By Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D, newportnaturalhealth.com
Here’s the bad news – while you may not realize it, you are probably addicted to a very powerful and dangerous drug.
It’s called added sugar.
But here’s the good news. As bad as added sugar is for you, breaking the addiction is so much easier than you’d think!
Worse Than Cocaine
When I say that you’re probably addicted to sugar, I don’t mean that in some hyperbolic way. I mean it quite literally.
In studies of mice, being fed added sugar lights up the same part of the brain that drugs do.
Actually, that’s not quite true. Sugar is worse. It’s eight times as addictive as cocaine, for instance. One study of rats that were already addicted to cocaine showed that they’d still choose sugar water, given the option.
That’s one powerful drug.
And while more standard drugs like cocaine and nicotine may be more immediately damaging, long-term abuse of sugar is at least as bad for your health.
If you take in 20% of your daily calories from added sugar, you are 38% more likely to die of heart disease.
Sugar, rather obviously, leads to obesity. And obesity leads to all sorts of other issues—from gastrointestinal problems, to cardiovascular disease, to an increased risk of cancer.
And, of course, sugar—along with refined carbohydrates, which turn into sugar in your body—is the number one reason we’re facing an epidemic of Type II Diabetes in America today.
Sugar finds its way into your blood, causing a spike in your blood-sugar levels. That leads to your pancreas dumping a ton of insulin into your blood—which turns the sugar into fat.
But all that insulin leads to a blood-sugar crash, which leads to sugar cravings. And then the cycle restarts.
Over time, your body builds up a tolerance for all that insulin—until, eventually, your body stops responding to insulin altogether.
And that’s Type II Diabetes.
About 1 in 3 Americans is already prediabetic, and nearly 10% of the population develops Diabetes every year. It’s the greatest health risk there is today, and may be our biggest killer in a few years time.
It’s Not Your Fault
It’s not too surprising that so many of us struggle with sugar when you discover that the average American gets 270 calories from added sugar every day.
That’s 17 teaspoons. If you can’t picture that, it’s worth it to take a look. Actually take out a teaspoon, and heap 17 helpings of sugar (or any similar powdery substance) into a pile.
That’s a lot of sugar.
To be clear, I’m not talking about all kinds of sugar right now. The natural sugar you get from fruits, or milk, or other unprocessed sources is good for you.
Your body digests those sugars differently, because they are delivered with fiber and other nutrients. This sugar is good for you—and, in fact, most of us don’t get enough of it.
But the dangerous stuff is added sugar. It goes by all sorts of names—sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, glucose, evaporated cane juice, to name just a few.
That’s no mistake. Most food companies have been trying to hide the sugar in their food for years.
And it’s everywhere. Pizza was recently found to be the most addictive food, because the pizza sauce alone contains more sugar than a few Oreo cookies. Sugar is added to your salad dressings, your crackers, your soups, nearly every sauce—if you’re buying it in a box, it almost certainly has added sugar.
And today, there’s no good way to tell how much is added, because food companies don’t have to separate out added sugar from natural sugar.
That’s changing—in two years, thanks to a nutritional label overhaul spearheaded by Michelle Obama, added sugar will have to be clearly labeled as such.
But until then, the best you can do is estimate how much is in there. Look at the overall levels of sugar, and look for added sugar like high fructose corn syrup. From there, you can make an educated guess.
How To Break Your Sugar Habit
You know added sugar is awful for you, but how can you avoid it?
Considering how much food it’s in, the answer isn’t that easy.
The best solution is a natural food diet. There can’t be any added sugar in an apple, for instance.
Avoid anything processed, at all. A fruit juice, for instance, has stripped all the fiber out of the fruit, and leads to the same problems as added sugars.
In order to help calm any sugar cravings, look to natural sources: a small bunch of grapes, some strawberries, or a piece of melon.
If you simply must add sugar to something, have honey. Instead of something with high fructose corn syrup, look for maple syrup instead.
Yes, these are still added sugars. But they are natural and come with a number of their own health benefits. And they still are nowhere near as dangerous as refined sugars.
If you are suffering a particularly rough craving, try a spoonful of honey. It will be an intense sugar rush, and should help calm your craving.
It might seem extreme, but don’t forget, the average American is eating 17 teaspoons of sugar a day! One spoonful of honey won’t do much damage.
Finally, don’t get frustrated if you slip now and again. Remember, your addiction to sugar is eight times more powerful than a cocaine addiction. You will have to wean yourself off the stuff.
The important thing is to make this a sustained, lifestyle change. It may take time, and you will probably suffer cravings—especially at the start.
But, as it is with kicking any addictive substance, the worst of it comes at the beginning. If you can make it through the first two weeks, you’ll be well on your way to kicking your sugar addiction.
And well on your way to a much healthier, happier you.
Dr. Connealy attended the University of Texas School of Public Health and the University of Health Sciences Chicago Medical School. She then completed her post-graduate training at the Harbor/UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA.