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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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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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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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Diet is no longer “One Size Fits All.”

Posted By NWI, Monday, November 30, 2015
Updated: Monday, November 30, 2015

Israeli researchers published findings  of a new study in the journal “Cell” that indicate that an individual’s effects from their diet can be drastically different, and even sometimes opposite, the effects of another person eating the exact same diet.

This research seems to upend what was previously believed to be a solid understanding of human nutrition, in which foods were supposedly processed in  human bodies much the same way, regardless of individual factors outside of age and  BMI.

This knowledge may lead to vast changes in the way that diets are analyzed and prescribed, perhaps even going so far as to eliminate stigmas of “good” and “bad” diets, instead replacing them with “good for you” and “good for me” diets.

These initial study was done on  a cohort of 800 people between the ages of 18 and 76.  Though this sample size is relatively small, the subjects of the study were excited about the findings, and have told many others about their experience. The researchers now have a waiting list longer than 4,000 to take part in the next cohort.

Tags:  Diet  nutrition  research 

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How does the body adjust to a lack of sugar?

Posted By NWI, Monday, November 30, 2015

The journal Obesity published findings on the reactions of human bodies – specifically overweight and obese children – to the removal of  sugar in their diets. The results were dramatic.

Dr. Robert Lustig of the University of California, San Francisco, along with a team of researchers, tested 43 overweight and obese children to find out what would happen when they removed sugar from their diets.

The children, noted for having high-risk levels of LDL cholesterol and Triglicerides, indicators often linked to risk of diabetes, reverted back to normal levels in only 10 days. The childrens’ blood sugar and insulin levels, also high at the beginning of the study, normalized in the same time span.

This conclusion seems to go against an idea held by some nutritionists – “A calorie is a calorie, regardless of where it comes from.”

Lustig asserts that many sugars are bad for humans, but even within sugars some are e worse than others. Sucros (table sugar) is high on the list, but the worst seems to be fructose, found as an additive in many sweetened foods and drinks, especially soft drinks and sports drinks.

The reason fructose seems to inflict more harm upon a body is that it is only metabolized in one place: the liver. The liver can only handle a small amount of fructose at a time. The rest of the fructose spills over into the blood stream, quickly being turned into fat, clogging arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

This issue will be studied further in the future, but at present the prevailing wisdom seems to be to avoid fructose completely. Or at least as much as you can.

Tags:  diet  health  nutrition  obesity  Sugar  wellness 

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Processed Meats Pose a Risk (But Not as Much as You Might Think)

Posted By NWI, Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Many people found it disturbing when the World Health Organization released a report stating that processed meats likely increase the probability of developing colorectal cancer, listing them alongside smoking and asbestos in their list of cancer-causing agents.The report also hinted strongly that red meat would have similar results.

For many people, processed meats, which include bacon, sausage, and many deli meats, are a staple of their diets. Faced with the choice of having to make a major shift in their diet and even their lifestyle, versus potentially contracting a horrible disease is a daunting prospect. The question remains, however, of what the WHO considers a cancer-causing agent, and how much greater your risk of developing cancer is if you continue to consume processed meats.

The report states that the risk of developing cancer is 18% greater if you consume processed meats. Many people read that as “You have an 18% chance (over whatever the percentage is already) of developing cancer.” This is not accurate. What it really means is “Your chance is 18% of the previous percentage greater.”

In the case of colorectal cancer, everyone has a 5% chance. Therefore, by consuming processed meat, the calculation of the risk percentage looks like this:

5 + (5 x 0.18)= 5.9

Essentially, your chance of developing cancer because you eat processed meat increases by 1%. Whether that is an acceptable risk for eating bacon is obviously up to each individual consumer, but the 1% statistic seems far more reasonable than the 18% statistic that was being thrown around when the report was initially released.

Tags:  Cancer  Diet  Health  Meat  Nutrition  Wellness 

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Coconut Oil: Should you believe the hype?

Posted By NWI, Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Coconut oilThere’s been a lot of hype lately about coconut oil. It wasn’t too long ago that many experts recommended avoiding coconut oil because it is high in saturated fats. In addition, coconut oil got a bad rap because much of the coconut oil produced a few decades ago was highly processed and full of additional additives. The “healthy” coconut oil that is lauded today is a much purer form of the oil.

Still…should you believe the hype? The truth is, most of the research is inconclusive regarding additional benefits associated with coconut oil (such as weight loss). The saturated fat in coconut oil is still higher than that of olive oil and olive oil has proven heart benefits, whereas coconut oil does not.

Bottom line…if you enjoy the taste of coconut oil, use it sparingly. For everyday cooking, opt for olive oil.
______


Melnick, M. (April 4, 2014). Is coconut oil really all it’s really cracked up to be? The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/22/coconut-oil-healthy_n_5167057.html.

The Beating Edge Team (October 30, 2013). Olive oil vs. coconut oil: Which is heart-healthier? The Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/10/olive-oil-vs-coconut-oil-which-is-heart-healthier/

Willett, W. (May 2011). Ask the doctor: Coconut oil. Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2011/May/coconut-oil

Tags:  Coconut Oil  Diet  July 2014  Nutrition  Physical 

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Wellness in 10: 10 Ways to boost your metabolism

Posted By NWI, Thursday, May 1, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pump up metabolismMetabolism: This word refers to the range of biochemical interactions that break down the energy (food) we consume. Our metabolism rates depend on the energy we consume and the energy (exercise, biological processes) we exude…and genetics.

Increasing one’s metabolism is indirectly linked to weight loss. In fact, individuals do not gain weight because they have a slow metabolism; they gain weight because they consume more food than their bodies need for energy. Basal metabolic rate is the number of calories your body needs to carry out basic bodily functions like breathing, circulation, blinking, etc. If you increase your metabolic rate without increasing your calorie consumption, you can aid the weight loss process. Alternatively, you could also decrease your calorie intake (however, this must be done carefully because the body is smart and will hold onto calories if it believes it is being “starved.”)

According to the book The Mayo Clinic Diet: Eat well, enjoy life, lose weight, it is thought that many people do not actually have higher metabolisms, but are just more naturally active, not through sport, but through naturally fidgety behavior.

Metabolism Wellness in 10

  1. Exercise (at least 30 minutes a day). If your body isn’t ready to burn calories faster, you can help it burn calories by making it move.

  2. Pump some iron. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue.

  3. Incorporate interval training. Increasing our heart rate, instead of exercising in a slow steady way, makes us take in more oxygen. Increased oxygen in our body can help us to burn calories even after our workout is over.

  4. Incorporate muscle confusion. This is a way to build more muscle tissue. Trying new exercises (not doing the same exercise every day such as running at the same speed on a treadmill) helps to build muscle because exercise variation better impacts different muscle groups and helps us to avoid the plateau effect where muscles no longer grow because they are adequate to handle the daily exercise.

  5. Get fidgety. Sit on an exercise ball at work, walk around when you are on the phone, do projects while watching TV…don’t sit still.

  6. Look for opportunities to move. Park further away, walk to the mailbox, clean the house, plant a garden…there’s a lot of fun activity out there.

  7. Sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, your metabolism will slow as your body tries to conserve energy.

  8. Eat often. You don’t want your body going into “starvation mode” where it tries to conserve energy. Incorporate small snacks throughout the day.

  9. Eat right. But make sure those snacks are the “right” snacks. Measure the serving size of snacks and consider adding fruits, vegetables, and most importantly, proteins (like nuts) into your snacking routine.

  10. Drink plenty of water. Even mild dehydration can cause your metabolism to slow. You need water to process calories, so drink up!

 

References:

Perry, CG, Heigenhauser, GJ, Bonen, A, Spriet, LL. (2008). High-intensity aerobic interval training increases fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities in human skeletal muscle. Applied Physiological Nutrition Metabolism. Dec.33(6):1112-23). doi: 10.1139/H08-097

The Mayo Clinic. (2011). The Mayo Clinic diet: Eat well, enjoy life, lose weight. Minnesota, RosettaBooks.

WebMD.com. (2013).
Slideshow: 10 Ways to boost your metabolism. Retrieved April 15, 2014.

Tags:  Diet  Exercise  May 2014  Metabolism  Nutrition  Physical 

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Should You Take a Multi-vitamin?

Posted By NWI, Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, February 26, 2014

vitaminsThe jury is still out on the usefulness of vitamins and supplements.

A report published in mid-2013 on the JAMA Internal Medicine journal website (http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1568520) concludes that most people take supplements because the action makes the individual feel healthier, not because the science supports taking supplements.

In fact, according to a WebMD article, most doctors and nutritionists would recommend spending the $20 a month (that would be spent on supplements) on eating a better diet.

Vitamins can be an "Insurance Policy.”

According to the Harvard School of Public Health (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vitamins/) vitamins may help to supplement a diet that is missing some essential nutrition, but vitamins and supplements are not a replacement for a healthy diet. If individuals choose to take a vitamin, they should take a multi-vitamin and stay away from "megas” that offer more than the daily allowance of nutrients, because too much of something can also be harmful. The Harvard site also points to research specifically around Vitamin D supplements as a positive addition to a diet, because most individuals do not get enough vitamin D naturally.

It is important to note that another article from JAMA directly contradicts Harvard’s recommendation of a multi-vitamin. A study published in 2011 (http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1104493) points to increases in certain types of cancer and nerve damage directly related to supplement use and too much of certain nutrients.

Because most vitamins are not regulated, is there a source to know which may be safer?

The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) is attempting to add some regulation to the unregulated supplement market. Products that meet program requirements are awarded the USP Verified Mark for use on labels, packaging, and promotional materials. The USP Verified Mark is meant to signify a product:

  1. contains the ingredients listed on the label, in the declared potency and amounts.
  2. does not contain harmful levels of specified contaminants.
  3. will break down and release into the body within a specified amount of time.
  4. has been made according to FDA current Good Manufacturing Practices using sanitary and well-controlled procedures. 

Does all of this sound confusing?

If so, you are not alone. The bottom line remains that there is no substitute or supplement for a healthy diet. Talk with your medical provider about your diet and about any supplements you are taking or considering taking.

Tags:  Diet  Intellectual  March 2014  Nutrition  Physical 

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