Let’s talk about sugar baby… Oh so yummy sugar that just makes you crave it by saying the word! We all love sugar, even those that say they’re not addicted to sugar we all know they lie! I know gasp… but what they don’t know is they’re getting sugar from starches and almost every single processed food that’s out there. If I hadn’t started Whole 30, I don’t think I would have ever paid attention to the ingredients in the food I was consuming on a daily basis. Once my eyes were open there was no going back, and after I got past the initial shock of sugar being in EVERYTHING!!! I got angry. Why does sugar have to be in salad dressings, sausage, almost every BBQ sauce, canned goods, oh and my personal favorite sugar in my garlic powder. So what’s the deal with sugar? Why has it become such a common ingredient, and why should we as consumers care?
Sugar is known in a few different varieties: sucrose (the table sugar), fructose and glucose (found in fruits and veggies), lactose (milk), maltose (malt beverages). The American Heart Association says that men should have around 150 calories of sugar, that would be about 9 teaspoons, or 37.5 grams a day. Women are instructed to have around 100 calories of sugar, 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams a day. That is the allotted amount for our bodies to maintain energy throughout the day. To put that in perspective or a visual representation, a full size Snicker bar is about 120 calories from sugar alone! Makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry right?!
So you’re probably saying, ok don’t eat candy then! Well if you have the willpower as strong as Superman that’s awesome, but the problem is it’s not just candy anymore. Let’s take a look at a few everyday household staples.
For breakfast you’re in a hurry so you reach for a Nutrigrain bar, and a cup of orange juice. Now let’s look at how much sugar you have just consumed with your two breakfast items. The Nutrigrain bar has 13 grams or 52 calories from sugar alone, and the cup of orange juice has 21 grams of sugar. Some quick math and that’s 34 grams of sugar that have gone into your body just for breakfast.
Now it’s lunch time, and you’re eating a quick lunch you prepared the night before. You packed yourself a ham and cheese sandwich on white bread with mayo, a bag of chips, a packet of yogurt, and a diet Coke. The sandwich contains about 5.5 grams of sugar, the yogurt packs a whopping 6 grams of sugar, and the diet Coke technically doesn’t contain “sugar,” they use aspartame. So in total your lunch contains about 11.5 grams of sugar, that’s not too bad but remember you already had 21 grams at breakfast and the day isn’t over. During that long black hole of time and space known as the in between period of lunch and dinner, you just can’t make it without a snack. You try to pick a somewhat healthy snack, but the vending machines at work don’t offer much beyond a Snickers or peanut butter crackers. You pick the crackers and get another Diet Coke. Again the Diet Coke claims no sugar, but the crackers are about 4.5 grams of sugar.
Here comes dinner! You go out to dinner because the last thing you want to do is cook. Since your day didn’t seem too terrible with food decisions you go for the chicken and walnut salad with blue cheese, dried cranberries, and a raspberry vinaigrette, your beverage of choice is a glass of red wine. Without breaking everything down in the salad it would typically be around 33 grams of sugar, and the glass of wine could contain about 1 gram of sugar.
Are you ready for the grand total of sugar consumption for the day? It all comes out to 84 grams of sugar, just a reminder that the recommended amount for women is 25 grams. Now that’s the problem with sugar! It’s also needs to be said that not all sugar is created equal. The war with sugar isn’t about fruits and the sugar from whole and natural foods. The war with sugar is about the 84 grams that was consumed in your day unbeknownst to you! What on the list made since to have so much sugar? The orange juice, I can see that and your dinner salad did contain dried cranberries. But what about the rest?!?!?
Food producers add sugar to their food products for various reasons, some being a preservative, for texture, the look of their food like the color, and lastly taste. Not to mention sugar is cheap, so it makes sense why they would use it as one of the above options right! Wrong! Our bodies weren’t designed to process that MUCH sugar on a daily basis so while food producers keep adding the sugar we keep getting sicker.
The short and sweet version of what happens once sugar hits your tongue is the sugar sends signals to the sweet receptors in our brains, our brains go “oh yeah we like this a lot!” Those reward receptors create a pattern of “hey we liked how we felt with the sweet stuff, do it again”(that’s the dopamine). Meanwhile in our stomach the sweet goodness is making its way down, and did you know there are actually sweet receptors in your stomach?!? So not only did you make your brain happy, but your stomach is happy because it’s thinking it’s full, but it’s also saying “ok we have a lot of sweetness down here fire up the insulin!!!” The insulin then creates glucose to help fuel your body. Over time this pattern can become an addiction because the body craves the feel good feeling (dopamine) the sweet foods create over and over and over. You keep eating sweets because well that’s what you’re craving the most and your body in turn is screaming for insulin. Your glucose is responding in one of two ways, it’s become over reactive therefore overloading your cells, or your glucose could just say I give up let insulin handle it. Your delicate system is now thrown into chaos.
For a better understanding of our love/hate relationship with food and sugar in particular I suggest reading It Starts With Food, it’s mind blowing.
I could go on and on about the effects sugar has on your system but I’ll just touch on some of the more mind blowing points. Dehydration, sugar has a way of pulling water from your cells. Inflammation, sugar is acidic in its makeup and the acidity causes inflammation internally and externally. Stomach troubles all around, the sugar from non-whole foods isn’t easily processed in your digestive tract. Not to mention the havoc excess sugar causes to your skin and your hormones. Just think about how all of this adds up over time!
We have reached the point where we talk about a few steps you can take to start eliminating the overflow of sugars in your daily diet. One of the biggest steps to take is start paying attention to your food labels. If you pick up a salad dressing that contains sugar, try to find an alternative that doesn’t contain sugar in its many forms. You could also try a sugar elimination diet. If you really want to dive in then you might want to consider doing your own Whole 30. Lastly, don’t beat yourself up if you slip up on the journey! Your body is conditioned to want all the sugar, to override the system will take time and you might want to start working on that Superman willpower. Thankfully there is a movement against added sugars happening so you won’t be alone. Netflix also has great documentaries about the food industry, one in particular about sugar called Sugar Coated! I’m also here for you, going through the same struggles and daily cravings so reach out, we can do this!!!
Until next time, stay well y’all!!