Sugar: Where is it hiding & are you addicted?

Ask yourself these question...

Do you experience regular cravings?

Are you constantly fighting with yourself to skip that bowl of ice cream at the end of the night?

Is it impossible to forgo the bread basket when you are out at a restaurant? 

Do you find when you have one unhealthy snack or meal it leads to another and another; never fully satisfying the craving?

I can certainly answer yes to these questions, so know you are not alone. I've done a lot of reading lately and after learning more about how sugar affects the body and how it's lurking in a lot more food than some would think, it is not surprising that we are all addicted to the foods we know we shouldn't eat. 

What's so bad about sugar?

In short, sugar is addicting. It's that simple; the more you eat, the more you will want. It is over kill for your body to process more than a little refined sugars and carbs here and there. Now, I'm not talking about the sugars that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables; I'm talking about refined sugars and carbs (hello, white bread) added to any kind of processed food.

One of the major problems with sugar is that many of us do not know we are eating so much of it and we are left wondering why we cannot lose weight, we always feel tired, or experience brain fog daily. American's consumes so much sugar on a daily basis it creates an addiction. Moreover, the brain's response to all of this sugar can be so intense a study found, that sugar can be 8 times more addicting than cocaine!

The USDA estimates that the average American consumes:

  • 152 pounds of added sweeteners per year
  • That's almost 3 pounds a week

 This explains why it is so hard to kick our bad habits no matter how hard we try!

Some effects are immediate, some are long term.

When consuming sugar you get an intense rush of energy that is, unfortunately, followed by the equal and opposite crash, leaving you a zombie. It spikes your blood sugar throwing off your hormones and causing brain fog. It makes you feel famished resulting in overeating. It ages you by damaging your skin. Most importantly, it makes you vulnerable to developing a numbers diseases including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. 

Why are we addicted to sugar?

The brain sends feel good hormones out into the body after consuming sugar because sugar stimulates the brains pleasure center. This in turn makes us want to eat more of it; we want to replicate that "feel-good" warm fuzzy feeling. Over time, over activating the pleasure center, by eating too much sugar, not only increases our sugar tolerance, but also increases our cravings. Typical American diets create this problem at such a young age.

As kids, we grow up eating cereal, pop tarts, bagels and pancakes for breakfast, PB&J, fruity yogurt and a fruit punch for lunch, granola bars, candy bars or chip for snacks, and fast food, pizza, or frozen meals for dinner. We quickly become food addicted children who grow into food addicted adults with a myriad of health issues because our brain learns early on that sugar is a reward. So you can see why it is hard to change your diet and start eating healthier. Our brain is literally working against us. No matter how bad the rest of our body feels, our brain is telling us we want more. 

Now you may be thinking: "I'm not addicted to sugar, I eat _____ (fill in blank with any food marketed as "healthy".)" I hate to tell you but that fat-free yogurt, 100 calorie pack or store-bought green juice may still be loaded with sugar. 

Often people who avoid sweets think they are doing a good job of avoiding sugar but, that's definitely not the case if you are still eating processed foods. The average person, when asked to name foods high in sugar, would list things like cookies, pastries, and baked goods as well as candy, ice cream and dessert. But what many people do not know or pay attention to is all of the sugar in most packaged food and drinks, which aren't typically thought of as sweets. Yogurt, cereal, soda (although most know this is no good by now), fruit juice, green juice, protein/energy bars, granola, granola bars, bread, pasta and pasta sauce are all chock-full of sugar. You can be pretty certain it contains some kind of added sugar if it comes in a box.

Even worse, foods marketed as "healthy" still contain hidden sugars. Just because the box says low-fat, fat-free, gluten-free, a good source of whole grains doesn't mean the product is holistically good for you. Even if you check ingredient labels make sure you know what you are looking for. Sugar has many different identities such as:

anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, barbital, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, caramel coloring, concentrated fruit juice, date sugar, dextrin, dextrose, diglycerides, disaccharides, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sugar, syrup and white sugar, florida crystals, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), glucitol, glucosamine, glycerides, glycerol, hexitol, inverse, invert sugar, karo syrups, lactose, malt dextrin, malted barley, mannitol, monoglycerides, pentose, polydextrose, ribose rice syrup, rice malt, saccharides, sorbitol, sorghum, scant, turbinado sugar, xylitol, xylose to name a few...

Here are some examples of foods that have a surprising amount of sugar in them.

  • Simply Orange Juice - 23g in 8 oz
  • Protein & Greens Naked Juice - 53g in 1 bottle (15oz)
  • Prego Traditional Pasta Sauce - 10g in 1/2 cup
  • Diet Coke - 26g in 8 oz
  • Crunchy Peanut Butter Clif Bar - 20g in 1 bar
  • Fruit Loops - 12g in 1 cup
  • Nature Valley Protein Granola - 12g in 1/2 cup
  • Dannon Activia Blueberry Yogurt - 17g in 6 oz
  • Coffee Mate French Vanilla Creamer - 5g in 1 tbsp
  • Ken's Steak House Lite Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette - 7g in 2 tbsp

Shocking isn't it!?

We live in a world where we are surrounded by highly processed, sugary foods that are cheap, convenient and many marketed as healthy. In addition, we have an addiction that makes our cravings uncontrollable. Our food system has set us up to fail! I cannot tell you how many times I have been starving and in a rush and cannot find a single place to stop for a quick and healthy meal or snack. 

Addictive foods are everywhere. What's a sugar addict to do?

Well don't expect to kick your sugar cravings over night. You should be proactive and educated about what you are eating. Remember to also be gentle and forgiving with yourself; you are not seeking perfection just improvement.  Take steps everyday to make the best choices you can for your body because the more you do the easier it will get. 

Here are my tips for kicking your sugar habit. 

1.) First, start by taking a look at anything with a nutritional label in your house. Check out how many grams of sugar it has per serving. Even if it is a relatively low number be honest with yourself about how many servings you typically consume at once. Often companies make the serving size very low so the calorie and nutritional counts do not seem as bad. This will give you a good idea where you need to focus on cleaning up your diet.

2.) Invest in food that will fuel your body rather than your cravings. Make it a habit to check labels before you buy. Realizing what is hiding in your food is important, even if labeled as "healthy".  

3.) Start cutting items out that are the worst offenders, meaning they are the worst for you and you eat them the most. Cutting out things you only eat occasionally will make less of an impact.  Alternatively, find substitutes for the things you cannot live without. 

  • Squeeze your own fresh orange juice 
  • Make your own green juice or smoothies at home
  • Make your own pasta sauce (which only needs a pinch of sugar to balance the acidity)
  • Sip on a caffeinated tea or even black coffee over a soda. 
  • Find protein bars that have no added sweeteners or make your own
  • Switch to oatmeal instead of cereal for breakfast
  • Make your own granola
  • Reach for unsweetened plain yogurt and add fresh fruit to it
  • Switch to black coffee or at the very least sweeten it with raw sugar and not creamers or artificial sweeteners
  • Make your own salad dressings or seek out brands with a low sugar content (Annie's is a good one)
  • Learn how to make your own bread

4.) In addition to the above, reach for more whole foods. Rather than focusing on cutting things out, focus on eating more vegetables, leafy greens, fruit and whole grains over processed foods. If you fill up on the good stuff you won't be as hungry for the processed foods you would once have gone for. Over time you will come to prefer the whole, healthy, nutritious foods. 

5.) When cravings strike, reach for some sliced veggies or a bowl of berries over whatever it is you're craving.  When I present myself with a healthier option over the craving, I often find I'm really not hungry, I'm just bored or emotional eating. My rule is if I am not hungry enough for some fruit or veggies I do not need that bowl of ice cream that I'm craving. Although the occasional treat is good for the soul ;) which leased me to my final tip...

6.) Lastly, have a treat every once in a while. We are all human and we all deserve a life that is pleasurable. Relax and don't be overly strict with yourself as this often leads to binge eating, guilt and an unhealthy relationship with food. 

You can do this!

I know, your sugar addiction is super tough to break! I'm right there with you. But if we take action everyday to nourish our bodies the way they need and deserve to be, everyday it will get a little easier. Before we know it, it'll be second nature!