“I’m addicted to sugar.” “I can’t control myself around sugars and carbs.” Those are just some of the comments I frequently hear from clients and audience members when I speak. What about YOU? Have you ever felt the attraction of sugars and/or carbs?
Can one really be addicted to sugars or carbs? No, at least not like a true addiction with drugs or alcohol, but I can see why people use that word. I know what it feels like when sugars and carbs seem to control your life – because I once felt that I was addicted to carbs, too.
Should I Give Up Sugar Completely?
No, I don’t think that’s the solution. Why not?
Because I’m guessing you’ve already tried that approach. And, did it work? Enough said.
Isn’t Sugar Bad?
While, our body has no nutritional need for table sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, agave syrup, and the like, “sugar” is not evil. Even healthful carbs eventually turn into “sugar” (or glucose) in the body. And, that’s not a bad thing. The brain, weighing in at two percent of the body’s weight, uses about 25% of all the calories we burn in a day…in the form of glucose. The red blood cells require glucose as its fuel, too.
In fact, glucose is so critical to the human body, that if you eat NO carbs, the body will break down some of the protein you eat – and turn it into glucose anyway.
Sugar Liking is Normal
It’s not surprising that you like sugar. Babies (and even fetuses in the womb) show a natural liking for sweet. They suck harder when the solution is sweet. Did you know that breast milk has more “sugar” than cow’s milk? And, of course, breast milk is great for a growing baby.
So, What’s Causing the Cravings?
Two things. One is physiological – having to do with the body. The other is psychological – or is programmed in the brain. Let’s talk about the first.
Blame It on Insulin
When you eat sugar (or any type of carb), our pancreas produces a hormone, insulin, to help carry it into the body’s cells. The cells use glucose for fuel to stay alive. The more carbs we eat, the more insulin we need to produce. This is all completely normal.
Sometimes, especially as we get older…and heavier…our pancreas just can’t respond with adequate amounts of insulin fast enough. That’s called “insulin resistance.”
And, when the pancreas finally does…it produces too much insulin. That takes too much glucose out of the blood stream leaving us with low blood glucose (aka low blood sugar) and that’s when the cravings for more sugar or carbs start.
What Can I Do?
- Don’t throw out ALL carbs. Sugar has no nutritional value so you’re missing nothing if you give them up. (But like I said earlier, you don’t have to). Just don’t get rid of all the carbs. There are many healthier carbs that are chock full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants to keep us healthy. Think beans, broccoli, lentils, soybeans, oats, carrots, and quinoa. Have you ever overeaten them? Do you feel like any of these foods are “addictive?” Lol. Probably not.
- Don’t eat too many carbs at one time. Carbs aren’t the “bad guys”. It’s just that when we eat too many at one time, our blood glucose drops and we tend to get a craving later. That’s why, if you’re going to eat sugar, it’s much better to eat a small amount of sugar daily, rather than a huge dessert once a week.
- Limit your sugars. Most nutrition guidelines recommend getting no more than 10% of your calories in the form of sugar. That includes table sugar, maple sugar, agave, and all the other kinds of sugar. I find it easiest to think about 10% of your total calories. So, if you’re eating 1500 or 2000 calories a day, 10% is 150 or 200 calories of something sweet every day.
- Stop sucking sugar. There’s a lot of simple sugar found in soda, fruit juice, sweetened coffee beverages, and most “smoothies.” Probably more than that 150-200 calories I just mentioned. Plus, when all you do is drink sweet stuff all day, your body will continue to crave the sweet stuff. Instead of craving apples, you want apple pie. But, don’t switch to sucking sugar free sodas and waters all day either. Get used to the taste of water to reduce your sugar cravings.
- Add protein. Proteins (chicken, beef, tuna, Greek yogurt, etc.) fill you up (so potentially you’ll eat less sugar) AND they help to slow down the absorption of glucose. How fast or slow the blood glucose rises after eating carbohydrates is called the Glycemic Index. Here are a couple of videos: Part One and Part Two.
- Add fiber. Fiber (think veggies and salad) also slows down the absorption of glucose so enjoy your carbs with plenty of veggies, too.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s also a psychological piece to this sugar craving. Stay tuned for next week’s enewsletter for how to conquer that. Not getting Dr. Jo’s enewsletter? Sign up below.