As consumers of roughly 160 pounds of sugar per person annually, according to recent reports, we need to be asking what the cost of our consumption is on our bodies and our health. Whether it's the sugar in what we eat or drink, and this includes the lattes, juices, sodas, and some alcoholic beverages-we owe it to ourselves to understand that sugar is making us fat and disrupting our body organs. Another more subtle but equally detrimental effect is sugar's action on the brain.
For many of us, sugar has an addictive pull that rivals cigarette smoking or heroin addiction. It may seem a bit outrageous to compare our sugar love affair to these drug addictions-I mean, doesn't just about everyone on the planet eat the stuff? Hasn't it been around-well, practically forever? If that's your brain talking, read on even if you don't have a weight challenge, because you'll add years to your life by becoming educated on the topic. And while it takes more than knowledge to change one's habits, the tragic truth is that most people never learn the facts or the solutions to food challenges they could otherwise overcome.
The first step to getting a handle on your sugar habit is to take a look at the science of sugar and its effect inside your body. But before we take a look at what happens when we eat this non-food called processed sugar, let's talk about the law of sugar, which many of you have experienced first hand.
What happens when we consume it? For most people, it sets off a craving for more sugar. This is the law of sugar in action. There are very few of us who haven't felt the urge for more cookies or chocolate, after just having one. I have met a few individuals who don't eat sweets at all and generally these folks fall into three categories. They've either gotten a handle on their sugar consumption and avoid it entirely or they never had an issue with it in the first place. Other people consume alcoholic beverages regularly and get their daily sugar from that source. It makes sense: most recovered alcoholics will tell you they discovered a significant sweet tooth after they got off the alcohol. That's because many alcoholic beverages already contain a high sugar content.
Now, why exactly does eating sugar trigger a strong desire for more sweets or calories?
Eating sugar triggers the release of opiates in the brain. Opiates are chemicals which make you feel good. For anyone who isn't sure what opiates are, understand that they are the in the same class of drugs as heroin or morphine. Eating sugar will also begin a cycle of craving or compulsion for more of the same feeling that was caused by the release of the opiates. You may not "get high" the way you would with a powerful narcotic, but that doesn't mean it doesn't impact your mood or your brain.
Sugar consumption has been linked to challenges such as depression, CFS, ADD and ADHD, PMS, as well as overall poorer cognitive functioning. Most of us know about sugar's link to diabetes, but have you considered its possible connection to cancer as well? What if excessive sugar consumption was indirectly causing something as frightening as cancer? If it were possible, would you take the risk?
It's not surprising that we have such a terrible rise in obesity over the past twenty years when we have manufactured sugars like high fructose corn syrup being put into so much of our food. HFCS is literally manufactured in a laboratory to be much sweeter than natural sugar.
If you have ever heard the term "sugar blues," all you need to know is that your blood sugar and your health will rise and fall like the Roman Empire if you eat like a king when it comes to sugar.
Sugar's effect inside our bloodstream is even more straightforward: when we eat or drink sugar our blood sugar goes up, our insulin goes up, and we throw that metabolic switch that says store body fat. Meanwhile, as we get fatter we continue to overtax the pancreas and develop insulin sensitivity, which leads into diabetes. The picture being painted is not so pretty, is it?
Here's something amazing: even thinking about a sweet food we love can trigger a chemical response in our brains to eat it. Essentially, the chemical response and memory trace which eating sugar creates inside our brains urges us to go back for more. Meanwhile, that false sense of comfort we achieved from eating our sweets keeps us returning to the source over and over again and we form the insidious habit of associating comfort with food.
This "comfort" food is anything but friendly to our health.
The truth is that most of us avoid thinking about the harm sugar or similarly damaging high-carbohydrate diets are causing to our bodies. We do this because of the pleasure it gives us. It's even more pronounced when we use it as a reward or as a release from our busy, stressed-out lives. Sugar does make us feel better for a brief while, perhaps. But nearly all of us have at one time or another experienced the downside that comes with the crash, even if we didn't know what was going on exactly inside of us to make us crash. The ultimate tragedy is that while we might acknowledge that we have a sugar challenge-some of us might even be self-proclaimed addicts-we also tend to feel powerless to do anything about it.
But we're not entirely powerless. If more people looked at sugar's opiate triggering power and treated it like an addiction, doesn't it stand to reason that they'd have a better chance at overcoming their sugar habit? Yes, ignorance is bliss. But this kind of ignorance is literally destroying our health and the health of our children.
Commit to yourself now that you will continue to educate yourself on both the problem and the solution. Books on sugar abound, so the good news is that there is an in-depth solution you can read up on further if you're serious about overcoming sugar addiction. If you're serious about kicking the habit, consider working with a naturopath or health coach. A great way to kick off your new resolve is to embark on a low-glycemic diet, especially if you can join a group that is doing it together.
Just be aware that if you take up the challenge, you'll have to step out of your comfort zone for awhile. For awhile, you'll miss it like an old friend who has moved away, but like anything else, you'll get used to it. And I promise you, once you experience the wonderful clarity of mind and feel the natural energy your body provides without sugar's artificial high, you will never want to go back.
Maria Calidonna is a weight management coach and writer who lives in Westchester County New York. She is married with five children and in training for the 2009 Track and Field World Master's Championships in Finland.
You can visit Maria's product website at http://www.marketamerica.com/bodyandmind and order your Low Glycemic Transitions Weight Mangement Kit and other related health supplements and products.