Monday, January 11, 2010

The Skinny on Sugar

Sugar... do do do do do do Oh Honey Honey do do do do do do... You are my Candy Girl...

I somehow don't think this game would be as popular if it was called "vegeland"...

So I've got a sweet tooth, I've always had a sweet tooth (I wonder if it's candyland's fault for brain washing me as a small child ;))...I'm sure most of us are in the same boat... but as I've announced in my 2010 Goals, I've given up sugary sweets for 45 days.

My reason for this are not only because the holidays season and all its delicious cookies killed me, but also because I've been reading a nutrition book that's helping me look at the foods I've put in my body in a different way.

Once I read about sugar I had to consider either being more watchful about my intake or cutting it out of my diet completely. I chose the later obviously for the time being. I am a firm believer in all things in moderation, but I've hit a plateau and I am hoping that cutting sugar from my diet will help me break through that.

I've been reading this really informative book called "You Are What You Eat" by Dr. Gillian McKeith

Here's what the book says about Sugar Cravings:

You will crave sugar if your blood sugar levels are constantly out of balance; if you have nutrient deficiencies, yeast overgrowths; if you eat a diet high in refined, processed carbs and junkie foods. Sugar cravings are a sign that you may suffer from a condition known as hypoglycemia, causing you to crave even more sugar.

You end up becoming the victim of a seesaw effect of soaring and plummeting sugar levels. This is why if you start to eat just one chocolate bar, you are bound to crave more. The sugar gives you the rush, but this drop is never far behind. The best way to to beat the sugar fix is to go cold turkey: no sugary foods or sweets for a month. The herb astragulus can give you a natural energy lift (500mg daily). ...

Certain foods help regulate blood sugar levels and tame sugar cravings. Whole grains and fresh veggies are great choices. Yams, sweet potatoes and squash help to curb a sweet tooth too and they don't elevate blood sugar levels in the way that sugary sweets do.

Food Cravings:
Sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods and sweets raise the level of the feel-good chemicals in your body (these are the endorphins serotonin and norepinephrine). The trouble with eating high sugar foods is that sugar enters your bloodstream very quickly and causes a rush of insulin along with a rush of serotonin. If there is a sudden rise in sugar levels, the insulin breaks it down very quickly, leading to a drop in both sugar and endorphins. this leaves you feeling worse than before and you may reach for more sugary foods to boost your mood, setting up a cycle of food cravings, weight gain, fatigue and mood swings which is hard to break.

Don't deny it we all know once you get started on one little sweet it turns into a lot of little sweets. That's why I had to go cold turkey! The book breaks it down even further to talk about insulin levels and how the body deals with all the excess sugar...this is where it gets really interesting... I had one of those *light bulb* moments after reading this section of the book:

Insulin Imbalances:

When you eat food, glucose from the digestive breakdown of the food is absorbed into your gut and blood. The body takes what is requires and then produces insulin to lower glucose levels back to normal, converting the excess glucose into a compound called glycogen which is stored by the liver.

On a healthy diet this process works perfectly, but excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates, particularly sugary foods, upsets the balance and everything starts to go haywire. Your body has to produce increasing amounts of insulin to break down the sugars. Eventually you become resistant to the insulin, and instead of converting excess glucose into glycogen, it turns into fat. You are then caught in a vicious cycle where the more unstable your blood sugar levels, the more prone you will be to craving sweets and unrefined carbohydrates like bread.

An imbalance of the hormone insulin can often be the root cause of overweight. Too much sugar causes glucose intolerance in the body, and when you are overweight you break down sugar less effectively. It's a Catch-22 situation.

I couldn't believe this was happening in my body when I eat sugary foods but there was the explanation plain as day. It completely made sense as to why it was difficult for me to eat just a little bit of chocolate bar instead of the whole damn thing. Now, I'm not saying I'm not to blame in as well, I know better and should have the will power to resist...hell we should all know better than to gorge on sweet foods, but it's easy to see how the reaction to sugar in our blood stream makes it harder to say no.

Whats that you say, you only use sugar substitutes?

Just in case you might think your body was off the hook because you only eat foods with artificial/no-calorie sweeteners think again. Have you ever wondered why our grocery store shelves are filled with diet products, non-fat, low-fat, low-carb, no calorie, sugar free products and yet our society is still just as overweight as ever? Those sugar substitutes aren't helping you in fact they might make you gain weight.

Artificial sweeteners trick the body into thinking you're going to get a rush of energy from calories. Don't think of the word "calories" as necessarily a bad thing. Calorie is the term used to measure food energy. We need this energy to survive. It's where you get your calories from that make all the difference. Anyway! So Artificial sweeteners enter the blood stream your body thinks its going to get a natural rush of energy from calories, but then there are no calories. Long story short, studies show you might be more likely to eat more food through out the day to make up for tricking your body...

When it comes to dieting, most of us are willing to resort to a trick or two to help us curb our appetite and eat less — drinking water to fill up when we're hungry, for example, or opting for artificial sweeteners instead of sugar to get the same satisfying sweetness without the offending calories. But new research suggests that the body is not so easily fooled, and that sugar substitutes are no key to weight loss — perhaps helping to explain why, despite a plethora of low-calorie food and drink, Americans are heavier than ever.
In a series of experiments, scientists at Purdue University compared weight gain and eating habits in rats whose diets were supplemented with sweetened food containing either zero-calorie saccharin or sugar. The report, published in Behavioral Neuroscience, presents some counter-intuitive findings: Animals fed with artificially sweetened yogurt over a two-week period consumed more calories and gained more weight — mostly in the form of fat — than animals eating yogurt flavored with glucose, a natural, high-calorie sweetener. It's a continuation of work the Purdue group began in 2004, when they reported that animals consuming saccharin-sweetened liquids and snacks tended to eat more than animals fed high-calorie, sweetened foods. The new study, say the scientists, offers stronger evidence that how we eat may depend on automatic, conditioned responses to food that are beyond our control.
Read the full article on

If this research isn't a deterrent from fake sugar, I'm just going to remind you that these sweeteners are CHEMICALS.

Read this... Aspartame Controversy:

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter at the G.D. Searle company (later purchased by Monsanto). He was working on an anti-ulcer drug and spilled some aspartame on his hand by accident. When he licked his finger, he noticed that it had a sweet taste.
So let me get this right, someone is researching for an anti-ulcer drug and discovers this chemical was sweet and then somehow we decide it's ok for human consumption? Sure opinons are going to vary on the safety of Artificial Sweeteners depending on what research report you read, but personally, I don't want these un-natural chemicals in my body.

Hopefully it will make you think twice before you decide to grab a diet soda.

In fact it seems with all soda's you're in a bad situation. Regular soda's are loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. And diet sodas are loaded with bad fake sugars.

When I started my weight loss I switched to drinking sparkling water instead of sodas. Even today a regular coke is a rare treat. Last time I had one was on Christmas eve. I found that what I really missed about soda wasn't the sugar it was the carbonation so I don't miss it at all. I'm a sparkling water junkie (watch out for the sparkling waters that add fake sugar to them though!).

Are there ANY healthy, natural no-calorie sugar substitutes??

I haven't tried this personally but I have heard of this product. Dr. Gillian recommends Stevia as a natural alternative to sugar.

Stevia: Craving Curber

You are going to fall in love with this incredible green-leafed plant belonging to the chrysanthemum family. Stevia is a sweet herbal plant that is much sweeter than sugar. But unlike sugar Stevia has the ability to regular blood sugar levels, suppress sweet cravings and lesson hunger pangs. It's helpful for diabetics and hypoglycemics and contains protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates and vitamins.

To top it all off, Stevia has no calories. The glycosides are note metabolized in the body and are thus eliminated with out any calories being absorbed. Load of credible research supports the use of Stevia. I use it with patients who have a real sweet tooth. in almost every case, the patient reports a significant decrease or the complete eradication of sugar cravings. It is available in powder or liquid extract.

Agave Nectar is another natural alternative to sugar. I've also had liquorice root in tea as a sweetener.

And here's one more thing I wanted to touch on because I was slightly confused about the term I've been seeing on a lot of nutritional labels especially on products from the health food store: Evaporated Cane Juice... don't be fooled it's just a fancy term for sugar!

Here's an article on with more deets:
If you're an avid ingredient label reader like me, you've probably seen "evaporated cane juice" on a million different food products lately. It's everywhere! So, I wondered, what the heck is it, really, and is it any better for you than sugar? Here's what one expert had to say...
It's easy to see the absence of "sugar" on an ingredient label and think that you're scoring yourself some health points. But is evaporated cane juice really any better for you? Here's what nutrition expert Melina Jampolis, M.D. had to say:
"Evaporated cane juice is pretty much just sugar," she says. "It is less processed so it retains trace vitamins and minerals but has the same amount of calories as sugar. It is a little sweeter so you might get away with using less sugar which is always good."

I hope this post helped you look at your sugar intake in a different light. Maybe you might even consider cutting it in half, or eliminating it like I did.

P.s. So I was thinking if it's true we are what we eat.....that would make me....

A Trader Joes.


yodasmith said...

I use SweetLeaf Stevia. It has 0 calories, 0 carbs, and a 0 glycemic index, and it does help curb sweet cravings!

Gillian said...

Great entry!

Stevia is really good - we use granulated stevia in baking (pretty much the only sugar we use). My favourite is custard made on it and low-fat milk

Hypoglycaemia is awful - you end up on a yo-yo where you eat something sweet and feel great, then crash so quickly and painfully that you eat something sweet again to feel better. Until you get diagnosed properly start managing sugar its hell

Team Six Pack said...

Thanks for the comments and praise of Stevia! I'm really going to have to give it a try!!

Also I love hearing from new readers! How did you guys find my blog?? :)