Today’s guest post is courtesy of Stefanie, who blogs over at gofitmoms. As someone who struggles (daily!) with a sugar addiction, this article was eye-opening for me!
Sugar highs and crashes are unfortunately a well known phenomenon in American culture. Although some doctors claim there is no evidence on sugar affecting a child’s mood, as parents we probably feel differently. Our hyper child who has eaten one or two pieces of cake turns into a sluggish and sometimes cranky child about an hour after. As adults we experience it as well. For me, after dinner is the most difficult time. On those occasions when I do overindulge in dessert I usually regret it about an hour later. Even worse, we usually know we will regret it , but we eat it anyway. Sounds kind of like an addiction doesn’t it? Although I am a proponent of an “everything in moderation” lifestyle, I do see some red flags when it comes to the apparent sugar addiction we seem to be facing in this country.
Just look at these facts, and it becomes obvious why we crave sugar so much. Look at how much we eat!
1. Americans eat 25 lbs of candy and 61 lbs of refined sugar each year.
2. We eat approx. 22 teaspoons of sugar a day.
3. We drink 44 gallons of soda a year. One can of soda is equal to 16 sugar cubes!
4. Sugar makes up 16% of our daily caloric intake.
Sugar can have many names, so watch out for these words on your food labels : glucose, corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, and sorbitol. Besides straight sugar consumption, all of the processed foods containing white flour get converted to sugar in our bodies. In this way, eating refined carbs is like again fueling our bodies with sugar.
Other than the obvious sugar highs and lows, our body responds to this sugar overload in other negative ways. Emotionally, we can get grumpy, forgetful, sad, unable to focus and even angry. Our bodies physically react by excessive thirst, more frequent urination, fatigue and headache. Since these reactions are temporary, we seem to forget sugar’s effects on us which is one reason we keep giving in to the cravings. Arming ourselves with more information on sugar and its effects on us may help us not give in to those cravings. To begin let’s dig a little deeper in our understanding of what sugar is doing to our bodies and our brains.
In our brains there is a chemical known as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that helps develop new brain tissue. Sugar in our systems actually reduces the level of this chemical in our brain. Not surprisingly, low levels of BDNF can result in depression, OCD, dementia and even Alzheimer’s. However, we can increase our BDNF levels through exercise and a better diet.
A better diet also helps prevent Type II diabetes which effects over 25 million Americans. Although it is often reported that eating too much sugar alone does not cause diabetes, the weight gain that often comes from eating too much sugar is the biggest risk factor for the disease.
Eating a better diet is a little more complicated than just cutting out dessert every once in awhile. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the glycemic index and how it relates to the way we should be eating. Foods are given a number that represents their glycemic index, which shows how much that food will raise our blood sugar. This is helpful, because it is not always s obvious which foods are high in sugar, especially since there is an unbelievable amount of hidden sugar in everyday foods.
Here is a list from the American Diabetes Association of various foods and the glycemic numbers:
Low GI Foods (55 or less)
100% stone-ground whole wheat or pumpernickel bread
Oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut), oat bran, muesli
Pasta, converted rice, barley, bulgar
Sweet potato, corn, yam, lima/butter beans, peas, legumes and lentils
Most fruits, non-starchy vegetables and carrots
Medium GI (56-69)
Whole wheat, rye and pita bread
Brown, wild or basmati rice, couscous
High GI (70 or more)
White bread or bagel
Corn flakes, puffed rice, bran flakes, instant oatmeal
Shortgrain white rice, rice pasta, macaroni and cheese from mix
Russet potato, pumpkin
Pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, saltine crackers
melons and pineapple
Along with eating the right types of foods, we need to eat remember to eat often. Going more than 3-4 hours without eating sets us up for low blood sugar which causes the mood swings and the ravenous “ I will eat whatever is in my pantry” frame of mind. Plan ahead and always have a healthy snack ready that has a little protein in it. The protein will be digest more slowly and ward off hunger better than a carbs only snack. I love Greek yogurt (lots of protein) with fruit (carbs) and almonds (healthy fats) especially after a workout.
Certain vitamins and nutrients are necessary for healthy brain function. These are the B vitamins, Chromium and Omega 3’s. Leafy greens, fish, nuts eggs tomatoes and onions contain these mood boosting nutrients.
Also watch out for those low or no carb diets! Tryptophan which increases our serotonin levels thus making us feel happy, can be found in the carbohydrates we eat. If you have ever tried a no or low carb diet you may have been a little more irritable or emotional than before the diet for that very reason. Again, everything in moderation in my opinion, and try to eat the complex carbs found in whole grains and vegetables as much as you can.
Lastly, if the physical and emotional reactions to sugar don’t persuade you to change your diet, consider your vanity! The amount of sugar in our blood actually affects the elasticity of the collagen in our skin. Sugar can lead to wrinkles. Extra motivation to watch that sugar intake!
Make it a daily habit to eat healthy and enjoy treats in moderation, and your body and your mood will be the better for it!