Not So Sweet
Mary Poppins taught us that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Now, I’m a big fan of Mary, so when I learned that sugar is unhealthy it was rather unfortunate news. That being said, the fact that sugar is unhealthy is not new information. For years, we have been hearing it in the news, the paper, online and pretty much any other outlet you can think of. But if we have all heard this information, why are so many people still consuming it like its literally going out of style? I’d say we are past the ‘ignorance is bliss’ honeymoon stage. I think the reason is twofold; we are addicted to it and we still don’t realize that it is still in so many of our foods. That being said, I firmly believe that reducing the refined sugars in our diet is one of the best first steps we can take towards better health.
Kicking the sugar habit is hard, I totally get it. It’s sweet, delicious and it gives our bodies a natural high. Sweetness is actually the first taste that we prefer from birth, and coupled with the release of calming endorphins it provides, we are instantly hooked. That being said, the type of sugar we are introduced to at birth, our mother’s breast milk, is a far cry from the sugar we are hooked on today. Refined, processed sugar we chow down on in the form of desserts, candy, ice cream, drinks, cereals, yogurts, pasta sauce, and even those ‘healthy’ granola bars we buy. This kind of sugar is bad news, and at the level we are consuming today it is toxic to our bodies. Linked to obesity, diabetes, dementia, ADHD, heart disease and arguably even cancer this sweet stuff is not so sweet after all.
First, let’s define sugar so we are all on the same page. There is a difference between processed sugar and natural sugar. Although both are carbohydrates and will break down into glucose in the body, there is a vast difference in what they actually provide for the body.
Processed sugar is a refined form present in almost all man made foods. This type of sugar is a nutrient-depleting substance, devoid of it’s own nutrients, with no health benefits, and should be avoided.
Natural sugar is formed by Mother Nature and is found in fruits and some vegetables. It is rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber for the body. This is the kind you want.
Identifying sugar in our foods has become rather complicated. Food manufacturers rarely list the word ‘sugar’ as an ingredient anymore, because that would just be too easy, right? Instead they often use the chemical or scientific names to identify it. (You can see a list of them here.) The list of sugar is long and confusing, but unfortunately the list of health repercussions it can have is even longer and more confusing. Also unfortunate, our addiction to sugar is a bit of a vicious cycle, which is what make the habit hard to kick. In short, it looks a little like this:
<span “font-size:10.0pt;mso-bidi-font-size:11.0pt;=”” line-height:115%;font-family:”century=”” gothic”,”sans-serif””=”” style=””>What we sometimes don’t realize is that the symptoms that we are experiencing, and have convinced ourselves as normal, are actually often linked to our diet. That cold we can’t get rid of, the weight we can’t drop, the insomnia that keeps us up at night, the bad mood we were in at work and that headache we have told ourselves is due to the change is weather can for some people be linked sugar consumptions. Turning to sugar when we are stressed out or anxious is really common, but is it a symptom of our stress or could it actually be the cause? Hmmm… food (or sugar) for thought.
The truth is that sugar can impact our bodies in the following ways, just to name a few:
- Suppress the immune system – enter cold.
- Unbalance blood sugar regulation – enter weight gain.
- Create inflammation in the body – enter migraine.
- Inhibit mineral absorption – enter insomnia.
- Deplete vitamin absorption – enter mood swings.
- Promote yeast overgrowth – enter cravings.
- And the list goes on.
I don’t know about you, but waking up with a cold after a bad night’s sleep and heading to work spending the day craving sugar and then getting a headache after getting moody with a co-worker and then heading home after skipping the gym because I was too tired only to have another bad night’s sleep sounds like an awful way to spend my day.
So, how do we kick this habit to the curb? Here are some steps to help get you on the right track and out of the hands of sugar. (Sorry Mary Poppins.)
- Eat whole foods. The foods grown in the earth and created by Mother Nature don’t contain processed sugar. If they contain natural sugar (ie – fruit) they also contain a whole boat load of other vitamins, nutrients and minerals that are actually beneficial for your health.
- Avoid low-fat foods. Low-fat or fat-free products are a playground for sugar. Removing the fat from foods, can not only lower their nutritional value, but makes them taste bad therefore sugar is often added for flavour.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. Although they don’t contain calories it is irrelevant. They are toxic to our bodies, and actually perpetuate the sugar craving cycle the same way actual sugar does.
- Combine your macronutrients. Making a fresh fruit smoothie or juice can be a really healthy treat, however adding a source of protein and a healthy fat to your carbohydrates will help slow absorption, balance your blood sugar levels and reduce further cravings.
- Eat foods rich in chromium. Chromium is an essential part of glucose tolerance factor (GTF) which enhances insulin function for the metabolism of glucose which helps stabilizes blood sugar. Some foods rich in chromium include broccoli, barley, oats, green beans and tomatoes.
- Read the ingredients not the label. If you are purchasing a packaged food, turn it around and read the back. Look at the ingredients list and see what you recognize. If you don’t recognize much, put it back on the shelf. As a rule of thumb, words ending in ‘ose’ are most often sources of sugar.
- Plan your treats ahead. If you know that you are going to treat yourself to dessert at the party this weekend, or to ice cream with the kids on movie night, you will be less likely to reach for the chocolate bar on Wednesday afternoon at the office.
- Drink water. More often than not, our cravings are not linked to real hunger but rather dehydration. Our brain is smart, but it often gets confused with this one. Before snacking grab your water bottle.
- Sweeten naturally. If you need a sweet treat, opt for those created in nature. Fresh fruit, natural organic honey and organic maple syrup are your best bets. Not only are they easy to find, but they are native to Canada and can be purchased from local farmers.
- Find the root cause. Easier said that done, but looking to find the root cause of your sugar cravings can help alleviate them.