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Slash sugar and change your life

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Apr 14, 2016

Eat less sugarWe can’t help ourselves. From the day we’re born, we’re hooked on it. Sugar, that is. There’s a reason why breastmilk tastes sweet. Nature establishes an innate preference for something sweet for our taste buds to enjoy. In order for the behavior to be reinforced and repeated it has to be pleasurable and sugar meets that criteria.

The problem is that sugar sweet tooth tends to stay with us throughout life. If our main source of sugar was found naturally such as what’s in fruits, it wouldn’t be much of a problem. The problem is all the various forms sugars comes in added to our food supply – honey, molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup and of course, granulated sugar – that is hurting our health. All forms of sugar are empty calorie foods meaning they give us calories but little to no vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals or fiber.

“It’s important to be able to spot the hidden sugars in food, as this where many people don’t realize their dietary mistakes lie,” said Dr. David B Samadi, chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Sugar isn’t just found within “sugar” on a food label. Sugar can be within a number of other ingredients such as fructose, lactose, sucrose, maltose, glucose, and dextrose.”

The instinctive liking for sugar can lead to drastic overeating and craving of foods not very healthy for us. Just in the last hundred years has sugar become widely available in pure form so it is relatively new to the human diet. When sugar became convenient at one’s disposal, the food manufacturers had a heyday. They quickly learned our liking for it and liberally began adding sugar to various foods to tempt us to eat their products.

And boy, were they right. We do like our sugar. The average American consumes about 22 teaspoons of sugar daily. This is three times the amount recommended by the American Heart Association also exceeding the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines Recommendation of no more than 12 teaspoons a day on a 2,000 calorie diet.

If consumed in moderation, sugar can be part of a healthy diet. But we’re not consuming it in moderation.

If sugar composes a high percentage of your calories it’s time to change that. The more sugar you consume, the greater the odds of developing heart disease, tooth decay, diabetes, increasing inflammation, and gaining weight. Slashing sugar is worth the try as it can lead to some very noticeable positive transformation of your body and health. Here are 5 things you will experience:

1. You’ll lose weight

Ditch sugary foods and watch your weight go down. This one small change makes a big difference in losing and keeping weight off particularly around the abdominal area. Cutting out refined carbohydrates – cookies, cake, pie, pastries, candy, sugary beverages – is a step in the right direction. Too much sugar can cause insulin resistance signaling our body to store extra fat which slows down our metabolism.

2. You’ll have more energy

Foods containing a lot of added sugar are quickly broken down by the body. Sugar is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream causing blood sugar levels to rise dramatically and then come crashing down leaving you feeling drained of energy. The hormone insulin is needed to provide us with energy as it used to transport the sugar glucose from blood into our cells. If there is not enough insulin or it’s not working effectively, the sugar or glucose cannot get out of the bloodstream and into our cells depriving the cells of energy they need. This leaves us feeling tired. Choosing high sugar foods for a pick-me-up throughout the day only exacerbates the problem. Replace sugary foods with healthy fats and complex carbohydrates as your main source of fuel, preventing the energy highs and lows.

3. You’ll look much healthier

Health never looked so good as it does on people who avoid sugary foods. Your skin will be the biggest benefactor of the result of cutting excess sugar out of your diet. Sugary foods are rapidly digested and absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose. This causes insulin to be released which sends a burst of inflammation into the body. Inflammation breaks down collagen and elastin resulting in wrinkles and sagging skin. For some people it can also make them more prone to skin conditions like acne and rosacea.

4. You’re craving for sugar will significantly decrease

There is no concrete evidence sugar (or any other food for that matter) is addictive but it does cause a pleasurable reinforcement by activating the dopamine system in the reward area of the brain causing a feeling of well-being. It’s hard giving up favorite foods but there have been no true withdrawal symptoms like what is experienced in narcotics withdrawal in humans. There’s no doubt we need to reduce our intake of sugar and start paying more attention to the amount consumed daily and not use it for comfort reasons to deal with daily stress. When we make the conscience effort to avoid sugary foods and beverages, we’ll suddenly find our cravings for it have decreased and we can find significant pleasure in other activities.

5. You’ll possibly be reducing your risk for chronic diseases

Excess intake of sugar has been linked with several metabolic abnormalities leading to serious health conditions. Sugar appears to be associated with increased triglyceride levels, a known risk factor for coronary heart disease. It may also be associated with increased inflammation and oxidative stress. The Nurse’s Health Study found those who drank more than 1 sugar-sweetened beverage a day had a 20% higher risk for hypertension. The Women’s Health Initiative showed a higher risk for endometrial cancer when women consumed a higher intake of added sugar in their food choices.

Small Steps equal big changes

Cutting back on sugar intake can be challenging but there are steps you can do to help the process go smoother. Try these suggestions and soon excess sugar can dissolve from your life:

• Eat about 25-30 grams of protein at each meal. Protein provides satiety keeping you from craving sweets

• Avoid eating sweets in the morning as it leads to a blood sugar roller coaster all day long

• Use pre-portioned sweets like dark chocolate squares (at least 70% cacoa content) to satisfy a sweet tooth

• Use smaller bowls/plates for desserts, especially ice cream

• Keep sweets out of the house

• Brush your teeth when you get a craving for sweets

• If you’re craving a dessert after lunch or dinner, try this: Wait 15 minutes after eating before having dessert. Set a timer or use an alarm on your phone. During that time, do your normal after dinner activities such as cleaning the kitchen, going for a walk, etc. See if you feel the same desire for dessert when the time is up.

Dr. Samadi added, “While it is difficult to completely avoid sugar, it is possible to choose healthier, natural sugars such as agave nectar and honey. Artificial sweeteners should be avoided.”

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.
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