Do you know what goes on in your body when you eat sugar? Why do we crave it so much? Why is it so easy to get addicted to? I’ve been very addicted to sugar, especially when there’s been emotional stress or life has felt a bit too boring or when the kids have kept me up at night and I’ve been really tired or when I’ve put my children to nap and I have a little time to myself.. there are a lot of reasons for craving sugar!
But let’s start with the basics.
What happens in your body when you eat sugar?
When you eat food with added sugar, honey or any kind of sweetener, your pancreas starts secreting insulin. Why? Because your body doesn’t like an elevated level of sugar in your blood, because it can damage the lining of your blood vessels. Insulin has the job of decreasing your blood sugar levels and make the glucose accessible for your cells (sugar turns into glucose in your digestive system, which your body can then use for energy). Insulin takes glucose first to your muscles and liver, where it’s stored for future needs. If your for example without food for a long time, your liver will free up the sugar it stored to make sure your blood sugar level is stable and your able to function properly. The way insulin works is that it knocks on your cells door “knock knock” and asks if the glucose can come in. If your cell has a need for the glucose, it will let it in. However, if we eat a lot of sugar or we eat it often, our cells won’t open their doors to insulin when it comes knocking and glucose won’t get in to your cells. But you still need to get rid of the excess sugar in your blood stream so the extra sugar is put into your fat cells, because your fat cells will always be willing to take in the extra sugar and this is how sugar turns to fat. (“Accidentally Overweight”, Dr. Libby Weaver)
Even if you’re skinny sugar harms you – inflammation and cardiovascular disease
So what if you’re skinny like me and you love to eat sugar like I did for nearly 30 years of my life? Then you don’t have to worry, right? Unfortunately that’s not the case, in a way I wish it was. You can have trouble with insulin no matter what weight you are. I used to think that I could live on Mars bars as long as I stay a certain weight I’ll still be healthy. But every sugar rush takes a toll on your body through insulin as insulin is the number one cause of inflammation in your body and the main reason for cardiovascular diseases. If this happens on a rare occasion, your body will handle it just fine. However, nowadays it feels like sugar has become a regular and OK part of everyday food! You can eat ice cream during the summer everyday. You can have juices when your out on a picnic and anytime you invite someone over for coffee you’ve gotta serve it with something sweet. On top of that sugar is hidden in large quantities in for example children’s yogurts. One yogurt basically covers a days worth of sugar consumption according to the WHO’s recommended amount of sugar to consume daily. (Eat fat, get thin”, Dr. Mark Hyman)
Sugar stops you from feeling satiated and makes you crave more – welcome vicious cycle
Sugar is empty nutrition, because your body doesn’t get the building blocks it needs, nutrients and minerals for example, and that’s why you still feel like eating, because your brain is screaming “Hey! We need some vitamins, minerals and good quality fatty acids”. Your brain is starved for nutrition even though you might’ve eaten a lot. On top of that the high level of insulin in your blood stream interferes with the hormone leptin. Leptin is a hormone produced by your fat cells and its job is to signal to your brain that you’ve eaten, your full. If we eat a lot of sugar and refined flours, our blood sugar rises and so does insulin and insulin inhibits your brain from noticing leptin so your brain still thinks your hungry. Leptin is you hunger hormone and its poor function due to insulin is going to make you want to eat more even when you feel full.
When your blood sugar goes up rapidly, it’s going to also plummet down and you’re going to feel tired, your head might hurt and you feel like crap. Now, your blood sugars suddenly really low so your survival mechanisms kick in and make you crave even more of those treats filled with sugar and refined carbs, because you body knows that it’ll get a lot of energy from those foods and fast! And so the cycle of fluctuating blood sugar continues. (”Accidentally Overweight”, Dr. Libby Weaver).
Sugar addiction – mostly physiological not just willpower!
If your beating yourself up every time you cave in and eat a sweet treat or a dozen – don’t be so hard on yourself! Sure, you need some willpower initially to kick a bad habit, but sugar and refined carbs (like flours) have a lot of physiological mechanisms through which your primitive craving will win every time. One example is leptin that I mentioned above, but sugar also serves as food for the bad guys in your gut. There’s literally this ongoing battle between the good guys and the bad guys in your gut, and what you eat affects this balance. And an unbalanced gut microbiome is said to be behind many different diseases, through the inflammation it creates in your body (and leaky gut, food intolerance, etc.).
This in turn affects your mood, because 90% of serotonin, your feel-good hormone, is made in the gut! Serotonin also affects your sugar and carb cravings, because these foods increase the production of serotonin so you’ll temporarily feel fantastic! So if your serotonin is low due to for example poor gut health or an unbalanced gut microbiome, our brains make the connection between serotonin AKA feelig great and your favorite sugary treats. No wonder you feel like having something sweet… (“The Autoimmune Solution” Dr. Amy Myers, ”5 ways to overcome food cravings” Kris Carr)
Aim to keep sugar as a rare treat
I know change can be difficult, especially when you’re used to eating sugar everyday like I was. And it can in all honesty take a few tries or it can be a slow process of cutting back. I urge you to give it try anyway and decrease the amount of sugar you and your family consume. Children usually adjust quite easily and get used to change quickly. Try for example blueberries or other berries and fruits as a healthy snack or dessert. My kids love “ice berries and ice banana” in the winter, because we always have blueberries and sliced banana in the freezer and they taste a bit more exciting and like ice cream when they’re frozen. My kids don’t eat a lot of fresh banana but they like it when it’s frozen.
Come up with a new habit to replace the old
Now I know this might all seem too terrifying. Your used to having sweet treats as a pick-me-up with coffee, especially in the afternoon, if you’re anything like me. And you love the way that sugary treat makes you feel for the few minutes it takes to eat it, but I promise, this is one of the most important things to cut down on if you want to increase your energy and be healthy. Okay, so if you have an ingrained habit like I did, of having coffee after lunch with a sweet treat to keep me awake during the afternoon slump, think of another way to get the same kind of pleasure that you’ve gotten from your sweet treat. I started out by making healthier treats like energy balls made from dried fruit and nuts. Dried fruit have a lot of sugar in them but the nuts lower their impact on blood sugar levels. However, what I was really after was PLEASURE, some time in peace, all to myself with coffee and something sweet. It would temporarily lift my mood and energy. So I had to figure out what else could bring me these same things. And in this way you can try to come up with something else that gives you everything that sugar gives you. For me, when I was at home with the kids, what worked was taking a nap, whenever I could, because I was mostly just tired and coffee and sugar were my way of dealing with fatigue. You can also try switching to a berry smoothie or going outside or doing something that you love to lift your mood and energy.
I don’t want you to stress about this (because stress isn’t good for you either), but this is something worth paying attention to so strive to change your thinking about sugar and its effects on you and your loved ones. Sugar and refined carbs are the biggest reason for the obesity epidemic in the US (and it’s even impacting children). You can protect yourself and you children from a lot of health problems when you decrease and limit the amount of sugar you’re consuming. (“Good Calories, Bad Calories” Gary Taubes) It can be useful to think of decreasing or giving up sugar as a process. You can for example give yourself a year and your first step could be to just add a lot of vegetables to your diet, especially dark leafy greens, so your taste buds get used to more bitter flavors and you might naturally need less sweetness to get rid of your cravings. Also your body is getting more nutrients and vitamins in the form of real foods and it’ll keep your blood sugar levels more stable so leptin works better and you feel more satiated.
Hope this was useful for you! =)
Post a comment or question and tell me about your experiences with sugar!