Sugar, Sugar Everywhere“I used to eat a meal only because I wanted to get to dessert,” confessed a patient I’ll call Amanda. “A few months ago, when I read that sugar can be addictive, the light bulb went off in my head and I said, ‘That’s me! I’m a sugar junkie, living from one fix to another.’ It was a terrible thing to realize, but it was true. If there was a 12-step program for sugarholics, I would join.” Fortunately, Amanda was able to get control of her sugar habit by following the suggestions below. But as you’ll see, it takes a little effort.
How Sugar Hides in Plain SightManufacturers often add sugar to food, even savory foods like pasta, salad dressing, and bread. Any food labeled “reduced fat” probably contains extra sugar to make it more appealing. Check food labels for the ingredients sucrose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, sucrose, galactose, maltose, concentrated juices or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Any ingredient ending in –ose is sugar.
Hidden Sugary Foods
- Pasta sauces
- Canned soup
- Fast food
- Protein or energy bars
- Beef jerky
- Peanut butter
The Sugar-Carb ConnectionSimple, processed carbohydrates, like refined, white flour, are processed in the body the same as sugar. And they have the same effect as sugar, elevating insulin and blood sugar (glucose) levels, stimulating weight gain, and increasing the risk of a long list of health problems, including cancer. Because simple carbs are made of one or two small sugar molecules, they are broken down into sugar in the body. As a result, glucose floods into the bloodstream. When this happens, the pancreas is forced to release enough insulin to deliver all that sugar to the cells. So simple carbs provide quick energy, but after the initial surge (or “sugar rush”), be prepared for a big crash, including hunger pangs and more sugary cravings. By contrast,
Simple Carbohydrate Foods
- White bread
- Potato chips and french fries
- White rice
- Cakes, muffins, bagels, cookies
- Non-whole wheat pastas
- Cereal (except whole grain)
Four Ways to Lower Your Sugar IntakeI’ve worked with thousands of patients who were extremely resistant to avoiding sugar. Yet, quickly, they discovered that once sugar was out of their system, they were fine. Remember, cutting back on sugar does not mean you’ll never eat another cookie or enjoy an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. Just keep sugars and simple carbs to once a week, rather than daily. Here are a few ways to do just that:
- Get rid of any and all beverages containing added sugar. Get in the habit of drinking fresh, filtered water or iced tea, instead of sodas or other sweetened drinks.
- Clear your cabinets of foods containing hidden sugars. Read labels to determine which foods are the worst offenders. Fortunately, many of the simple carb foods we love are available these days in whole-grain versions. A patient I’ll call Greg experimented with various high-fiber, whole grain pastas and learned that he could make his own healthy meals that tasted just as good as the refined flour, fructose-enhanced versions. Today, Greg is actually becoming something of a gourmet cook!
- Make fruit your go-to sweet treat. From time to time, we all have cravings for something a bit sweet. When patients who have given up sugar ask what they can do to avoid falling off the wagon, I always recommend whole fruit, either fresh or dried. Yes, the carbs in fruit are simple, but fruit also contains fiber, and that makes a big difference. Fiber slows digestion, so fruit does not send blood sugar or insulin into the stratosphere, unlike fruit juice.
- Get a grip on your glucose. Maintaining healthy levels of blood glucose (sugar) is a keystone of good health. In moderation, glucose is essential to good health. Every cell in the body uses glucose to produce energy, and it’s particularly important for the brain, the biggest glucose consumer of all. But excessive glucose can be harmful. An overabundance of glucose can lead to weight gain, as well as insulin resistance. To maintain healthy glucose levels, I strongly urge you to look into glucose-management supplements. Natural substances like alpha-lipoic acid, berberine, and Gymnema sylvestre have been shown to be useful for maintaining healthy glucose levels and reducing the likelihood of insulin resistance.