This Halloween the scariest trick-or-treater in the neighborhood will not be the ghosts or goblins but rather Mr. Sugar. He is found in the obvious cookies, cakes, candies, and sodas, but he is also found in carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), fruit juice, alcohol, and dairy products. Many of the “comfort foods” we desire when we are stressed, tired, or depressed are really a craving for sugar. Sugar stimulates the dopamine receptors in our brain which triggers a pleasurable sensation. Unfortunately that sensation is short lived and over time we develop tolerance needing more sugar in order to achieve the same “feel good” sensation. If this sounds like addictive behavior it is. In fact, sugar is highly addictive. Both sugar and cocaine stimulate the same receptors in our brain. In one study, scientists gave rats a choice between cocaine water and sugar water. They chose sugar 94% of the time. Even rats initially addicted to cocaine quickly switched to sugar when given the choice.
In addition to being highly addictive, sugar is also highly inflammatory to the body. This inflammation leads to insulin resistance, which drives the body to store excess sugar as triglyceride fat in the liver and belly. Inflammation is also the root cause of many chronic diseases like diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s.
The body’s ability to store sugar as fat can be traced back to caveman times when food was scarce and unpredictable. The caveman’s diet consisted of wild game, few nuts and seeds, seasonal fruits, and very little grains. Whenever he was able to consume excess calories, they were converted to fat. This adaptive mechanism allowed the body to draw upon a stored fuel supply during times of famine. But today in developed countries famine is rare and this conservation of fuel from excess sugar is contributing to the diabetes and obesity epidemic in this country. It is estimated that cavemen consumed a mere 22 teaspoons of sugar/year. By contrast today we consume 22 teaspoons of sugar/day!
How can we stop our sugar cravings?
- Read package labels and be aware of the amount of sugar in foods.
- Be aware of hidden sweeteners like HFCS, barley malt syrup, maltodextrin, agave, dextrose, dextrin, molasses, corn sweetener, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, dehydrated cane juice, honey etc.
- Try low glycemic sugar substitutes—whole leaf Stevia or coconut palm sugar.
- Stop all sugar and artificial sweeteners cold turkey. After stopping them your brain will gradually reset and not crave as much sugar.
- To reduce sugar cravings, reduce processed foods. Eat more nutrient dense foods like vegetables (especially dark green leafy veggies) and sprouts.
- Don’t skip meals. Eat smaller meals consisting of protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fats every 3-4 hours so you don’t get hungry and crave sugar.
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep/night–studies show that lack of sleep increases cravings.
- If you do eat sweets and junk food consume them as late in the day as possible. Once you start eating sugar you will crave it the rest of the day.
- Every day is a “do-over”. So if you fall off the wagon, the next day is a fresh start, try again.
- Finally here are few tips for controlling Mr. Sugar this Halloween:
- Buy candy brands you are not interested in to pass out to trick-or-treaters
- Buy candy on Halloween day, so you are less tempted to eat it
- Let your children have a few special pieces of candy on Halloween night but save the rest
- Offer one small piece of candy thereafter every few nights or as a reward
- Offer a candy “buy-back” program. Trade in candy for prizes, money, or toys.