Hello faithful readers! I write to you today as a happy momma. It’s hard to believe it’s been 8 months since the happy day when Flynn entered the world. Nothing could have prepared me for the wonder of it all. There is so much joy and love. At the same time there have been challenges.
Slow progress on settling into a regular sleep schedule has kept me for getting back to blogging (and counseling). Things had started to get better in late October but then in November I went back to my urgent care job part-time and it’s been hard to find a regular sleep routine since then. We are making progress, but I’m still pretty sleep deprived.
With sleep deprivation has come not only the usual fatigue and foggy thinking; but also some serious sugar cravings. Through my health counseling work I understand my cravings have multiple origins. Some of the time I just crave the quick energy of a simple sugar. Other times I feel worn out and crave a “treat” for myself. And other times I find myself a little bored and a trip to the local coffee shop calls to me. Since I’m breast feeding I still need extra calories every day and if I don’t get enough healty protein and healthy fat in my meals then I’ll find myself craving sugar.
My philosophy in health counseling is one of “balance.” This means I don’t like to demonize food. Everything has it’s time and place. Too much of anything can lead to imbalance. And some foods will cause imbalances sooner than others. White sugar is definitely one of those foods. That doesn’t mean you need to remove it completely from your diet (though some people do find this approach to be helpful). However, knowing that it has harmful effects, I want to be very mindful about how I use it. Sweet foods, made with love, are a wonderful way to celebrate the sweet things in life. Still, there are many reasons to be judicious in your use of white sugar. The research around the detrimental health effects caused by sugar continues to grow.
White sugar intake has been linked to increased risk for :
diabetes (type2) obesity high cholesterol high blood pressure heart disease
fatty liver cancer memory impairment mood swings inflammation
dementia yeast infections dental disease
I know this and I am completely convinced about the negative effects of sugar; yet I still struggle… why?
1) Sugar is everywhere: As a people Americans take in a huge amount of sugar. This has been steadily going up for decades. Sugar is all around us and eating large amounts of it is socially acceptable and even encouraged at times. Sweet drinks and foods are constantly in front of us, tempting us.
2) Sugar is sneaky: Sometimes sugar will appear in foods when you least expect it. Most packaged/ processed foods will have some added sugar. Some places you may be surprised to find a high amount of added sugar:
–BBQ sauces, Asian marinades (teriyaki sauces, etc), salad dressings, frozen dinners, frozen breakfast foods
Even things that seem like they could be healthy choices often have a LOT of added sugar such as:
–oatmeal, “wheat” bread, yogurt, packaged fruit, cereal bars, vitamin drinks, and bottled tea
Remember to read labels. 4gm of sugar = 1 tsp of sugar. And look at the list of ingredients too. Remember there are many euphamisms for sugar here are some:
-corn syrup –high fructose corn syrup
-sucrose -(pretty much anything ending in “-ose”
-honey -white grape juice or other fruit concentrate
-barley malt -maple sugar
-sucanat -natural cane sugar
-dehydrated cane sugar -brown sugar
-turbinado sugar -invert sugar
-beet sugar -buttered syrup
-cane juice crystals -caramel
-molasses -sorghum syrup
3) Sugar is addictive: Sugar can stimulate some of the same “feel good” hormones in your brain that many street drugs activate. That is not to say sugar is equal to those drugs, it is just to show you that it has effects in your brain that can lead to cravings which have nothing to do with “will power.”
Research done with rats showed that when they were given sugar to binge eat they showed brain changes similar to those in getting off drugs. Also studies with humans have shown that when subjects were asked to look at pictures of milk shakes, their brains would react in a way similar to those seen in drug addicts.
Addiction has both biological and behavioral aspects. Sugar definitely has biological effects in the body but these do not seem to affect every person that same way. Those who struggle the most with sugar also have a strong association with sugar as a “reward” both physically and psychologically.
Nonjudgmental awareness of how you relate to sugar is one way to begin to change that relationship.
4) Sugar speaks to my brain: Besides stimulating the pleasure and reward areas of the brain sugar has another advantage. Plain glucose is the main fuel source for our brains. Other, more complex carbohydrates and sugars, are broken down in the body to glucose in order to fuel the brain an other organs/ systems in the body. When your energy is low, your brain knows that a simple sugar will raise your blood sugar the fastest and so that is often what you end up desiring the most.
However, the best way to keep your brain happy is to keep a steady level of glucose in the blood (not to put yourself on the up and down roller coaster of simple sugars). Foods that are digested more slowly will allow for a more level and consistent blood glucose level. This is behind the concept of glycemic index (a topic I’ve have written on many times in the past). Low glycemic index foods help to curb sugar cravings and keep the body healthier and happier. (See glycemicindex.com to learn more).
So, yes, it’s a challenge. But I know I can do it. In fact I usually do a “cleanse” each year where I give up sugar for 2 to 3 weeks. And I know plenty of people who have given up white sugar 100% as a daily lifestyle choice. I can do it. But that said, I’ve been trying to do it for months now. Some reason always comes up as to why it’s a good time to put that off. A family party is coming up and there will be good treats and cake and I don’t want to offend anyone but not eating it (nice rationalization at work there!).
So here we are at the change of the year and I figure this is as good a time as any.
Cleanses work for me because they help me to reinforce my healthier food options and they help me to be more aware of how I am using sugar in my daily life. However, if you have never done a cleanse before then extreme, 100% removal of sugar may not be the best course of action for you. “Diets” don’t work. Their restrictive nature can lead to strong cravings and ultimately binge eating of the thing you are trying to avoid. That can lead to guilt and the next thing you know your mood is low and your brain has you craving even more sugar to get those “feel good” hormones back to work.
So I encourage you to look at your daily food intake and increase your awareness of how much sugar you are eating. It has been estimated that in the US we eat on average 22 teaspoons of sugar EACH DAY! Remember sugar has many detrimental effects on our health.
Here’s a handout I give to my clients called “the top ten ways sugar ruins your health”
Top Ten Reason’s Why Sugar Ruins Your Health:
1) Sugar raises your insulin levels leading to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) which has been associated with fatigue, “brain fog“, moodiness, and irritability.
2) High Insulin levels over time leads to insulin resistance a condition associated with
-Type 2 Diabetes
-High serum triglycerides (fat)
-Low HDL (good) cholesterol
-Some Cancers (breast, colon, ovarian)
-Polycystic Ovary syndrome and infertility
3) Refined sugar is empty calories and regular intake raises the risk for weight gain and obesity.
-Just one 12 ounce bottle of sugar soda daily contains 150 calories which translates to an extra 15 pounds each year.
4) Sugar can suppress the immune system
5) Sugar interferes with the absorption of calcium and magnesium leading to weak bones (osteoporosis) among other problems
6) Sugar can cause a rapid rise in the adrenaline levels in children
7) Sugar can cause headaches, including migraines
8) Sugar can cause depression
9) Sugar may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease
10) A high sugar diet leads to inflammation in the body. And inflammation has been linked to many medical problems, diseases.
So if you want to join me in reducing the amount of white sugar in your life, I welcome the support and want to offer mine to you as well. I have started a google group for this purpose. Anyone who would like access to the group please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). In this online group we can share our success and our challenges and increase our success. The great thing about healthy eating is that the more you do it the easier it becomes.