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Is Sugar Addictive?

When we consume high sugar foods such as refined grains (white flour, potato starch, tapioca flour), chips, cookies, pastries and candies (processed foods), we get a dopamine kick, which makes us feel good. This is why reducing sugary foods can be a challenge, our brains become use to and crave the dopamine kick.

Less talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of sugar/processed foods.

The bad: we are born with an innate preference for sweet things. In the past, sweetness was usually associated with high calorie foods and could be the key to surviving until your next meal, especially when it may be days before the next one. However, today, most of us eat at least 3 meals/day with snacks and dessert as well and have a sedentary lifestyle for most of the day.

The ugly: It puts you on a blood glucose roller coaster. We immediately get a rush of energy, but a few hours later we are crashing again. That's because refined foods and sugar cause our blood glucose to rise too rapidly and our bodies must work very hard to get it back down (high blood glucose levels are poisonous to our bodies). Our bodies always overcompensate by releasing too much of a hormone called insulin which causes our blood glucose levels to drop too low. This makes us feel hungry, cranky, irritable and tired. That's when we typically reach for the next sugar beverage or snack and it starts the cycle all over again. It can become a crazy cycle of high and very low energy.

Added sugar contributes to not only weight gain, but diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults AND KIDS.

The good: we can enjoy sweet foods such as whole fruits and starchy vegetables that are naturally sweet but do not cause our blood sugars to spike too high. I like to emphasize whole fruits, not just fruit juice because just fruit juice will spike your blood glucose levels, plus, you miss out on many nutrients by leaving the rest of the fruit behind.

The good: Our taste preferences change and when we reduce sugary/processed foods our taste buds will re-sensitize and whole foods will begin to taste much sweeter. This can happen within the first few weeks.

The good: The World Health Organization states "no reported evidence links the consumption of naturally occurring sugars to adverse health effects." Naturally occurring sugar is the sugar found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products.

Now, it is unreasonable to think we will never eat junk food, sweets, chips and sugar beverages, so what are the recommendations?

0 tsp for children < 2 years old (they have such high nutrient needs that there is no room for added sugar)

< 6 tsp for kids (2-18 yrs. old) and women/day

<9 tsp for men/day

Did you know that a 12 oz coke has 9-12 teaspoons of sugar?

An average American consumes between 150 -170 lbs. of sugar per year, which means about 16% of our calories each day, comes from added sugar.

With average person consuming 2,270 calories per day, 16% is 363 calories from added sugar per day, if we reduce that by 1/3, we'll save 12.6 lbs. of body weight each year. Aka, reducing sugar/refined foods can jump-start your weight loss.

Why should we limit added sugar in kids diets? Because refined foods/added sugar displace nutritious foods and can promote picky eating.

Did you know that the recommendations for kids under the age of 2 is 0 calories from added sugar? You may think this is extreme but their nutritional need, not just calorie need, is so high, especially during the first 2 years of their lives when their brains and bodies are growing the most rapidly they ever will in their life. They need over 50 different nutrients every day!

Also, we often forget how small their stomachs are, they eat much less than adults. Therefore, just a few teaspoons of sugar per day adds up to 1/3-1/2 of their calorie consumption. That's a lot of calories with no nutrition. By feeding them junk food, refined grains, sugary sweets and beverages, they miss out on vital nutrients their bodies need to grow optimally. That doesn't mean they won't grow; they just won't grow and develop both mentally and physically to their full potential. Also, without the nutrients their bodies need, they are more susceptible to colds and viruses. Our immune systems need a lot of nutrients found in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds to function optimally and prevent us from getting sick or reduce the amount of time that we are sick.

Sugar /processed foods are tasty and much sweeter than whole foods which can make them more picky towards eating whole foods. Taste preferences are formed during the first few years and will decide which foods they prefer. We must remember kids don't know why they should eat certain foods, they just know what tastes good.

Sugar sweetened beverages like sodas, fruit flavored juices are the biggest source of added sugar in our diet. Other sources include ice cream, desserts, donuts, cookies, candy and processed foods.

What can you do? Become a sugar sleuth. Here are 15 hidden sources of sugar:

1) Coffee-beverages

2) Spaghetti Sauce

3) Ketchup

4) Barbeque sauce

5) Salad dressing

6) Yogurt

7) Muffins

8) Granola bars, protein bars, energy bars

9) Granola/breakfast cereal

10) Dried Fruit

11) Fruit juices

12) Bread

13) Frozen meals

14) Soda

15) Sweet Tea

Make a goal: Take one sugar source out of your diet each week. For example, you may start replacing soda/sweet tea with water or unsweetened tea. Focus on it every day until it becomes a habit. Going one by one feels less overwhelming and will allow you time to figure out substitutes.

Look at the nutritional facts label. Look at added sugar, if it is more than 4 tsp/serving, pass on it most of the time. For cereals, select foods with <8 g/serving of added sugar.

These are some common terms for added sugars listed on food labels:

  • Agave nectar

  • Brown sugar, invert sugar, or raw sugar

  • Malt sugar or syrup

  • Honey, molasses, or sorghum

  • Cane crystals, sugar, or syrup

  • Corn sweetener or corn syrup

  • High-fructose corn syrup

  • Fruit concentrates

  • Sugar molecules ending in “-ose”: Dextrose, fructose, maltose, and sucrose

What should you do instead?

1) Replace these foods with whole foods that have the nutrients our bodies need and crave. Choose whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds and dairy if tolerated.

2) Instead of juice, for a sweet treat that is given every once and a while, try a splash of juice with a glass of water. Or, better yet, infuse your water with different fruits. Some of my fav combos:

1) Strawberries and fresh basil

2) Mint and cucumber

3) Lemons and limes

4) Oranges and blueberries

5) Watermelon and fresh basil

3) Make your desserts from scratch, which gives you control over the sugar content. Did you know you can reduce the sugar content in most foods by at least 1/2 and it still tastes just as sweet? Replace the amount of sugar you subtract with unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana, or pumpkin puree.

If you're still confused or overwhelmed by counting teaspoons, think of the 90/10 principle for children and teenagers and the 80/20 principle for adults. 80-90% of our diet should be from whole nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds and dairy, while the other 10-20% can be from foods that we just enjoy but may have little nutritional value.


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