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Sugar Addiction: Is It a Real Thing?

Posted By Anka Urbahn, Monday, August 5, 2019

macaronKnow that feeling when you can’t stop thinking about that bag of chocolate chip cookies you have sitting in the pantry or that pint of ice cream in the freezer? You try and distract yourself, but your mind keeps reminding you of those sweet, delicious treats you could be enjoying right now. And then you give in and decide to have a small piece only to inhale the entire package until not one crumb is left. What’s left are empty bags and you hating yourself because you were weak. You gave in instead of sticking to your convictions.

Where does this insane craving for sweets come from? Is sugar really as addictive as some people say it is?

Studies have shown, sugar addiction could be real. But before you start booking yourself into rehab, hold up, because the science is conflicting. It sure as heck feels like an addiction when you can’t distract your mind from those sugary treats—but that's not quite what's going on.

It's all about the sugar rush

What the scientists agree on is that sugar sparks the "reward" center of our brains. Consuming sugar can stimulate the brain to pump dopamine into your system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that tells you "hey, this stuff is good, have some more!" This is what causes sugar cravings—not an addiction to sugar itself, but to the rush of feel-good hormones you get whenever you eat it.

Beyond that, there's very little support for sugar addiction in humans. Addiction is a serious medical condition where the brain actually changes to need more and more of the substance to get the same high. Researchers have seen these brain changes with drug addiction, but they just aren't finding them with sugar. I’m not the only one who avoids using the phrase “sugar addiction” because it almost assumes that consumption of sugar is beyond people's control.

So if craving sugar is not an addiction, what is it?

The obvious answer is that it's a habit. The difference between the two is dependence—addiction is driven by a NEED to do something while a habit is driven by the ROUTINE of doing it. As a society, we've developed habits around sugar consumption where our bodies have learned to expect to have sugar at the same time each day. If you can't function without that caramel macchiato in the morning or the afternoon pick-me-up in the form of a cupcake, then you'll know exactly what I'm talking about!

The problem with sugar is it’s energizing. Who hasn’t felt better—at least temporarily—when using sugar as a quick fix when feeling low or stressed? A break-up can lead to weeks of bingeing on the sweet stuff. We all know that this is not the solution to our problems. But in that moment, it can feel so darn good.

For sure, you'll need the willpower to break a bad sugar habit. But the good news is, it's not impossible. You're not going to experience any major withdrawal symptoms from sugar the same way you would if you stopped using heroin. Ditching the daily sugar "fix" is not going to interfere with your ability to turn up for work the next day. And it's really worth thinking about if you want to tip your body into optimal health.

candy filled suguar conesThe ugly truth about sugar

The average American takes in 22 teaspoons of added sugar daily—almost four times the amount suggested by the World Health Organization. And it’s not only the obvious items like ice cream and cookies that are loading us up on sugar. Other big culprits are sugary drinks—sodas, Slurpees, fruit juices and fancy coffee. And although it has never been considered a "health" food, the evidence is mounting that sugar can do more damage than previously thought.

A diet heavy in the sweet stuff—even when it comes from natural sources like fruit—increases your hunger more than any other type of carbohydrate. Not only does it spike insulin, a hormone that causes you to lay down fat, it also blocks leptin, a hormone that regulates hunger and tells your body to stop eating. Too much sugar is a clear risk for weight gain.

More worryingly, high sugar consumption spikes your triglycerides, blood sugar, blood pressure and inflammation—all risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even dementia. Some researchers even call Alzheimer's "Type 3 diabetes." High sugar intake has also been linked to acne, accelerated (skin) aging, bad teeth and not to forget depression and accelerated cognitive decline.

But wait, don't we need sugar?

No. You do not need sugar, EVER. Your brain needs very little glucose (around 25 grams) to work optimally. In the absence of sugar, your body is designed to use fatty acids for fuel. Even if you cut your sugar intake to zero, your body would function optimally by using fat as its main energy source.

So how do you reduce sugar?

Some swaps are obvious. For example, ditching just one regular (12-ounce) can of soda can cut around 40 grams (10 teaspoons) of sugar from your daily diet.

Other sources of sugar can take you totally by surprise. For instance, you might chalk a bowl of granola and a small cup of low-fat fruit-flavored yogurt up as a super-healthy breakfast, but when you read the nutrition label, you could be taking in 30 grams of added sugar—more than a Snickers bar!

Food manufacturers have found that with virtually every product they sell, they can add a little more sugar to make it tastier. The "bliss point" describes the sweetest and therefore the tastiest a product can be before adding any more sugar makes it too sweet. This is why sugar is in everything, from granola and bread to peanut butter and pasta sauce.

Bottom line: The most effective way to reduce your sugar intake is to eat mostly whole and unprocessed foods. However, if you decide to buy packaged foods, read the labels. Avoid anything with sugar near the top of the ingredient list and watch out for fancy marketing words for sugar like "evaporated cane juice" and "maltose." This article lists 56 different names for sugar that food manufacturers use to fool us into eating more sugar than we realize.

addiction scaleWhat about the cravings?

Fighting sugar cravings can be a challenge at the start. You've stopped giving your body something it has been habitualized to expect so of course, it's going to fight back. If you pick up a muffin on auto-pilot each day after lunch, then your body is going to be stuck on those routines.

You need to tackle this with the attitude that sugar does not improve your life in any way; it simply gives you a temporary dopamine hit. When you're not dependent on sugar, then your baseline mood and energy stays constant all day. You don't get the post-lunch slump or the highs and lows of blood-sugar crashes. And the longer you go without sugar, the more stable you feel—most people feel the benefit in as little as one or two weeks.

Here's another trick: keep a food diary. Write down what signals your body is sending you when a craving comes up (boredom, stress, time of the month and so on). This information is ammo for when you next get a craving so you can get it under control and let it pass.

Important: don’t starve yourself. Sometimes we experience cravings when we are thirsty or hungry. Often a glass of water and a healthy snack including some protein and fats (such as a hard-boiled egg and a handful of nuts) can successfully stave off that craving.

"My family members are enablers!"

You may find that your family and friends are not as supportive as you'd like. People are stuck in their own habits and those who themselves are sugar addicted often act as enablers for everyone else. They want you to continue eating poorly because it validates their own choices.

And what about the workplace? You arrive at the office on Monday morning, ready to get down to some work, and you have to walk past a whole bunch of “healthy” snacks your employer has provided as a job perk. There are pastries in the cafeteria, desserts served at lunchtime and what’s this? An email from Sue saying its her birthday and she’s brought in cakes. They’re on the table by the printer, enjoy! Pure peer pressure. If you don’t participate in this high-sugar, supposedly morale-boosting lifestyle, people might be offended.

I say, empower yourself! The best defense is a good offense, so why not read up on sugar and get educated on the subject? Then you'll always have a comeback when someone says, "sugar can't be unhealthy because fruit has sugar in it." The more you know, the more you'll strengthen your resolve to continue with your low-sugar lifestyle. For example, did you know an apple contains naturally occurring sugar, but it also has fiber, which slows digestion. Your body will experience less of a blood-sugar spike after you eat an apple than if you had, say, a soda. “This doesn't mean that you can eat all you want of natural sugars. You still need to have portion control,” says Alissa Rumsey, R.D. and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Eat well, be happy

Ultimately, your body doesn't need sugar for survival. Having less is better. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy the occasional dessert without feeling guilty. But there is simply no nutritional value in adding sugar to your diet. We should all be looking to protein, fat, complex carbs and plenty of veggies for nutrition—these are the things that our bodies truly love. Combine these foods with your training program, and you're going to look and feel amazing!

Anka UrbahnAnka Urbahn (@mindsets_fitness) has been part of the health and fitness world her entire life, first as a competitive gymnast and speed skater in her native Germany, then as a U.S.-based martial artist, bodybuilder, blogger, and certified fitness trainer. Her ethos is simple—no quick fixes or deprivation, just a balanced program designed to improve your (fitness) life and take the frustration out of training. Her holistic approach blends strength training, nutrition coaching, and lifestyle adjustments to build a stronger and fitter you, take your confidence to the next level, and empower you to become the most awesome version of yourself that you can be.

Tags:  diet  nutrition  sugar 

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Healing From the Inside Out

Posted By Michelle Kelly, Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Watercolor painting of vegetables

A plant-based diet will change your life for the better. Your digestion will improve, you’ll have natural energy, you’ll sleep better, and you’ll fight disease. Vegetables, nuts, fruits, and legumes nourish the human body because humans are designed to eat these food groups. Ingesting animal products will do more harm than good. All animal products are mucus forming and are acidic. If the mucus goes to your nostrils, it is called sinusitis. If the mucus goes to your bronchial tube, it is called bronchitis. If the mucus goes to the lungs, it is called pneumonia. If the mucus goes to the prostate gland, it called prostatitis. If the mucus goes to the uterus it is called endometriosis and can also lead to a yeast infection. Disease grows in an acidic body. If you keep your body alkaline, you are less prone to sickness. Eating a plant-based diet ensures an alkalinized PH balance. Food is medicine— your body is not a tomb.

Along with adopting a vegan diet, it is a good idea to go gluten-free as well. Gluten is a gut killer. It causes inflammation in the gut which leads to depression, constipation, headaches, anemia, nausea, and severe bloating. In fact, the healthier and more natural you eat, your body will no longer tolerate food that does not nourish your body. Quinoa is a better substitute for bread. It’s an ancient grain superfood. It is packed with all nine essential amino acids. It lowers cholesterol, glucose levels, and keeps your red blood cells healthy.

Eating a plant-based diet heals the human body from the inside out. It is unnecessary for animals to be killed for humans to ingest their secretions and flesh when it simply causes disease. Eating healthy and exercising regularly – even if it’s walking – will keep your body thriving. It’s important to remember cancer, acne, eczema, inflammatory diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, a shorter life span, and so many more health issues are caused by the consumption of animal products.








Michelle Kelly is a freelance writer from NYC. She writes about health + wellness, holistic healing, animal activism, and fiction.

Tags:  emotional wellness  nutrition  physical wellness  veganism  vegetarianism 

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Wellness in 10 - Ten Tips for Remaining Healthy This Winter

Posted By NWI, Monday, December 18, 2017

December is upon us which means we have hit one of the busiest times of the year. Although this month is filled with exciting events, most of us can’t deny that sometimes our wellness falls to the bottom of our priority list. To help you combat some of the urges to stay inside or indulge in savory foods, use the tips below to help you remain healthy during this time of year.  


  1. Don’t skip meals: We’ve all been here before. Skipping meals seems like a good way to save on calories, however when you do this, you are more likely to eat faster and in larger amounts. If you do want to save yourself some calories, stick to eating small, healthy snacks throughout the day.   
  2. Eat mindfully: Instead of diving into your meals, focus on how delicious the food tastes and take conscious bites. This will ensure you don’t overeat and as a bonus, you really get to enjoy your food! 
  3. Eat until you are full: If you want to save space for a dessert or just avoid the uncomfortable feeling that comes with eating too much, pay attention to how much you are eating and don’t go back for second helpings.  
  4. Eat food from a smaller plate: This old trick is a great way to ensure you don’t overeat while feeling like you’re getting your plate (and stomach!) full.  
  5. Know general portion sizes: Believe it or not, you can eyeball most portions and know whether you’re meeting the recommendations- no food scale required, we promise! Below are some common portion size comparisons you can use. 
  1. Meat: A 4 oz. portion of meat, fish, or poultry is about the size of the average smartphone
  2. Cheese: Your thumb can serve as a measurement for about a 1 oz. portion of cheese
  3. Chocolate: Chocolate portions should be about 1 oz., which is about the size of a dental floss container 
  4. Nuts: Picture an egg to estimate about a ¼ cup of nuts.  

Physical Activity

  1. Stay active by scheduling time in advance: By scheduling workouts in your planner, you are more likely to stick to your workout routine.  
  2. Incorporate ways to be active in your daily routine: Plan times to walk outside, or make chores more physically active around the house.  
  3. Use web-based exercise videos: For the times that you don’t want to leave home, turn to the internet to help you find workouts you can do from the convenience of your living room.  As a bonus, you usually can find workout videos that will perfectly match the amount of time you have to spend and the type of workout you want to achieve. 
  4. Make it a family event: Find a 5k run/walk in your neighborhood that you can do with family or friends. Events such as these are fun ways to incorporate physical activity in your day while having fun with the people you love! 
  5. Walk laps in a shopping center: Pair any holiday shopping with physical activity by taking a few laps around the shopping center.  

Tags:  Health  Holidays  Nutrition  Physical Activity 

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Cape Cod Doctor Prescribes Shopping at a Farmers’ Market

Posted By NWI, Monday, April 3, 2017

What if getting a prescription meant a trip to the local farmers’ market instead of the pharmacy? Fruit and vegetable prescription programs are growing in popularity as more and more doctors and community programs work together to support patients who want to make changes in their diet. While nutrition advice usually just confirms things we already know we should do, fruit and vegetable prescriptions often provide vouchers that can be redeemed at local farmers’ markets and help off-set the cost of trying new foods or increasing the number of servings consumed. An article and podcast this month describes how physicians and a local community group teamed up to offer $30 a week in fruit and vegetable prescriptions to patients in the Cape Cod area to nudge patients into taking action. If small partnerships such as FlavoRx and the Peach Tree Farmers’ Market continue show positive results in patient health, satisfaction, and community connections, it may not be long until a trip to the farmers’ market after your doctor appointment becomes part of the routine. 

Tags:  April 2017  Nutrition 

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Butter or Olive Oil? Eggs or No? New Nutritional Review Cuts Through the Myths

Posted By NWI, Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Many people feel confused and frustrated by the seemingly endless contradictions on what a healthy diet contains. Should I cut out bread? Replace meals with fresh juice? Try coconut oil instead of butter? All of the changes in dietary advice over the years might seem like a reason to give up our faith that science will ever have the answer to the question of what to eat. This review from the Washington Post attempts to clarify some of the big questions and misconceptions that people have about nutrition today. Despite the media hype over coconut oil, South Beach diets or gluten-free, the review suggests that claims of weight-loss, improved heart health, and detoxification are not supported by the evidence we have today. What does this all mean? If we focus on the big picture, the science hasn’t actually changed that much. Unless you have a medical condition that warrants a special diet, the simple advice of Michael Pollan holds true, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants." And I would add, learn to listen mindfully to your body so it can guide you on what, when, and how much to eat.

Tags:  March 2017  Nutrition 

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Wellness in 10: 10 Ways to Eat Mindfully

Posted By NWI, Tuesday, January 10, 2017

  1. Eat until you are satisfied. There is a big difference between being full and being satisfied. Mindful eaters notice when they are no longer hungry and stop eating before they perceive themselves to be “full.” Rather than counting calories, listen to your body’s internal cues.
  2. Pace yourself. You don’t need to take eating slowly to the extreme, but it is a good idea to take the time to enjoy your food and notice when you are satisfied. Try it out by making a game of eating with your non-dominant hand or using chopsticks as a way to slow it down.
  3. Give gratitude. Before you start to eat, pause and take a moment to acknowledge the labor that went into providing your meal-be it thanks to the farmers, the factory workers, the animals, mother Earth, the chefs, or even your companions at the table.
  4. Have self-compassion. Mindful eaters do overeat on occasion, but recognize that tomorrow is another day. Give yourself permission to be flexible and forgiving because it is not an all or nothing affair.
  5. Gauge your hunger before taking your first bite. Start a new habit and take a brief moment to ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” If you are not really hungry, what sensation or emotion are you feeling and is there an alternative way to handle that emotion?
  6. Break out of old habits. Notice habits that keep you stuck, like eating in front of the television, filling a large plate full of food, or grocery shopping at times when you are stressed or hungry. Sometimes changing how you eat, is more important than changing what you eat.
  7. Minimize distractions. Much less attention is paid to the question of how we eat, than the question of what we eat. Silence your phone, shut off the TV, and make a conscious choice to avoid multi-tasking while eating.
  8. Notice the flavor. Paying attention to the details of your food is a great way to bring more enjoyment to eating. Do you notice the tanginess of a lemon, the spiciness of arugula, or the crunch of a toasted baguette? Sharing observations of the flavors and textures of food is a great way to stimulate conversation over the dinner table and introduce children to new vocabulary.
  9. Know your food. Wellness is about relationships and mindful eating is about a relationship with our food. Connect with the story behind your food by planting a pot of herbs, baking bread, or visiting a farmers’ market. Even if your food comes from a grocery store, you can create your own story about the recipes used to cook it or the people involved in eating it.
  10. Use a supportive app. You are not alone. There are many apps available that will guide you through the mindful eating process step-by-step whenever you feel like eating. Think of it as your own virtual coach!

Tags:  January 2017  Mindfulness  Nutrition  Wellness in 10 

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Want to Avoid Diabetes? Eat at Home.

Posted By NWI, Monday, July 11, 2016

New materials made available by the Public Libraries of Science (PLOS) indicate that eating food prepared at home significantly reduces your risk of developing diabetes.


Research by Qi Sun, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, indicates that a diet of food prepared outside the home, specifically fast food, is high in energy but low in nutrients. This type of diet has a tendency to cause weight gain, which in turn correlates with increased risk of type-2 diabetes.


Sun and colleagues’ findings indicate that people who eat 5-7 evening meals at home have an average of 15% lower chance of developing type-2 Diabetes as compared to people who eat 2 or less evening meals at home.


Sun’s research also indicated that the tendency to eat more meals at home is itself a trait of people who tend to have lifestyles that trend toward better diets and more exercise – both mitigating factors in the risk of type-2 diabetes.


To read the full article from PLOS, click here.

Tags:  Diabetes  Diet  Health  Health Care  Nutrition  Wellness 

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Risk of Death Cut by 27% by Unlikely Source: Good Fats

Posted By NWI, Monday, July 11, 2016

Fat has gotten a bad rap.  For years the suggestion has been to avoid fats altogether to stay healthy. At least one new study released by Harvard has proven that not to be true.


The study of 83,349 women and 42,884 men between 1980 and 2012 has shown that there are different correlations between mortality and eating different kinds of fats.


Specific unsaturated fats, such as W-6 PUFA and W-3 PUFA have shows to decrease chances of mortality by as much as 27% below the baseline.  Conversely, specific trans-fat consumption increased the risk of mortality by 25%.


The important message to be taken away from this study seems not to be to avoid fat altogether, but to be aware of the types of fats you’re eating as part of a well-balanced diet.


To read the full study, click here.

Tags:  Diet  Dieting  Fats  Health  Nutrition  Wellness 

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UK National Obesity Forum Advises to “Eat Fat.”

Posted By NWI, Monday, June 6, 2016

The UK National Obesity Forum starts its report on healthy eating with “Eat fat, cut the carbs and avoid snacking to reverse obesity and Type 2 diabetes.”


This stance, attributed to Hippocrates’ advice to eat rich food to stay thin, states that there is more evidence against eating carbohydrates, dating back to studies in the 1600’s, to prevent obesity and diabetes than there is evidence against eating fat.


Predictably, as acknowledged by the UK National Obesity Forum, the response to this stance has been polarizing.


Against this stance, nutrition scientists have been appealing to the prevailing thought that eating fat can cause people to be fat. On the positive, however, nutrition scientists have been praising the idea that this is a shift toward eating more whole food, fat included, compared to processed products.  The prevailing thought among both camps however, seems to be “We need to learn more.”


To read the whole report from the UK National Obesity Forum, click here.

Tags:  Fat Study  Nutrition  Obesity 

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Bring on the eggs! Dietary cholesterol doesn’t increase heart disease risk.

Posted By NWI, Monday, March 7, 2016

A Finnish study of 1000 men over 20 years has found that cholesterol from eggs – and other forms of dietary cholesterol – has no effect on heart health, including carriers of the gene APOE4 that increases sensitivity to cholesterol. 

Over the course of the study, intake of eggs and other dietary cholesterol was tracked. No member of the study cohort reported eating more than one egg per day on average. By the end of the sample, more than 200 of the participants had experienced heart attacks, but there was no relationship between heart attacks and consuming dietary cholesterol.

The researchers encourage eating eggs, including the cholesterol-carrying yolk, due to the many vitamins and nutrients, such as vitamin D, choline, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

The study was funded by the University of Eastern Finland. No funding was provided by egg industry sources.

To read the NIH assessment of this study, click here.

Tags:  Cholesterol  diet  Eggs  heart disease  heart health  Nutrition 

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