Sugar is present in so much of the processed foods we eat, even if the food isn’t necessarily sweet. You can find it in many breads, pastas, salad dressings, yogurts, and granolas—you name it, sugar is probably hiding in there somewhere. This makes us plenty vulnerable to going over our suggested daily intake of sugar on a chronic basis, which may lead to many serious health issues like type 2 diabetes, cancer, and depression. The experts behind the new groundbreaking book The Sugar Detox Plan offer us the science behind our sugar addictions.
The American Heart Association recommends the maximum daily intake of sugar for women to be 25 grams and men 37.5 grams.
When you think sugar, you think fun. You think happiness. You think, “I need more!” Have you ever wondered why you crave sugar or why you feel the way that you do after eating it?
Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard that “sugar highs” aren’t real and that it doesn’t actually do anything to your body, but think about it. Think about your body. Everyone’s body requires insulin, as it is the key hormone responsible for transferring blood glucose to all of the organs in the body. Most of the organs can transform anything, like starch or proteins, into glucose if the body is lacking it, except for the brain. The brain is the only organ that requires pure glucose to function.
When you eat sugar, you are releasing serotonin and dopamine. These hormones make us feel happy, so we are inclined to continue to repeat the activity that triggered the happiness. Sugar also activated serotonin, another one of the hormones key for making people happy.
When we think about indulging in a particular substance that we know we maybe shouldn’t have (like that fifth chocolate chip cookie, for example), the amount of dopamine in our brain increases. As soon as the dopamine concentration increases, so does the craving. Then we feel like we really need to eat the entire box of cookies. One problem with a sugar addiction is that, because of the dopamine stimulation, it causes us to overeat because we’re looking for feelings of pleasure and reward. If we submit to our cravings for sugar, though, the dopamine levels drop again, leaving us feeling strung out and weak.
You may be asking yourself, but how will I achieve the dopamine effect without sugar? Well, you’re in luck! By eating a high-protein diet and taking daily vitamins, you can produce dopamine naturally and it won’t leave you feeling strung out, sad, or tired after. You won’t even feel dependent on it anymore!
Now, back to serotonin. As stated earlier, it is an important hormone for happiness. It helps us to feel delight and it even helps us sleep well. Without serotonin, our bodies tend to sleep poorly, feel anxious and aggressive, and the lack of it may even cause an increased appetite or increased craving for sugar. Don’t worry though, serotonin can be activated naturally just like dopamine. Serotonin is naturally found in fruits and veggies, so be sure to load up on your apple a day!
People often don’t realize how dependent they are on processed or sugary foods until they try to stop eating them. It has been suggested that quitting a high sugar diet immediately can trigger symptoms similar to those of someone quitting cocaine or other drugs, so if you are trying to switch over to a healthier, more stable diet, it is not recommended that you do so without warning your body. Depriving your body of what it craves will send it into a panic due to a lack of dopamine, and that isn’t anything that anyone wants to experience. Also, you’re more likely to fall back into old habits if your body excessively craves it. Be sensitive to your body, start exercising, and slowly wean yourself off of sugar.
Galactose, a sugar substitute found naturally occurring in dairy products and some fruits, vegetables, and herbs, is recommended for those trying to decrease their sugar intake. It helps with the withdrawal symptoms and makes it easier to continue moving towards a healthier lifestyle. Slowly, but surely, the body will become adjusted to an average intake of sugar and it will thank you for it!
Adapted from The Sugar Detox Plan, by Dr. Kurt Mosetter, Dr. Wolfgang Simon, Thorsten Probost, and Anna Cavelius (The Countryman Press, 2016)
Simple Sugar Swaps
- In your coffee. Ditch the sweeteners and sugar packets for cinnamon and coconut oil.
- On your salad. Swap the store-bought bottles for homemade blends of fresh lemon, olive oil, and spices.
- For lunch. Skip the white bread for ancient grain or rye sourdough.
- As a snack. Choose whole foods like sliced veggies, nuts, or fruit over chips, crackers, and cookies.
- For dinner. Trade the liquid marinades for dry rubs featuring fresh herbs and spices.
- To drink. Replace store-bought sodas, smoothies and juices with water, plain or infused with fruit slices, or tea.
7 Simple Steps to Free Yourself From Sugar Dependency
1. Know Your Sugars. Most of the sugar we consume is hidden: just because a food contains “no added sugar,” does not mean it has a low sugar content. Look out for sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, hydrolyzed starch and invert sugar, corn syrup, agave, coconut sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, and even honey.
2. Log It. Keep a sugar diary of everything you eat each day, and when (which can be just as important). You may think you are not eating a lot of sugar, but you’ll be surprised.
3. Be Realistic. The changes in your body will not happen overnight and it may take a few weeks to start to see the benefits. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see immediate results; the plan is 12 weeks long to ensure your body adapts smoothly to a reduced sugar intake. You will notice a sure and steady improvement in your health as the days go by.
4. Ditch Fast Foods. Fast foods contain sugar—usually in the form of glutamates, which are flavor enhancers. The sweetness sends your internal insulin factory—the pancreas—into overdrive.
5. Switch to Healthy Sugars. Not all sugars are bad. There is sweetness in sweet potato, carrots and parsnips, and there are alternatives, too, like stevia, monk fruit, and xylitol.
6. Eat Fruit Early in the Day. Fresh fruit is high in vitamins, but contains fructose (natural fruit sugar), so take care to stick to single portions and eat it early in the day.
7. Get Moving. With activity, the body loses its reliance on excess sugar.
Excerpt from The Sugar Detox Plan.