If you are tired, moody or overweight, you may be suffering from sugar overload. Sugar intake creates a vicious cycle, in that it initially gives you a perk in energy by its presence in the blood, but it is not lasting. A crash quickly follows, leading to a desire for more sugar for another quick fix.
Did you know that in the mid-nineteenth century most Americans consumed about 30 pounds of sugar a year? Sugar was seen as a quick source of energy, and over the course of a year, consuming 30 pounds didn’t put too much stress on the body. However, by the year 2000, Americans were consuming 150 pounds of sugar, way beyond what the body needs in the form of quick energy. When there is too much energy intake in the form of sugar, it is not all burned off. It is stored in the body as fat. As you look at statistics, you will see a steady increase in the percentage of overweight and obese Americans, and much of this is directly attributable to excess intake of sugar.
Where is the Sugar?
It’s not just in your sugar bowl. That is probably the least likely place sugar comes from. What is more likely are the many packaged and prepared foods available today in supermarkets and restaurants. When you eat processed foods of nearly any kind, you are eating sugar. Look at the labels and you will find various forms of sugar (fructose, sucrose, galactose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, and cane juice) in bread, ketchup, bread crumbs, peanut butter, cookies, chips, jams, croutons, soups, etc. This is how we reach 150+ pounds of sugar a year.
Why does Sugar Hurt?
It hurts because its calories are mostly empty, devoid of vitamins and minerals, and may interfere with absorption of vital nutrients you eat in other food sources. It activates release of insulin and can lead to insulin resistance or Type II diabetes. It raises triglyceride levels in the body, a factor in heart disease. It does not provide lasting steady energy like other foods can, so it leads to overeating.
What is the solution?
Here is a 5 step plan for changing your eating habits for the better:
1. Begin by reading ingredient labels on any packaged food you eat. Raising your awareness of the presence of sugar will be an important first step in changing your habits.
2. Go on sugar fast. Plan to avoid all forms of sugar for three days. That includes all fruit and juices as well as any processed foods with sugar in them, and of course any artificial sweeteners if you use them. This will assist in the physical withdrawal from your need for sugar. Begin each day with a glass of water with the juice of a half lemon in it to reset your taste buds.
3. Eat more simple foods and prepare them at home. This includes generous portions of vegetables of all colors and a variety of whole grains, with smaller portions of meat, fish legumes and beans. Make sure they are foods you enjoy so the experience is pleasant. This is not about deprivation but about taking good care of you. Drink lots of water.
4 .When you find yourself missing sugar, ask yourself what other ways can you bring sweetness into your life. Do something really fun for yourself every day and remind yourself that eliminating excess sugar will improve your health.
5. When you do have a sugary food after you have completed your 3 day fast, notice how it makes you feel as compared to foods that are more nutritious. Does it make you feel jittery? Tired? Acidic?
Working through this program does not mean you can never have sugar again. Sugar tastes good and should be enjoyed, but not to the extent Americans consume it today. Sugar consumption has become a cause of illness rather than a pleasure because it is used in excess.
Once you get settled into a routine of eating healthy, you will be able to enjoy an occasional piece of cake or other sweet, but you will not be relying on it as a source of energy. You will know the difference between q quick fix and the steady energy that comes from quality food. You will see your triglycerides and blood sugar levels drop, your HDL good cholesterol rise and you will lose that nagging fatigue and irritability that plagues every sugar addict I know.