Today I was doing my “small errands” at one of my favorite organic stores. The atmosphere is cozy, the smell of various essential oils, stimulate the energy of body and mind. Everything is done so that we can feel good so that we can spend. I know it, but I like this atmosphere. As often, my actions are stereotyped: first the essentials, then the discoveries of new products. Today, while looking into calorie-free sugars, I discovered XYLITOL! We will come back to this later…
For 22 days now, I challenged myself to stop consuming sugar. Specifically, no more glucose or industrial sugars! What if this change had multiple benefits?
Want to shed a few pounds but hate going to the gym? Stop the sugar!
Would you like to do more without experiencing fatigue during the day? Stop the sugar!
Do you want to preserve your future health, avoid diabetes and cardiovascular disease? Stop the sugar!
This is a positive change on many levels; But it takes considerable effort because our relationship to sweet taste has its roots in our past! Far, far away in the depths of our minds! This text aims to question your practices regarding sugar and to propose alternatives in order to fight this very sweet enemy!
Sugar and Us
“You’ve been good so you’ll get candy!”
If you’ve been calm enough at the dentist or the doctor, they give you a lollipop; This is one of the greatest nonsense of the profession!
These attitudes, which many have experienced, are behaviors which, since our earliest childhood, have created an addictive relationship with sugar.
It is an extremely potent emotional and affective addiction that engages the neural reward circuits culminating in the increased synthesis of dopamine: the pleasure hormone.
Very early (too early?) in our personal development, we introduce sugar as an element of reward but also of comfort because it increases the levels of dopamine.
Vegetables have no effect on the synthesis of this hormone; It is therefore understandable that children “dislike” vegetables but prefer pasta (which are slow sugars)!
Ultimately, very early on, we build the foundation for an addictive sugar relationship!
Sugar, sweetness, blood sugar, and other definitions…
Before going any further, it is useful to specify what we are talking about: For that, nothing better than a few definitions in order to properly set up the bases for a global understanding of the subject!
- Sugars: organic molecules of the carbohydrate family, made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are essential for the body’s energy synthesis. Starch and cellulose are also sugars, so sugars are not necessarily sweet!
- Sweet flavor: It is one of the 5 basic flavors: sweet, bitter, salty, acid, umami. The latter comes from Japan; it means “essence of delight”. It is easier to experience it than to define it: it is a taste of fullness.
- Sweetness: It is the capacity of a food to generate the sweet taste. Sweetness does not correspond to sugar content. A food containing little sugar so few calories can have a high “sweetness”!
- The Glycemic Index (GI): It is a scale from 0 to 100 which defines, for each product, the proportion of carbohydrates which is released into the blood. White sugar has an index of 100 (note that white bread too). A product can contain very little sugar and have a high glycemic index. The example of watermelon is the most common: it has 7.5g of sugar per 100g but its GI is 72.
- Glycemic Load: As the sugar content and GI vary between foods, the glycemic load helps to standardize and compare products with each other, because it considers the actual amount of products consumed! It is got by multiplying the glycemic index by the amount of carbohydrate in an ingested portion and dividing the result by 100. Thus the glycemic load for 200 grams of watermelon is 10.2 an average portion of popcorn when you go to the movies has a glycemic load of 43!!
You should note that any transformation increases the glycemic index; thus cooking or juicing a fruit raises its glycemic index: apple juice has a higher glycemic index than apple because it contains fiber to keep the index low! The more the glycemic load is high, the more the ingested product has a sweetening “power” and the more it negatively impacts your health and your energy!
How does sugar affect your brain?
The effects of sugar on brain function are established: they make up a sequence that involves certain sugar receptors.
The first are found on the tongue. They allow salivation and send a powerful signal to the brain that increases dopamine synthesis. This provides an instant well-being effect, a feeling of calm, a reduction in tension!
The second sugar receptors are found in the intestine. Another signal is sent to the brain which allows the feeling of satiety and well-being.
Thus the reward circuit is built: your brain learns that the consumption of sugar allows it to synthesize increased dopamine; It will, in fact, increase your craving for sugar and “send you in search of that product”: that’s the craving! A craving for sugar is a deep desire. It’s the same phenomenon as in heroin addiction! Thus, it is useful to consider our relationship with sugar as addictive: it reflects reality and allows us to take stock of the situation in order to deal with it accordingly!
How does sugar affect body?
The impacts of sugar are not limited to the brain and the mind: addictive sugar consumption also has consequences on your body in the short and long term.
Long term consequences:
- Weight gain: Sugar is caloric (4 kcal per gram) so overconsumption is harmful on the long run! Excessive sugar consumption is linked to weight gain because of the amounts consumed, which respond to a range of stimuli such as than mentioned above. In fact, it is a double physical and psychological pathology through addiction!
- Diabetes: In order to regulate your blood sugar (blood sugar level), your body synthesizes insulin via an organ: the pancreas. By dint of over-consuming sugar, you disrupt the regulation of glucose levels and you slide towards the stage of insulin resistance: stage before diabetes. Diabetes has many harmful consequences on the body, the main one being the “hardening” of the arteries responsible for cardiovascular disease!
- Cardiovascular diseases: are a set of pathologies responsible for poor blood and oxygen supply to the noble organs. These include coronary heart disease (heart disease), neuropathy (brain disease), nephropathy (kidney disease).
Short term consequences
The main short-term effect is a lack of energy and therefore reduced productivity.
It may seem strange when we know that glucose is the main substrate of the body and that it allows the production of energy: So why this harmful aspect?
Consuming sugar involves the synthesis of insulin in order to regulate blood glucose levels.
A high level of sugar increases the synthesis of insulin, too high a level of insulin causes a drop in the glucose content: this is hypoglycemia! This results in a state of fatigue, lack of desire, almost lethargy, with a drop in motivation.
It is a low energy situation with harmful consequences in terms of productivity because it hinders you in achieving your goals.
This state must be avoided at all costs: to do this, a quality diet with the right sugar consumption is necessary. Any excess harms!
But actually, how much sugar is enough for the body without being harmful?
The daily amount of sugar should be between 5 and 10% of caloric intake or even less than 5%;
so for a 2000 kcal diet, 10% corresponds to 200kcal and as 1g of sugar contains 4kcal, this amounts to consuming 50g of sugar maximum per day!! it seems achievable except there is the hidden sugar!
Here are some examples:
- a tablespoon of ketchup ½ a sugar cube
- a hamburger 4 sugar cubes
- a part of industrial lasagna 2 cubes of sugar
- a frozen pizza 6 sugar cubes
- a liter of industrial soup 3 sugar cubes
And the list is still long …
The following sequence describes the vicious and infernal circle explaining sugar addiction and its harmful effect on your body. It all starts with a stimulus that you identify as negative, harmful, stressful (We have several courses on interpreting reality and emotion regulation). This stimulus involves the synthesis of adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid made by glands above the kidneys: the adrenals. When under stress, you need to act fast, your body needs energy; and so you guessed it, cortisol will induce a spike in blood sugar to meet your energy needs: stress raises your sugar levels. But the terrible streak doesn’t end there! After the peak of stress, your body needs to replenish sugar stores for the next big hit so cortisol will make you want to eat and increase feelings of hunger: you understand why you “eat your emotions” and why a candy bar seems obvious after a stressful presentation at work!
But the terrible sequence continues! You have long experienced the dopamine surge characteristic of sugar consumption and the feeling of well-being that accompanies it. In fact, after stress, you will naturally want to go for products rich in sugars: We have rarely seen someone throwing themselves on a broccoli during a conflict at work or personal difficulties.
And the terrible sequence continues as you know with the spike in insulin followed by a big drop in blood sugar and actually a drop in energy as we discussed above!
This stereotypical succession of biochemical and psychobehavioral events is the basis for a comprehensive understanding of the impact of sugar on your body. It makes it possible to visualize the different balances and their direct implications. Knowing how to expect, manage, guard against this sequence makes it possible to avoid very harmful aspects in terms of productivity and to improve your comfort of life, your well-being!
How to decrease sugar consumption?
As you can see our addictive relationship with sugar is rooted in us and the vicissitudes of life maintain it! Awareness of this situation is, as often, the starting point for deep reflection that will lead to the idea of cutting down or stopping sugar! Whether this is possible doesn’t belong here, let’s jump right into the options available to you!
No sugar challenge for 30 days
As in any addiction, it is about taking some distance from the responsible product. This process also helps to create a habit, to anchor the practice in your “new reality”.
You need a sheet of paper, a pen, and the deep conviction to succeed!
Write by hand what you are going to do, for example (if you know that you “work” on negative phrases): :
- “I no longer eat industrial sugar”
- “I no longer eat added sugars”
Or (if you are on the “positive” side):
- “I will replace sugar with one fruit”
- “I will replace sugar with one apple”
or you can be more specific for example:
- “I will no longer add sugar to my coffee”
- “I will no longer drink sodas”
You note the numbers from 1 to 30, then each day, you make a line if you have fulfilled the aim.
If you don’t hold the aim you make a cross, you explain what went wrong in order to understand your reaction then you start again but from the number 1. You do this until you can have 30 strokes in a row : there you will have created a “good” habit, it’s up to you to maintain it..
This avoidance of sugar is beneficial but we can allow ourselves the sweet taste by avoiding sugar and calories: Let’s see the alternatives that exist
Alternatives to sugars
- Agave syrup: Has a strong sweetening power compared to industrial sugar. It contains a lot of trace elements. Its glycemic index is lower than sugar. It is high in fructose so also consume in moderation!
- Maple syrup: High sweetness, strong taste, high glycemic index but low fructose.
- Birch Sugar (Xylitol): higher sweetness than sugar, low glycemic index, low calorie content, xylitol is an excellent alternative; to be consumed in moderation anyway because of a laxative effect at high doses.
- Stevia: It is a natural sweetener from the leaf of a plant. Its sweetening power is extremely higher than sugar with a low caloric content.
- Honey: The major advantage of honey is its strong sweetening power which allows the consumption of lesser quantities. However, it remains rich in sugar with a variable content of fructose.
- Whole grains: Starches are slow sugars, wheat in particular, the basis of many food products. Wheat flour is rich in carbohydrates with a high glycemic index. In fact, bread, pasta, pizza, pastries are at the origin of significant glycemic peaks with the consequences that you know! An interesting alternative is to systematically replace them with whole starches. They contain fibers which reduce the glycemic index and thus allow a lesser impact on the body.
So sugar is both a fundamental element for life and also an element that can be harmful in terms of overall health and productivity!
It is up to you to control the consumption of sugar, to know how to look for quality products in order to limit the harmful impact on your general condition.
It can be summed up:
- Total and definitive cessation of industrial sugar
- Total and definitive stop of processed food: you only eat what you cook from fresh products
- Stop eating “white” bread, sandwich bread! Consumption of wholemeal bread, protein bread, grain bread!
- Systematic use of alternatives to industrial sugars: stevia, xylitol, maple syrup, agave
- Consumption of seasonal fruits and vegetables
- Decreased consumption of starches or preferential consumption of whole starches