Post written by Lindsay Martin MS, RD.
“Remember when you were a kid and dreamed of chocolate appearing out of thin air? That dream has turned into a fiery nightmare.” Read on if you want to get a better understanding of how to handle those sugar cravings.
I am not referring to the new Maroon 5 song taking over the radio, but let’s take a few minutes to get caught up on the real sugar causing havoc within our food system. I mean who doesn’t love cookies straight out of the oven or dark chocolate chip pancakes with Vermont maple syrup? I know I genuinely enjoy these foods, but I have to be disciplined enough to either 1) turn it down; 2) avoid bringing these into the house; or 3) cook something else to satisfy myself. To be honest, the majority of people love sweets and it is completely normal to struggle with sugar-rich foods. There are some people who can open a pint of ice cream and scoop the ½ cup serving of creamy goodness; however, I would bet a lot of individuals open up that pint and eat every last bite. Why are these foods so hard to portion control? Why does the Blue Bell Bunny “speak” to you even though it is hidden in the very back of the freezer? Four words…IT IS THE SUGAR.
I’ve had numerous people tell me they can’t eat pineapple or they “shouldn’t” eat bananas. I always ask why and I always get the same answer… “they have too much sugar.” Internally I want to freak out, but I remember to calm myself down and use it as a teachable moment. Natural sugar coming from whole foods is not the problem. These foods include fruit (e.g., berries), starchy vegetables (e.g., sweet potatoes), non-starchy vegetables in very small amounts and organic yogurt/dairy (i.e., lactose). Of course it depends on how these foods are prepared and how much is consumed, but these foods in their most natural state are nutrient dense and should be eaten on a regular basis. Depending on the individual and personal goals then one can play with the ratios and portions of these particular foods, but use these natural sugar sources as your primary “sugar” source.
Side Note: Some refer to sugar and carbohydrates in the same sentence. Keep in mind that all sugar is a carbohydrate yet not all carbohydrates contain sugar. Hence the reason no one typically binges off quinoa—this lovely whole grain contains 0 grams of sugar, but supplies a decent amount of carbohydrates.
So what is the problem? The problem lies in the hands of food companies using added sugar, in multiple different forms, into our processed foods. Sugar, sugar in the raw, brown sugar, molasses, honey, agave nectar, high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, syrups, fruit juice concentrate, and anything ending in “–ose” are ALL forms of sugar. Honey is not a health food and sugar in the raw is no better than regular table sugar. If consumed in high volumes, consistently, the risk of becoming more dependent on these foods is imminent. It makes it harder to stop at just one. When these forms of sugar are broken down and absorbed they assist in the release of dopamine, a feel good hormone, to help calm us down and make us feel good. With constant exposure to excess sugar we naturally need more sugar to release the same amount of dopamine. Health professionals used to consider sugar discretionary calories; however, sugar has the ability to become truly addictive. Crazy, right? Not only is sugar potentially addictive, but there are other serious health effects for those that consume too much added sugar on a daily basis (e.g., 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day—by the way, that is being conservative). Interestingly, a little bit of added sugar every now and then won’t necessarily cause us harm (6-9 teaspoons of added sugar per day).
So now what? What should you do to avoid the excess sugar, yet maintain a healthy relationship with food? Cook your own food. Read labels. Don’t freak out if you ate the entire banana. Don’t be surprised by the sugar grams in plain yogurt. Go plain and flavor items yourself. Monitor what comes into your house and maintain a healthy food environment. Look out for hidden sugar found in condiments, sauces, breakfast cereals and snack foods. Share desserts if needed. Avoid walking down the candy aisle. Stay true to whole foods as much as possible and you’ll be fine.