When life is good or people are appreciated, we humans use language that relates to something sweet. And when the opposite is true, well, Mary Poppins said it best: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” We addictively turn to sugar when our “medicine” is a hard task, a big disappointment, or just a long, rough day. I guess you could say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going… to the freezer for ice cream!
Ah, but if only sugar’s story was that sweet.
Sugarcoat It –
There is evidence that sugar is a major thief of modern-day health. Sugar suppresses the activity of a key growth hormone in the brain that has been found to be critically low in people with depression, memory problems, and mood disorders. Sugar consumption also promotes inflammation in the brain, gut, and body, which can lead to chronic physical and mental health problems. Most disturbing of all, perhaps, is the growing realization that sugar is a mood-altering drug. Clinical studies have linked sugar to depression, anxiety, suicide, irritability, anger outbursts, fatigue, and lethargy. But there’s another way in which sugar poses a threat to our health. Instead of being the antidote to stress, as we’ve always thought, sugar IS a stressor.
Sugar and Stress
You’re probably thinking, “Since when is sugar – a food – considered to be a stressor? Isn’t stress a feeling?”
It’s a good question, but it’s one that’s born of a basic misunderstanding of what stress really is. Stress is what we feel when we’re having trouble meeting life’s demands. Anything that requires your body to adapt and respond to something that threatens the proper functioning of your whole system is a stressor. These threats include: environmental toxins, electromagnetic fields, illnesses, psychological or emotional pain, and, refined carbohydrates, especially sugar.
Sugar: Not a Toxin, but Toxic!
Unlike a poison, sugar is not a toxin, but it is toxic. Sugar reduces our ability to respond to other kinds of stressors. It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, so to speak.
When we’re struggling with illness, psychological stress, or chronic physical exertion, an excess consumption of sugar and other refined carbohydrates gives the body one too many problems to solve and we are no longer able to adapt to stress.
What separates healthy people, who deal effectively with stressors, from those who don’t and get sick? It’s often the health of two powerhouse glands, the adrenals. These are the organs responsible for directing how our bodies adapt to stresses of all kinds.
When we are under constant stress the body’s response is to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol causes the release of glucose (sugar) from the liver and the surge of glucose is no problem unless your body is insulin resistant. Many people cannot move glucose efficiently into their cells, and sugar builds up in the bloodstream setting the cycle for insulin resistance and weight gain. Excess cortisol increases cravings for fatty comfort foods and prolonged cortisol release can lead to an intake of high-fat and high-sugar foods.
There’s nothing like stress to send many of us straight to a sweet treat
Is it a coincidence that desserts spelled backwards is stressed?
Kicking the Sugar Habit –
Why It’s So Hard
For many of us, sugar is the key addiction that keeps us from achieving optimal health. We may succeed in cleaning up our eating habits, adding exercise and taking supportive supplements, but for many of us, quitting sugar feels almost impossible. To understand why sweet stuff has such a hold on us, consider this: it’s uniquely suited to activating the pleasure center in our brains.
When we eat sugary foods (and salty ones, for that matter), they stimulate the release of dopamine to calm our stress and provide us a sense of well-being. Not surprisingly, our bodies want more! As the brain begins to associate all these beneficial effects with the sugar (or salt) that stimulated the dopamine, cravings begin. The more we rely on these sweet snacks to produce dopamine, the more we deplete our natural ability to produce it.
When we rely on sugar to satisfy our desire for dopamine, we add stress to our adrenal glands, and overwork our pancreas, sometimes to the point that it can no longer regulate insulin. When that happens, hypoglycemia and often diabetes is the result. In hypoglycemia, blood sugar levels soar and fall wildly, putting us on what’s often called “the blood sugar roller coaster.” Whenever that roller coaster drops precipitously, we experience a variety of unwanted symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, crying spells, irritability, restlessness, forgetfulness, anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, and angry or violent outbursts.
No wonder we reach for something sweet! It’s the worst thing we can do, because the cycle starts all over again and becomes well-established. As many of us have learned, if we so much as try to get off the roller coaster, it leaves us feeling tired and sick.
Getting off the Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
One of the best ways to get off the blood sugar roller coaster is to begin addressing hunger and sugar cravings not with refined carbohydrates (sugar), but with complex carbohydrates such as those found in whole-grain foods, fiber-rich vegetables, or in my favorite dietary supplement, PGX®. When PGX is taken with or before a meal it helps to slow digestion and support normal blood sugar.
sweet tips for Sugar Cravers
- To reduce your daily consumption of sugar start slowly and add healthier foods, like berries and fresh organic fruit.
- Eat lots of dark green vegetables. They replenish the body’s vitamins and minerals, which are depleted by stress.
- When you start craving something sweet reach for turkey: it contains L-tryptophan, an amino acid that releases serotonin, the feel-good hormone.
- Include nuts in your meals and as a snack: they’re full of stress-lowering B vitamins that also give the immune system a boost.
- Choose fresh fruit instead of refined sugar when you must have something sweet. Berries and citrus, especially, are packed with the potent stress reducer, vitamin C. The fiber in fruit helps regular blood sugar levels to prevent cravings, too.
- Turn on music when sweet cravings hit. Music lifts your mood and reduces the “must eat now” feeling.
Probiotics are microorganisms that help curb cravings, balance blood sugar and, by restoring the beneficial microflora in the gut, they can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Essential fatty acids known as linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) naturally support heart health, flexible joints, and healthy beautiful skin. Essential fatty acids also help balance the neurotransmitters in the brain, and have been shown to help with depression and other mood disorders, along with unstable blood sugar and cravings.
Chromium Picolinate has been shown to significantly improve blood sugar imbalance and curb sugar cravings.
Let’s Start Taking Sugar Seriously
The high consumption of sugar and other refined carbohydrates in the standard North American diet is a problem that’s hard to overstate as a health issue. It may be largely the culprit behind the exponential increases in mental and physical illness in recent decades, and it probably explains the compromised health, well-being, and energy we experience as individuals on a daily basis.
So, sweetie: The next time you’re feeling anxious, blue, or irritable, and you’re craving sugar, remind yourself: sugary snacks or refined carbohydrate meals aren’t the answer to stress, they are stressors… and they cause illness.
OUR BODIES DESERVE BETTER FROM US.
In addition to these natural supplements,
better lifestyle choices
are absolutely necessary
- Limit foods with high-sugar content, especially on an empty stomach.
- Eliminate or minimize all refined carbohydrates – this includes white breads, pastries, cookies, cakes, pizza, soda pop, and desserts. Also beware of all forms of refined sugar including sucrose, fructose, raw sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, malt, malted barley, fruit juices, maple syrup, and honey. Find a Glycemic Index chart (various are available online) and work to keep 80–90% of your food intake in the low-to-moderate range.
- Those with severe blood sugar swings should carry juice or dried fruit for a quick recovery when you feel your blood sugar drop.
- Eat small, frequent meals and snacks that are high in protein and fat, along with a moderate intake of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates provide the necessary glucose in a slow, gradual manner, and can be thought of as “time-released” sugar for the brain – reducing blood sugar spikes and curbing cravings.
- Eat a diet high in fiber, fresh vegetables and fruits, good quality protein, and good oils such as flax and olive – the Mediterranean diet is a good lifestyle choice.
- Water is the forgotten nutrient. Often, when we feel hungry, we are just thirsty. Drink 8–10 glasses of water throughout the day.