Step aside, sodium.
Slide on over, eggs.
There’s a new villain in nutrition town, one that’s so sweet and seductive you’d never suspect it could be responsible for all the havoc it’s charged with creating.
We’re talking about sugar, friends, and in case you haven’t heard, it’s on every nutritionist’s hit list of things to eliminate from your life.
Sugar Ain’t So Sweet
So why, you might ask? What’s wrong with a sweet treat once in a while?
Well, that’s one of the problems. At the beginning of the 1800s, the average individual consumed about 18 pounds of sugar per year.
Around 1900, the number increased to about 90 pounds per year. That’s a huge leap.
Even more startling is the fact that in 2012, the average American took in about 170 pounds of the sweet stuff.
That seems like more than an occasional treat to me. In fact, it seems like an everyday need, bordering on addiction.
There’s a whole host of ways that consuming too much processed sugar can harm your health. Let’s take a look at the major ones.
- Increase your risk of diabetes
- Increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease
- Increase the chance of obesity
- Suppressed immune system
- High blood pressure
- Tooth decay
- Metabolic Syndrome
Hey, we’re just scratching the surface here. For a more comprehensive list, check this out.
Sugar Hides Everywhere
It turns out all this sugar consumption may not be totally our fault.
Sugar is pretty sneaky stuff. It hides everywhere, and under many different aliases. At last count, sugar can be flying under the radar using over 60 different names.
Even more than that, there are different types of sugar, such as fructose, sucrose, lactose, and well, basically, if it ends in –ose, it’s a form of sugar.
To add to the complexity, your body handles different sugar types differently. For instance, the enormous task of metabolizing fructose falls entirely on your liver, which is already busy doing over 500 other tasks on a daily basis.
Ever wonder why you get a craving for sugar? I mean, like a really strong desire for a shot of sweet stuff?
We used to brush this off as a sweet tooth, but more and more scientific evidence shows that sugar may be as addictive as some illegal drugs.
It turns out that when we consume sugar, huge amounts of a chemical called dopamine is released in the brain.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, and as such its job is to transmit signals from one nerve cell to another in your brain. It sounds simple, but in truth it’s incredibly complex, and scientists continue to study dopamine and its effects on the human body.
One thing is for certain, however. Dopamine gets released during activities that are pleasurable.
This can mean sex, food, gambling, consuming certain illegal drugs, etc.
What’s more, tolerance for these things can build up over time, meaning the more you do, the more you need to do.
It’s a vicious cycle indeed.
Breaking the Sugar Addiction
Maybe you’ve tried to kicking sugar to the curb in the past. You may have even succeeded.
Sugar cravings are tough to keep at bay, and lots of us sooner or later give in to the sweet seductress.
If that’s you, don’t feel bad, you have a lot of company.
There are a number of standard recommendations you’ll hear regarding breaking up with sugar.
- Get plenty of rest
- Lose the caffeine
- Drink more water
Blah, blah, blah.
Let’s get off the beaten path and take a look at what really works for quitting sugar once and for all.
1. Get it out of the house
Obviously. But easier said than done.
Here’s where you need a good old dose of willpower. Try passing by those sweet treats in the checkout line, and steer clear of the bakery and ice cream aisles.
It takes some work, but if you’re serious about losing a bit of weight and improving your health, the power is in your hands.
Remember, willpower is like a muscle; the more your flex and exercise it, the stronger it will become.
2. Eat Real Food
Seriously, this one’s pretty simple.
We’re all so used to packaged and processed food these days that it’s become second nature to open a box and bring it to boil in the microwave.
Our on-the-move lifestyles are really tailored more for convenience and speed rather than healthy and fit.
Dangerous? You bet.
The low-fat diet craze that permeated every facet of our nutritional doctrines for the last few decades has really done a number on our health.
You see, when the fat is removed from foods to make them more “healthy”, it must to be replaced with something to make it palatable again.
And that something is usually a form of sugar.
Real food contains fiber, fat, and protein. All of these are satisfying and good for you.
Try tofu and lean meats like fish and chicken, healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, and nuts and seeds, and eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits.
You’ll feel fuller longer, and begin enjoying food again.
Sounds weird, I know. But what we mean by this is practice being mindful.
Still sounds weird? Try this exercise.
Slow down your eating. At dinnertime, try eating a bite of food and then putting your fork down. Concentrate on chewing and notice the flavors, textures, and even sounds of the foods you’re eating.
Slowing down at mealtime will accomplish several things. You’ll actually begin to notice how food tastes, you’ll lessen your chances of eating past full, and you’ll be able to enjoy the pleasure of eating nourishing whole foods.
When eating, try to make sure that you’re just eating and not multitasking with a phone or TV.
This may not work for all situations, like in the lunchroom at work or out in a restaurant, but with a little practice you can accomplish mindful eating almost anywhere.
This is the backbone of change. Get familiar with what sugar can do to your body so you can make intelligent decisions about your health.
The Internet is packed full with information – and misinformation – so choose your sources wisely. Stick with known brands or sites you trust.
Some of the information you find may upset or disturb you. Just remember that the path to optimum health is not necessarily an easy one, but by increasing your knowledge on the dangers of processed sugar you’ll be able to improve your life and the lives of those around you.
If you haven’t experienced the subtle but powerful changes that meditation can bring to many parts of your life, it’s time you started.
Our minds are bombarded with information every waking moment, racing from one task to the next without any time for a break.
Meditation will force you to notice how restless your mind can be and cause you to slow down and focus on one thing at a time.
At the beginning you don’t have to do anything special to meditate, just find a relaxing time for yourself and focus on your breath. Try to not think. When your thoughts come to you, let them drift away.
It’s a great way to reduce stress, boost your immune system, increase your mental focus and concentration, lower blood pressure, and yes, even reduce sugar cravings.
You can get started in as little as 5 minutes per day, you don’t need any special equipment, and anyone can do it.
So what are you waiting for?
Unfortunately, consuming added sugar has become a way of life for many of us, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
The evidence continues to mount, and it all points to the fact that eating too much processed sugar can lead to all kinds of health troubles, many of which can be avoided with a little effort on your part.
Whether you choose to go cold turkey and quit everything at once, or use the method I did and slowly weaken sugar’s grip on your life, get started on the path to better health today.