By Irene Ross, CHHC AADP
Certified Nutrition and Wellness Coach
Nope, it’s not in our heads when we say, “I’m addicted to sugar”
When I first moved to New York I had a roommate who would actually keep Hershey candy bars in her purse, because she said she was addicted to sugar. At the time, I just dismissed her claim as some kind of justification but, in retrospect, I realize that she was probably right.
And here’s why:
As I’ve mentioned, the body only needs 1 teaspoon of sugar in the blood at all times. The body is also very, very smart and will do things to protect us. So, when we eat too much sugar, the body sees a high sugar emergency and sends in the insulin to get rid of it. The insulin pushes it into our muscles for energy—and it does such a good job, it gets rid of all the sugar. Then the body sees a low sugar emergency and tries to protect us from that.
So it sends a signal to eat sugar again—and the cycle continues.
“Sugar is Sugar” — NOT!
Despite those corn syrup television commercials that say things like ‘sugar is sugar’ and ‘your body can’t tell the difference,’ all sugar is most definitely NOT the same—and your body CAN tell the difference. Some sugars, such as fruit, also have fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, while the sugar in a candy bar is only about the white stuff. Some sugars, such as the natural sweeteners like Agave, are gentler versions of the white stuff, so they won’t wreak as much havoc on your blood sugar levels as others.
NOTE: As of this writing, a lawsuit between the sugar industry and the corn syrup industry (the ones who make the claim that ‘sugar is sugar’) is before a judge in the Los Angeles Federal Court. The final decision is still unknown. The sugar industry is saying that that claim comparing corn syrup to sugar cane is misleading.
So now that we know all this, what do we do?
- Know the difference between a complex carbohydrate and a simple one: Many of today’s popular diets are completely “carb-free,” but the truth is that complex carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. Complex carbs are things like grains, beans and fruit, and they have vitamins, minerals, enzymes and protein. Since they break down smoothly and evenly, they allow your body to absorb all the good stuff.
- Simple (unprocessed) Carbs — White Sugar: These are candy bars, cookies, pastries, ice cream. They lack vitamins, minerals and fiber, so they actually require extra effort from the body to digest and, since the body must deplete its own store of nutrients, you’re actually creating a deficiency. It’s not slow and steady; it wreaks havoc on blood sugar levels—so one minute you have high energy and the next minute you could be shouting at someone.
- Understand the Craving, Don’t Just Fight It: A sugar craving is usually your body’s plea for energy. I once started to get some uncontrollable sugar cravings, but when I thought about it, I realized I had been working on a stressful project that required working very long hours—often running well into the night. I realized I was just very tired and more than a little stressed; once I understood what was happening, I was able to make a conscious effort to sleep more, eat healthier and find some time each day for exercise and self-care. The cravings went away.
- Eliminate Low-Calorie, Processed and Chemicalized Snacks and Foods: They’re often high in sugar to compensate for a lack of flavor and fat. Someone once told me her doctor recommended she eat a popular brand of low-fat yogurt for the probiotics. “You don’t need anything else!” he said. I looked at the ingredient list and it included both sugar and aspartame.
Remember, if something’s low-fat, they usually have to put something extra (often unhealthy) in it to make it taste better.
What Else Can You do to Eliminate Sugar Cravings?
- Eat more. Yes, you read that correctly! Add more sweet vegetables—carrots, beets, sweet potatoes— plus grains, beans and fruit to your diet. “Crowd out” your need for sweets. The best way to curb or eliminate sugar cravings is to regularly eat naturally sweetened foods.
- Use gentle sweet alternatives such as Agave nectar, Grade B maple syrup or brown rice syrup. A favorite sweet snack of many health conscious people is rice cakes (puffed brown rice, high in complex carbs) with brown rice syrup poured over them.
- Keep your body’s nutritional needs in balance. Think of the yin and yang.
Huh? Yin Yang??
The ancient Chinese subscribed to a concept called Yin Yang, in which there is a belief that there exist two complementary forces: Yang, a masculine energy that represents the positive and Yin, the feminine energy, which is characterized as negative. One is not better than the other; they are perceived as complementary opposites. They are both necessary and a balance of both is highly desirable.
Foods can also be yin or yang. Yin is expansive and includes things like grains, drugs, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, milk, cream, yogurt, white flour, fruits, nuts, and leafy vegetables. Yang, or contractive foods, includes meat, fish, poultry, eggs, miso, tamari, root vegetables and grains.
If you have too much of one, you’ll start craving the other, because your body will be fighting very hard to get back in balance.
For instance, if you eat nothing but white flour and sugar all day, you’ll probably be craving salty flavors by night. I once had a client who told me how he had a strong craving one evening for a tuna sandwich. Nothing else would do! I asked him what he ate all day and it was mostly leafy vegetables which are yin. The tuna sandwich was very much yang—bread and fish—and I explained that it was his body’s way of trying to get into balance.
Sometimes a food is characterized as both yin and yang, and that’s because you can turn many foods into either; for instance, grains are yin, but if you add salt or tamari, you’ll make them more yang.
Here Are More Things You Can Do:
- Drink Water. Not only increases yin, but cravings for sweets can be a sign of dehydration.
- Chew thoroughly! Saliva breaks down food into simple sugars, often giving it a sweeter taste.
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine. The ups and downs of caffeine dehydration and blood sugar swings cause sugar cravings to be more frequent.
- Get physically active. This helps balance blood sugar levels, boost energy and reduce tension.
- Experiment with spices. Coriander, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom are naturally sweet.
- Evaluate the amount of animal fat you eat. Too much or too little can lead to sweet cravings.
- Short on time? Cook once and eat twice: Make extra portions and break them up into separate lunches or dinners. Plan ahead; carry carrot sticks, fruit, apples with nut butter, etc.
We hope you enjoyed this article! This is only the second part of a 3-part article by Irene Ross. The final part of Sugar’s Sour Story will be posted next Wednesday!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Irene Ross is a NYC-based certified nutrition and wellness coach. She works with people to help them instantly increase their energy so they avoid that mid-morning or afternoon slump, get more done in less time and balance their life.
She is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is now considered to be the largest nutrition school in the world. While there, she studied over 100 dietary theories, lifestyle management techniques and cutting-edge coaching methods, with instructors including Dr. David Katz; Dr. Bernie Siegel; Dr. Mark Hyman; Deepak Chopra, MD; Dr. Andrew Weil and many others.She also received a BA from Marist College and attended New York University.