The Sugar Habit: A Sweet Tooth
We are born with a sweet tooth. Newborns, studies show, have a partiality for sweet flavors over other flavors. Many researchers theorize that children’s preference for sweets is an evolutionary aftermath: Children who favored high-caloric foods would have a higher chance of survival. However, while survival is no longer dependent only our preferences for sugar, our brains still crave it and for many to excess.
The brain and the rest of the body requires sugar. The body converts sugar to glucose that is then absorbed into the bloodstream and made available to all cells. The brain is particularly reliant on glucose for fuel for its billions of neuron cells.
These nerve cells can’t store glucose, and so they need a regular supply. Even a small taste of sugar heightens brain activity. Our brain’s endless requirement for sugar and how commonplace sugar has become is why it’s so easily addictive.
The Crave for Sugar: a sweet tooth
Eating a cupcake tastes good, but it also gives you an immediate kick. It prompts the body to release serotonin which is known as the “happy” hormone and dopamine the “reward” hormone. Serotonin, when released into the bloodstream, boosts mood. Dopamine causes the body to seek more of what feels good. But, everything that goes up comes down including a sugar high.
Insulin spikes by the rush of sugar in that cupcake because the body wants to bring glucose levels back to normal. However, the drastic drop in sugar from an insulin spike leads to a sugar crush. Now instead of feeling good, you feel drained or even moody. Because you want to feel good again, you eat more sugar. This can create a vicious cycle of craving sugar and binge eating.
Interestingly, research at Yale University showed that fructose, unlike glucose, does not suppress the part of the brain that makes you want to eat or tell you that you’ve had enough sugar. And the Western diet is loaded with fructose in the form of corn syrup.
Simple sugars and carbohydrates are found in white flour and rice (cakes, cookies, donuts, bagels, etc.), processed foods, sodas, candies, and even “healthy” foods like juice drinks, protein bars, and granola bars. Regularly eating these types of sugar overloads the body with too much of a good thing.
Signs that you may be eating too much sugar include:
- Being lethargic, not wanting to move
- Craving sweets and simple carbohydrates
- Feeling hungry most of the time
- Always feeling thirsty
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
Harmful effects of a sweet tooth
Most of us know that too much sugar can cause us to weight, lead to obesity, and increase the risk of diabetes. However, eating excessive amounts of simple sugar can also be detrimental to health in many ways.
Here are a few ways in which simple sugar has been shown to affect health:
- Depresses the immune system
- Shortens attention span
- Affects behavior such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Interferes with learning
- Causes tooth decay
- Increases risk of heart disease
- Raises risk of or worsens acne
- Increases risk of depression
- Speeds up skin aging process
- Accelerates cellular aging
- Leads to fatty liver
- Raises uric acid levels that lead to gout
- Damages blood vessels in kidneys[i]
How to the “remove” a sweet tooth in 10 Days
The recommended amount of sugar from calories per day is less than 10%. The average American eats around 152 pounds of sugar a year which comes out to about 22 teaspoons of sugar every day, and children consume thirty-four teaspoons a day.[ii]
Compare this to the 1700s where the average Brit consumed four pounds per year.
Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, recommends first to make the decision to break the sugar habit and then go cold turkey. This means removing white flour, sugar, hydrogenated fats, prepackaged foods, etc. from your diet. He also has these suggestions to kick the sugar habit in ten days:
- Don’t drink your calories. Stop drinking soda, sweetened tea and coffee, juice beverages, etc. Also, do not replace sugary drinks with artificially sweetened ones. Green vegetable juice is okay to drink.
- Add protein to every meal including breakfast; eat whole eggs and not just the whites. Eat grass-fed meat, chicken, fish, nuts, and seeds.
- Eat non-starchy vegetables like tomatoes, asparagus, green beans, onions, eggplant, peppers, greens, etc.
- Eat good fats at every meal like those found in nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut butter, and omega-3s from fatty fish like salmon.
- Quit gluten and dairy for ten days. Dr. Hyman suggests it may be difficult for the first few days but after that you will feel better, have fewer cravings, and be more energetic.
- Manage stress. Stress increases the hormone cortisol that makes you hungry and crave sugar.
- Get at least eight hours of sleep. Research showed that getting less than eight hours of sleep drives the hunger hormones and drives you to overeat.[iii]
It takes a concerted effort to avoid sugar; it’s found in many foods and drinks. Sugar is snuck into some foods that traditionally don’t have sugar as an ingredient, so it’s important to read labels.
Sugar is biologically addictive; research shows its more addictive than cocaine.[iv]
While the body needs sugar, consuming excessive amounts has clearly been shown to be detrimental to health. It may take some effort to break the sugar habit, but in the long run your body will thank you.
Harmful Effects of Excess Sugar. Retrieved from https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/family-nutrition/sugar/harmful-effects-excess-sugar.
Hyman, Mark, M.D. How You Can Break Your Sugar Addiction in 10 Days (Video). Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-you-can-break-your-sugar-addiction-in-10-days-video/.
Kubla, Jillian MS, RD. 11 Reasons Why Too Much Sugar Is Bad for You (June 3, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/too-much-sugar#section12.
Mercola, Dr. What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Too Much Sugar. Retrieved from https://medical-news.org/10-signs-eating-much-sugar/3805/.
Why is sugar so addictive? (March 22, 2013). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/0/21835302
[i] Kubla, Jillian MS, RD., 11 Reasons Why Too Much Sugar Is Bad for You, June 3, 2018. Web.
[ii] Hyman, Dr. How You Can Break Your Sugar Addiction in 10 Days (Video). Web.