So What Causes sugar Cravings?
Many people have a sweet tooth. It’s almost impossible to not be fond of it on some level, because we are biologically designed to crave it. Not to mention eating it literally gives us a temporary high. Sugar causes the release of endorphins and that gives us a small buzz and makes us feel a little less stressed for a few moments.
The word ‘sugar’ is actually an umbrella term. There are a few substances that fall into this category and they are not all equal in terms of health effects. Due to being the most widely available, we are more familiar with sucrose, which a 50/50 hybrid of glucose and fructose. Also known as refined sugar, this is the stuff you find in the baking aisle of the grocery store. High-Fructose Corn Syrup is not as widely known by name but it is arguably the most consumed sugary substance. It consists of corn syrup with added amounts of fructose. To make processed food sweeter and more appealing to the taste buds of consumers, high-fructose corn syrup is added to a large amount of goods available on a grocery store shelf. Lastly, there is glucose. This is found naturally in foods and in the highest quantities are within fruit.
The difference between glucose and fructose is the way in which we metabolize them. Glucose is metabolized by every cell within the body and utilized as fuel. On the other hand, fructose is metabolized by the liver. It’s this difference that causes the two types of sugar to impact our bodies in different ways. While glucose is generally healthy to consume, fructose can cause a lot of issues
When we consume fructose, the liver metabolizes it at a much quicker rate than our bodies can utilize it. This causes it to be stored as fat, which will accumulate over time as we continued to eat products with fructose in them. Not only does fructose promote the build of fat, but it also speeds up our appetites. Since it is metabolized so quickly, we experience a spike in blood sugar levels. In response, the pancreas releases insulin and often, it will release so much that our blood sugar levels then drop down very low. When this happens, we get food cravings because we feel the need to raise our blood sugar levels again. The result is eating more calories and sugary food.
Another side effect of the sugar spikes are the “crashes”. These occur within a few hours after eating fructose, when the blood sugar level drops back down again. It causes us to feel tired and have trouble concentrating. Feeling tired in the middle of the day can often be blamed on having a sugar-laden breakfast.
With weight gain comes the heightened risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancers. The consistent sugar spikes and the accumulation of fat are well-known causes for Type 2 diabetes because they lead to insulin resistance. The build up of plaque in the arteries, a main contributor to heart attacks and strokes, has also been linked to excessive fructose consumption. While fructose itself is not a carcinogen, it’s contribution to obesity means that it indirectly raises the risk of developing cancer. Obesity and cancer have been linked in multiple studies that show an increased risk within individuals that have a high body fat percentage.
It may not sound like pleasant venture but cutting out sugar from your diet has a wealth of health benefits. The biggest benefit is weight stability. Without sugar consumption, you’re less likely to have weight fluctuation or to gain extra pounds. This is due to both eliminating the fast fructose metabolism that leads to fat accumulation and by reducing sugar and food cravings. The longer someone abstains from eating sugar, the less they crave it and the ‘high’ that sugar can provide. Although we associate eating sugar with being more energetic and hyper, you actually have more energy without sugar. By avoiding the sugar crashes, you won’t get hit by fatigue in the middle of a day or start feeling sluggish a few hours after a meal.
Sugar and acne do have a link. There is truth behind the “If you keep eating that candy, you’ll turn into a big pimple” warning that mothers love to give their teenager. Fructose consumption can cause break-outs and generally unhealthy, blotchy looking skin. By cutting out sugar, you’ll be less likely to deal with an unsightly break-out and it may help lessen the severity of chronic acne.
There’s no doubt that cutting out sugar can be a difficult adjustment. Fructose is everywhere in the grocery store and the idea of avoiding it can definitely seem like a challenge. However, it’s not impossible. Here are a few tips on how to stay away from sugar.
Eat three meals a day.
Skipping meals leads to low blood sugar levels. Those that skip breakfast or lunch are more likely to get a craving and reach for a sugary treat during the day because they need to get their blood sugar back up.
Soda beverages are packed with fructose in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. One 12 oz. can of soda can contain close to 40 grams of sugar, which is equal to a little over 9 teaspoons. Since the American Heart Association recommends that women have no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day and that men have no more than 9 teaspoons, just one single can of soda exceeds the recommended daily sugar intake.
Reach for fruit.
When hit by a sweet-tooth craving, reach for a piece of fruit instead of a sugary treat. Fruit is naturally sweet due to containing a decent amount of glucose. Unlike fructose, glucose doesn’t metabolize quickly. The sugars found in fruits are less likely to lead to weight gain. Fruits are also full of healthy nutrients that you won’t find in a candy bar and less than half the amount of calories.
Switch to dark chocolate.
Chocolate is the ultimate ‘happy’ food and one of the most popular types of candy. We find chocolate added into everything from coffee to poptarts. It’d definitely be high on the list of things people would consider a ‘sugary treat’. However, in some forms, chocolate is actually healthy. The cocoa bean has many nutrients that could put chocolate in the ‘health food’ category. Chocolate only becomes unhealthy when sugar is added in it, which is the case with milk chocolate. Dark chocolate has a much lower sugar content and a higher amount of the healthy nutrients, like flaveniods and antioxidants. The higher the cocoa percentage, the healthier the product. Sadly, there is one drawback. Dark chocolate tends to be higher in calories so moderation is needed.
Avoid processed foods.
Many processed foods have added sugar to improve the taste. This is especially true for foods labeled ‘low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’. Taking the fat content out of food tastes away some of the taste so many brands add more sugar into the ‘diet’ foods to make sure they still taste good. It’s always a good idea to read the ingredients on the packaging of any pre-prepared or processed food. Some brands have decided to get a little tricky and rename their sugar additives so the sugar might not pop out when reading the ingredients. A few of the common names for added sugars are:
High-fructose corn syrup, Refiner’s syrup, sucrose, corn syrup, maize syrup, glucose/fructose syrup, glucose syrup, crystal dextrose, and corn sweetener.
There are many different names that food companies use on labels. A more thorough list can be found here. Some of these names are misleading. For example, the list may say that the sugars are from a fruit juice or ‘fruit juice concentrate’ to make it look more healthy. While the sugar intake you’d get from eating a piece of fruit is healthy, the use of a fruit juice as an added sugar source is not. The fruit juice used in many processed foods had been concentrated, meaning that you’re going to get way more sugar from the product than you would from the piece of fruit.
Use a natural sugar alternative.
Replacing sugar with a healthy alternative is an excellent way to cut sugar out of your diet. Some sugar substitutes do not have the greatest of track records, such as apsartame – the substance that is suspected of being linked to numerous serious health problems. Thankfully, the usage of all natural sweeteners has become more popular and they are available at most grocery stores. The most common one is stevia. This sweetener is extracted from the leaf of the stevia plant. It contains absolutely no sugar and is more than twice as sweet as refined sugar. A newer natural sweetener that is rising in popularity is monk fruit. The fruit has been used in traditional Chinese medication to treat obesity and diabetes for centuries. The sweetener available on shelves is extracted from the juice of the fruit. Like stevia, it has no sugar content and is much sweeter than sugar.
Eliminating or reducing your sugar intake can be a challenge in our sugar-saturated environment. Although it can feel like an uphill battle, it is possible to avoid sugar by cutting out the food products that have added sugar in them. Thanks to natural sweeteners and naturally sweet fruits, you don’t have to sacrifice the joy of sating your sweet-tooth. So, you don’t have much to lose from cutting out sugar, except a few pounds and a list of possible health issues.
Anthony, M. Ph.D.(2012, December 3). Understanding Monk Fruit: The Next Generation Natural Sweetener. Retrieved January 18, 2016, from http://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2012/understanding-monk-fruit/
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Here’s What Happens To Your Body When You Quit Eating Sugar. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2016, from https://lockerdome.com/tre/here-s-what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-quit-eating-sugar