Sugar and Spice and all Things Nice
This is of course part of a children’s nursery rhyme, and reflects on what little girls are made of? Just maybe, there is more to this than meets the eye. Are we born to crave sugar? I meet so many people, especially women who are addicted to sugar, spices not so much! Which is a shame as spices have many therapeutic benefits. Take turmeric for example and the amazing anti-inflammatory properties it has, whereas sugar is the opposite and causes inflammation. So, what is it about sugar that makes us crave it so much.
The nursery rhyme does include the work ‘Nice’ in the sentence and we often use sugar as a treat, something nice to have. Nice can be defined as “giving pleasure or satisfaction; pleasant or attractive”. The craving can start as early as in your childhood. As a child I remember getting sweets as a treat for doing something good, a treat at a party or saving up some pennies to get my Saturday sweets. So as before, it registered in my brain that sugar is a reward a good thing. Many healthcare professionals now recommend that parents avoid giving babies sweet things to eat or drink to try to stop them developing a preference for them early in life.
Nowadays, I do think we are feeding our children (not all) sugary treats on a regular basis rather than a one off treat. It has become a habit, I hear children in the supermarkets asking for sweets and they go on and on so much that the parent sometimes give in to keep them quiet. I have done this in the past, as just needed to get the shopping done and wanted some peace and quiet. The supermarkets are getting better at not having the sweets at the checkout but the sweet section is still so tempting and is usually colourful and very appealing to children and adults. I try to avoid this section if I can, especially if my daughter is with me. What is the alternative? I will go into some alternatives at the end of this blog. But it is not just children wanting something sugary, adults are just as bad. There are so many meal deals now that include a sugary option. Fruit is also there and as much as fruit is a form of sugar (fructose) it is better than a chocolate bar. Again, supermarkets are getting better and some have fabulous salad ranges and protein pots. Sometimes, it is a matter of looking around and trying something new.
Why is sugar so addictive.
Robert Lustig, professor of paediatrics at the University of California, is well-known for his research into the effects of dietary sugar. He believes that sugar is addictive.
In an interview he said: "There are five tastes on your tongue: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. "Sugar covers up the other four, so you can't taste the negative aspects of foods. You can make dog poop taste good with enough sugar." Sorry if you are eating right now.
Dr Alex Richardson, senior research fellow at the University of Oxford and founder director of the UK charity Food and Behaviour Research, agrees with Lustig and says that there is far too much sugar and empty carbohydrates in children's diets. "We find that highly processed foods are making up massively more of children's diets. Things like cakes, biscuits, snacks and crisps. "Fruit and vegetables are so vital for children. They provide essential vitamins and minerals, but so often a third of a plate of child's food is sugary rubbish and a small amount is vegetables or fruit."
She warns that a diet high in sugar could lead, in the long term, to Type 2 diabetes. According to Diabetes UK “3.8 million people are estimated to have both types of diabetes, approximately 90% of diabetes cases are Type 2, which is largely preventable or manageable by lifestyle changes”. If this trend continue by 2035, 4.9million people will have diabetes.
I would go on to say that it is not just children’s diets that are full of sugar but also adults as well. When I get clients to write a food diary, they are surprised as to the amount of sugar in their diet and once it has been reduced or removed how much better they feel.
The link between sugar and addictive behaviour is tied to the fact that, when we eat sugar, dopamine is released. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is a key part of the “reward circuit” associated with addictive behaviour. When a certain behaviour causes an excess release of dopamine, you feel a pleasurable “high” that you are inclined to re-experience, and so repeat the behaviour. As you repeat that behaviour more and more, your brain adjusts to release less dopamine. The only way to feel the same “high” as before is to repeat the behaviour in increasing amounts and frequency. This is known as substance abuse.
“Research shows that sugar can be even more addicting than cocaine,” says Cassie Bjork, R.D., L.D., “Sugar activates the opiate receptors in our brain and affects the reward centre, which leads to compulsive behaviour, despite the negative consequences like weight gain, headaches, hormone imbalances, and more.”
The instant 'lift' we get from sugar is one of the reasons we turn to it at times of celebration or when we crave comfort and reward. However, the pleasant sugar rush triggers an increase in insulin as the body strives to bring blood glucose levels back to normal. This has the knock-on effect of causing a 'sugar crash' and makes many crave yet more sugar, which can lead to a cycle of binge-eating.
Sugar is everywhere, the obvious foods are cakes, biscuits, sweets etc. But that's not all, its also hidden in almost all processed foods. This includes breads, meats, and in condiments like Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. So you can see why sugar is additive and how easy it is to over eat sugar but what harm is it doing to us?
What does too much sugar do?
Dr. Robert Lustig, says that your body can safely metabolize at least six teaspoons of added sugar per day. But since more than this can lead to debilitating chronic metabolic diseases many people are struggling with. Here are some of the effects that consuming too much sugar has on your health, on top of Type 2 diabetes and weight gain that has already been mentioned.
- It overloads and damages your liver. The effects of too much sugar or fructose can be likened to the effects of alcohol. All the fructose you eat gets shuttled to the only organ that has the transporter for it: your liver. This severely taxes and overloads the organ, leading to potential liver damage.
- It tricks your body into gaining weight. Sugar fools your metabolism by turning off your body's appetite-control system. It fails to stimulate insulin, which in turn fails to suppress ghrelin, or "the hunger hormone," which then fails to stimulate leptin or "the satiety hormone." This causes you to eat more and develop insulin resistance
- It causes metabolic dysfunction. Eating too much sugar causes a barrage of symptoms known as classic metabolic syndrome. These include weight gain, abdominal obesity, decreased HDL (good cholesterol) and increased LDL (bad cholesterol), elevated blood sugar, elevated triglycerides, and high blood pressure
- It increases your uric acid levels. High uric acid levels are a risk factor for heart and kidney disease.
- Studies have shown that sugar is readily used by cancer cells to increase their proliferation – it "feeds" the cancer cells, promoting cell division and speeding their growth, which allow the cancer to spread faster.
- Alzheimer's disease is another deadly illness that can arise from too much sugar consumption. A growing body of research found a powerful connection between a high-sugar diet and your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, through the same pathway that causes type 2 diabetes. According to some experts, Alzheimer's and other brain disorders may be causes by the constant burning of glucose for fuel by your brain. Sometimes Alzheimer's is referred to Type 3 diabetes.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome has been linked to too much insulin, caused by excess sugar intake.
- Low energy - poor blood sugar control
- Hormonal Imbalance
- Poor skin health
There are so many other areas that sugar can affect but I would need to write a book to include everything so the above just highlights some of the things that too much sugar can do.
What can you do to reduce the cravings?
Coming off sugar is like coming off a drug so don’t take it lightly. You need to plan and have things in place, don’t be hard on yourself if you have bad days. Just try again the next day.
- If you have children, start by reducing their sugary snacks. Try making healthier alternatives like sweet potato muffins. I remember my sister making these for her little girl and she loved them (recipe at the end).
- Bring healthy snacks for the children when shopping, like carrot sticks, blueberries or oat cakes.
- When you go shopping, make sure you are not hungry – this can lead to unhealthy items being put in the trolley. Avoid the sugar/sweet aisle if you can.
- Whilst you are trying to combat the cravings, make sure you don't have any temptations in the house.
- Try and keep your blood sugar balanced by eating regularly and having balanced meals. Research has shown it is good to eat every 3 hours to avoid blood sugar drops. These drops can create sugar carvings as your body knows this is a good way to get energy quickly. This is why, some people get an energy slump in the afternoon and are drawn to caffeine or a sugary snack. If you keep your blood sugars balanced this slump should not occur.
- Plan your weekly food shop so you are not tempted to pop into the shops, this can create additional temptation.
- Drink plenty of water, you may sometimes think that your body is asking for sugar, when in fact it's dehydrated and really craving water!
There are some healthier alternatives to sugar, like brown rice syrup or Manuka honey. But as with everything, they should be used in moderation. You will find that as your sugar intake reduces, your taste buds will become more sensitive and after awhile certain sweet treats will taste too sweet. Some clients say to me that they could not possibly have a coffee or tea without sugar added, but after a while and by reducing it slowly they now cannot have sugar in their drinks as it tastes far too sweet.
If you are in the shops, just think about what you are putting in her basket. A quick treat like a fizzy drink can have as much as 9 teaspoons of sugar, and considering an adult should have no more than 6 teaspoons in one day that is taking you over your allowance in one drink. The 6 teaspoons also includes natural sugars that you find in fruit. Breakfast cereals can be some of the worse culprits for added sugar, so swap these for poached eggs and avocado or porridge for example.
If you are struggling, it is always best to seek professional help. We can create a plan that suits you and your lifestyle. We can also recommend certain supplements that can help reduce the sugar cravings.
By reducing sugar, you should find your energy levels increase, hormones are more balanced, weight will start to drop off (if that is your aim) and for the children’s health it is a trying to make sure they do not have a sugar addiction when they are older and helping them stay healthy.
It is scary to think that in this century we have children who are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes which is a preventable illness and is largely down to what we eat and how active we are. Type 2 diabetes is more commonly associated with adults. In fact, it used to be called adult-onset diabetes. But type 2 diabetes in children is on the rise, fuelled, largely by the obesity epidemic.
There's plenty you can do to help manage or prevent type 2 diabetes in children. Encourage your child to eat healthy foods, get plenty of physical activity and maintain a healthy weight. This is also the case for adults. Now is the time to take control and beat those cravings.
To book a consultation you can call us on 07985 388342 or click here to send us an enquiry.