Here’s a gentle—but effective—way to cut back…
People may joke about having a “sweet tooth,” but it’s really no laughing matter.
The craving for sweets can be just as intense as cravings for drugs or alcohol. The comparison is apt because sweets trigger some of the same brain changes that occur in people who use cocaine or other highly addictive substances—and can be even harder to give up. So what’s the harm in having a daily sugar fix?
What the research now says: While we’ve long known that over-indulging in sugar can lead to cavities and weight gain (and related risks such as diabetes), a growing body of research now shows a far broader range of potential harms. These include increased risks for high blood pressure and heart disease…certain types of cancer (such as malignancies of the breast and pancreas)…kidney disease…liver failure…migraines…osteoporosis…and cognitive decline. Too much sugar has also been linked to fatigue, anxiety and depression.
Wondering if you are a sugar addict? As with most addictions, if you feel the need to ask the question, you likely are! (See below for a self-test.)
A little sugar won’t hurt, but most people get much more than the daily maximum amount of added sugar recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA)—100 calories for women and 150 calories for men, which is roughly equal to six to nine teaspoons of sugar (or 25 g to 37 g).
And it adds up fast. Most sodas and many fruit drinks have up to three-quarters of a teaspoon of sugar per ounce. It’s also hidden in places you might not expect. Many flavored six-ounce yogurts have seven teaspoons of sugar…a half-cup serving of coleslaw has 2.5 teaspoons…and one-half cup of spaghetti sauce has almost two teaspoons.
CUT THE CRAVINGS
With sugar’s addictive qualities, cutting back is no easy feat. Some people try to go cold turkey for a few days (forgoing even foods that contain natural sugar) to prime themselves for a longer–term low-sugar diet. For many people, however, this approach is too drastic.
A gentle way to rein in your sugar intake: Start by cutting back on the highest-sugar foods in your diet—sweet beverages, candy and other sugary desserts. You’ll still be getting some added sugar in foods you may not expect (such as condiments, including salad dressing, sauces and ketchup…granola…and even many types of bread). But if sugar is listed as one of the top three ingredients on a food or drink label (meaning the sugar content is high), don’t have it.
Important: When you’re checking labels, be aware that added sugar may appear under such terms as sucrose, maltose, glucose or dextrose…and, of course, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, honey, etc. A lot of restaurant food is also notoriously high in sugar—including ethnic foods, such as Chinese and Thai.
Keep it simple: Your goal is to significantly cut back on added sugar—that is, sugars and syrups added to food or beverages during preparation and processing. Aim for the AHA’s guideline (six teaspoons a day for women…and nine for men). To calculate teaspoons, divide the number of grams by four. Also avoid foods with white flour, found in many breads and pastas—the body rapidly converts it to sugar. But if it’s a whole food without a label—such as a fruit or veggie—then you can safely assume that it’s OK to eat.
If you’ve been getting too much sugar, you’ll probably experience irritability, loss of energy and other withdrawal symptoms when you first cut back, but they usually fade within 10 days. You’ll then have more energy, suffer less aches and pains and feel dramatically better!
Helpful while you’re cutting back…*
• Replace added sugar with stevia. This plant-based sweetener has no calories, and it doesn’t cause the insulin spikes that occur with sugar…or increase risk for diabetes.
Stevia is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, so you can use just a small amount in your coffee or tea…and use it for baking (follow label instructions for the correct amount). Some brands of stevia have a bitter aftertaste due to poor filtering. Good products: Body Ecology’s Liquid Stevia Concentrate…Stevita…Truvia…and Pure Via.
• Take ribose. It’s a special type of sugar that is made by the body to create energy. You can use ribose in supplement form to replace the sugar energy “high” you may miss when you phase out sweets. Research has shown that it increases healthy energy by an average of 60% within three weeks.
My advice: Add a 5,000-mg scoop of ribose powder twice daily to any food or drink. Ribose powder looks and tastes like sugar but doesn’t raise blood sugar (it can lower blood sugar in people with diabetes). Use less if you feel too energized.
• Eat low-glycemic foods. The glycemic index (GI) rates foods by how quickly they raise blood sugar. High-glycemic foods, such as white bread and white rice, raise blood sugar nearly as quickly as pure sugar—and increase sugar cravings.
Foods rated 70 or above cause rapid rises in blood sugar…those with a GI below 55 have little effect (those in between have an intermediate effect). Choose foods at the lower end of the scale. Examples: Whole grains, legumes, nonstarchy vegetables, nuts and eggs.
To find the GI of specific foods, go to GlycemicIndex.com and use the search function.
What Type of Sugar Addict Are You?
Here are the four main types of sugar addiction…
TYPE 1: Low energy. Do you repeatedly crave sweets or caffeine to give you the energy you need to get through the day?
What helps: Take a multinutrient powder. Nutrient deficiencies can cause fatigue while increasing both appetite and sugar cravings.
Good product: Energy Revitalization System multinutrient powder.** Take one-half to one scoop daily. You can blend it with milk, water or yogurt. For extra energy, add a scoop of ribose (see above).
TYPE 2: Overtaxed adrenal glands. Do you constantly feel stressed out? Are you irritable when you’re hungry? These are both red flags for another common cause of sugar addiction—adrenal insufficiency, a stress-related reduction in adrenal hormones.
What helps: Drink one cup of licorice root tea each morning. This helps the adrenal hormones that are made by your body last longer. Caution: If you have high blood pressure or take any type of medication, ask your doctor before trying licorice root tea. Adrenal function is also supported by vitamins C and B-5 (the Energy Revitalization System multinutrient powder mentioned above provides healthful levels).
TYPE 3: Candida overgrowth. Do you have chronic nasal congestion, sinusitis or irritable bowel syndrome? These conditions may indicate hidden Candida (yeast) overgrowth. Yeasts thrive on sugar and release a chemical that causes sugar cravings.
What helps: A good enteric-coated probiotic (such as Optima) will fight Candida overgrowth. It is also worth seeing a holistic physician (check the website of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine for a referral) to help you get rid of Candida.
TYPE 4: Imbalanced hormones. In premenopausal and menopausal women, changes in estrogen and progesterone can lead to mood changes that improve when sugar is eaten. Men can be affected by midlife drops in testosterone, which also can trigger sugar cravings.
What helps: Eating a handful of edamame daily may help balance hormone levels in women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and ease menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes. Women and men who suffer from hormonally driven sugar cravings may also want to ask their doctors about natural hormone replacement.
*If you have diabetes or take any type of medication, consult your doctor before changing your diet and/or taking supplements.
**I formulated this product but donate 100% of my royalties from sales to charity.
Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, a board-certified internist with a private practice in Kona, Hawaii, and director of the Practitioners Alliance Network, an organization for health providers dedicated to improving patient care. He is coauthor of The Complete Guide to Beating Sugar Addiction…the website Vitality101.com…and the free smartphone app Cures A-Z.Date: August 1, 2015 Publication: Bottom Line Health