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Wonder why a topic like “How to stop sugar cravings” is on everyone’s must-read list these days?According to Princeton University’s neuroscience department, sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine and possibly the most addictive substance you can put into your body! Yet, scarily, it’s in just about every product on the supermarket shelf.
If that surprises you, see the advertisement below for cocaine from the late 18th century. Lots of poisons start out being thought of as God’s gift to mankind.
See the kids in the ad? Well, it is estimated that today, a child has more sugar by the time she is 8 years old than an adult would have had in an entire lifetime just one century ago!
Sugar significantly raises levels of dopamine, one of our feel-good neurotransmitters, in the reward centers of our brain. Recent research carried out at Queensland University of Technology in Australia found that the more sugar you eat, the more it decreases dopamine levels and so the more you crave it. People “need to consume higher and higher levels of how to stop sugar cravings in order to reach the same reward levels and avoid mild states of depression”, researchers say.
When we’re talking sugar and addiction, we need to know it not just about the obvious, sweet tasting foods like desserts. All carbohydrate-based foods, like bread, cereals, grains, crackers, pasta and potatoes end up as sugar in the body. And its not that all these foods are all bad – it’s more a matter of balance.
Food manufacturers and food chains invest large sums researching the “sweet-spot” for sugar in foods. Get in the right amount and it conveys a “crave” message to our brain and taste buds are hooked.
Even savory snacks and takeaway foods are often crammed with sugar. Would you believe that fries, breads and crackers, that have a predominantly salty taste, are still laced with sugar? Food companies put it there, knowing it is addictive – the more you want, the more you buy, and the bigger their profits.
In fact, most processed food is “denatured” – meaning, the natural sugars are first removed from the food. This is done to increase shelf life, because natural sugars spoil fast. Once the natural sugars are removed from the food, it doesn’t taste as good any more, which means you will never get addicted and they can’t sell it to you by the ton. So, they add back artificial sugars – chemicals that don’t spoil easily. Now you know why you don’t get addicted to natural honey in the same way you get addicted to processed sugars in donuts and cereal and biscuits and everything else.
It’s not easy. Due mostly to the hormones dopamine and insulin being in overdrive when we’re on a steady diet of sugar-laden foods, our brains are wired to prevent us from kicking the habit. The addiction to sugar is so strong that the body sends out powerful signals to keep feeding it – the craving for sugar is huge.
Professor Bartlet from Queensland University of Technology notes, “Like other drugs of abuse, withdrawal from chronic sugar exposure can result in an imbalance in dopamine levels.” This could cause symptoms such as fatigue, cravings, lethargy and even shakes and irritability. The good news is, a few days of determination will have the habit dampened and with the right tools you can get rid of it permanently.
Instead of concentrating on what you can’t eat, focus on what you can. Foods containing proteins, healthy fats and fibre (vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds especially) slow down the release of sugars into the blood, keep you feeling fuller for longer and are satisfying in way that they take away the constant need to reach for sugary snacks. They also increase nutrients to help balance blood sugar and neurotransmitters, stop the mood and energy swings and detoxify your system in general.
Here are some ideas:
Upping the ante on proteins, fiber and fats is a no-brainer option on how to stop sugar addiction.
Ditch the sweetened cereal and toast at breakfast time – these are chock-full of sugar which means you start the day on a sugar high that will come crashing down about an hour later and see you searching around for the next hit.
Eat whole foods (not the brand, the real “whole” or “entire” foods). Generally, foods that require a plastic wrapping are heavily processed and contain added sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Avoid these as much as possible and instead choose foods as close to their natural state as possible such as vegetables, fruits, free-range animal products, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Yes, it’s not as easy as walking into a supermarket, but if you make the effort to go to the local farmer’s market to buy fresh produce, your body will thank you. Trust us – you will be amazed at how different fresh food can smell and taste.
There’s a lot of hype at the moment about using ingredients such as rice malt syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar etc. instead of table sugar; while these products are slightly less processed and do contain more nutrients, be aware that they are still sugar and have the same effect in the body so use them sparingly.
Say an absolute no to artificial sweeteners like saccharin. Queensland University of Technology found that these artificial sweeteners produce effects similar to those obtained with table sugar; they are also high in dangerous chemicals, so avoid them completely.
The one exception may be naturally derived stevia, which has been shown to have beneficial effects on the pancreas and doesn’t spike blood sugar or increase insulin or dopamine levels. And sorry to say this again, but this does not mean you can go ahead and use stevia in everything; it is still a sugar.
200-400mcg daily. Chromium enhances the action of insulin, decreases insulin resistance and aids the transport of glucose into cells. It’s a big one when it comes to reducing sugar cravings.
400mg per day – relaxes muscles, makes them more amenable to accepting sugar, reduces insulin resistance and enhances blood glucose control
400-600mg per day – Gymnema suppresses the sweet taste of sugar thus taking away the pleasurable aspect of sweet foods. It also enhances the action of insulin and helps control blood sugar.
1 teaspoon in a hot drink or meal 2 times a day helps with blood sugar control and stops sugar cravings.
Treating sugar addiction like drug abuse; Queensland University of Technology; April 7, 2016
Avena NM et al; Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake; Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008; 32(1): 20–39.; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907/
Lenoir M; Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward Published: August 1, 2007