immediately used up through physical activity gets stored as body fat. What’s worse is that studies of the human brain show that when a person consumes sugar it produces the same chemical reaction that a person would get from consuming cocaine. I know it sounds really extreme, but it’s true and the more sugar we eat the more we want it. In fact, the average person consumes 500 calories worth of sugar each day, that’s 1 pound of sugar each week, so this may be a good time to start cutting back. Too much sugar in the diet can lead to weight gain, a fatty liver, insulin resistance and diabetes. That’s really scary; I don’t mean to sound super intense here but the added sugar consumed each day is causing a lot of health problems for everyone.

One good option for cutting back is to start by just being mindful of what you are actually eating and what is in the ingredients. Read the label, go through the nutritional facts and ingredients list; it may surprise you to see just how much sugar you are actually eating. Look for ingredients that end is ose and any kind of syrup. Now that being said, don’t get too crazy about this, you’ve gotta live your life and you’ve gotta be realistic; when you eat out there’s probably gonna be more fat, more sugar and more sodium in your food than if you ate at home so don’t let it bug you too much, just be mindful.

There are a few simple things that you can do to cut back. For starters cut out the soft drinks completely as these are loaded with sugar and are very acidic and can cause indigestion. Don’t forget juices too; that daily glass of O.J. could also be processed with sugar, so be sure to buy one that is either 100% Juice or that says No Added Sugar on the label. Also take note of how often you eat dessert, is it every day? Once a week? Or less than that? Really think about it: all the chocolate, ice cream, cake, cookies or candy, how much and how often. Depending on where you’re at health-wise and weight-wise, you may want to limit yourself to no more than once or twice a week. I also suggest that you look at your snacks, particularly yogurt and cereral. You may think you’re being all healthy by choosing greek yogurt or granola, but these are notoriously full of added sugar, so proceed with caution. Another aspect to consider is what you add to your meals and beverages; are you adding sugar to your coffee or to your sauces and baked goods when you’re in the kitchen? Try to cut the amount of sugar that you add in half and see how that tastes, at first it may not seem as good, but give your taste buds a bit of time to adjust. With time you’ll start to taste the difference and be able to taste other flavors than just sugary sweetness.

In terms of natural sugars like honey, maple syrup, molasses and raw sugar, unfortunately the human body can’t tell the difference between these and conventional white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, so it all gets digested the same exact way. That being said, I usually prefer to use the more natural sugars as they offer a far better taste to sweets than the cheap white stuff. Again, be mindful, check labels and don’t overdo it.

If you are looking for alternatives consider substituting with fruits and fruit purees especially for baking and instead of adding jam to your peanut butter sandwich, try mashing some fresh berries or banana and spread that instead. Stevia can also be a good choice, but it’s pretty expensive and has a much stronger flavor so be sure to measure it out before adding it to anything. As for no calorie sweeteners, I suggest you limit this as much as possible or avoid them altogether as these are just a mix of chemicals that can actually alter your taste buds ability to taste the natural sweetness in most foods and it can make you crave sweets even more.

When it comes to sweetness, less is more; sugar can sometimes completely block the taste of everything else in what you’re eating. Think about what’s right for you and go from there, and be sure to consult with your healthcare provider for more information. Like I said, don’t get too consumed with a fear of sugar, instead be realistic and keep in mind the ways that your food affects you and your health. Eat well, nourish yourself and be healthy.

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