Sugar Addiction: It Can be Overcome!
"When you crash, sugar can also completely zap you of energy. Sure, it gives you a quick boost, but it’s exactly that — quick."
Today’s live show with Dr. Nancy is part of her series on addictions — starting with a common one; sugar addiction. Learn the signs of sugar addiction, how it can develop into dangerous health issues, and tips on how to quickly break the sugar habit for good. Plus, she'll share some great sugar alternatives and even a few fun recipes too. Don’t miss this important show!
- 02:32: Are you at risk of sugar addiction?
- 07:06: What happens when you eat sugar
- 10:11: What is sugar addiction?
- 15:38: Health risks of a sugar overdose
- 20:17: Sugar Withdrawal
- 21:45: How to Quit
- 27:54: How to get your sweet fix naturally
- 39:26: Sugar alternatives
- 40:40: Wrap-up
Are you at risk of sugar addiction?
Check in with yourself and see if any of these things apply to you. Do you:
- Crave carbohydrates like white rice, pasta, or white bread?
- Crave meat?
- Crave anything that’s super salty?
- Find one bowl of ice cream or one piece of chocolate turns into a second bowl of ice cream or a second, third, or even fourth piece of chocolate?
- Have an addictive personality?
- Have a history of alcohol or other addiction in your family?
The average American is consuming approximately 20 teaspoons of sugar on a daily basis.
According to the American Heart Association, men should consume nor more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day and women should consume 6 teaspoons max! And you can easily get your daily intake of natural sugar via the foods you eat, including healthy organic fruits, vegetables, and grains. More on that later.
What happens when you eat sugar
In the body, sugar feeds off sugar — in other words, it creates a cycle that causes you to crave more and more. This is when you’re consuming sugar from simple carbs. That’s why you might crave simple carbs like pasta, pastries, and white rice. If you eat these types of foods frequently, they convert to sugar very quickly and your body demands more.
The body naturally wants to maintain a state of balance — the actual term is homeostasis — so if you’re someone who is constantly craving meat and salty foods, that’s what’s happening. For some reason, your body or brain is trying to balance something out. If you eat a lot of sweets, you might then find yourself wanting to eat something salty immediately afterward. Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This is a bad habit to develop since it generally involves consuming too much sugar, followed by too much salt, and then too many calories, as well.
What is a Sugar Addiction?
Ever have a sugar hangover? Yes, it’s a real thing. Have you ever eaten so many sweets in one sitting that you then feel bloated, extremely tired, or you have trouble thinking straight? You might even have gas or get a headache. This circles back to what we talked about earlier — not being able to stop at one bowl of ice cream or one piece of chocolate. It also ties in with having an addictive personality, which many of us have.
Sugar triggers the same reward center in the brain as other addictive substances, making it a legitimate addiction, just like alcohol, nicotine, or even cocaine. That’s why, if you have a history of alcoholism in your family, you are more at risk of becoming addicted to sugar. Sugar releases dopamine, the chemical responsible for feeling pleasure. It is also the chemical that affects motivation and feeling rewarded.
Sugar also releases endogenous opioids in the body, which have the same effects on the body as opiate drugs — feelings of euphoria, improved mood, and reduced anxiety and pain.
So, when you’ve had a tough day or you’re stressed, that’s when a lot of people reach for a sweet treat instead of hitting the gym, or listening to some tunes — all options which can boost dopamine and opioid levels in a healthy way. This feeling of wanting a quick fix can also be accompanied by feelings of shakiness and urgency. You need to get sugar now. Once you do get that sugar in you, the feeling of calm and euphoria takes over.
Health Risks of a Sugar Overdose
There’s also the cycle of binging, craving, tolerance, and withdrawal that accompanies sugar addiction and is really the cycle of any addiction. You need your fix, so you binge on ice cream, cookies, doughnuts, soda, candy, or whatever your sugar go-to is. But that initial amount isn’t enough to keep you satisfied so you crave more, and your tolerance goes up. Then, when you’re not eating sugar, you start to feel:
This cycle is dangerous enough, but there are other, more serious health risks associated with eating too much sugar, including:
- Type II diabetes
- Obesity, which can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
- Heart disease even if you aren’t overweight
- Cavities and other dental issues
- Chronic inflammation
And when you crash, sugar can also completely zap you of energy. Sure, it gives you a quick boost, but it’s exactly that — quick. The feeling wears off and you need more sugar to keep going. See how the cycle repeats? Not to worry, though. There are ways to kick your sugar habit and achieve long-lasting energy levels while still satisfying your sweet tooth, naturally.
Since sugar addiction is an addiction like any other, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when giving it up. We already talked about the many symptoms associated with sugar withdrawal, from restlessness to insomnia. As you’re giving up sugar, these symptoms could last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. They can also become more severe at certain times of day or if you’re extremely stressed. Remember, your body is looking for feel-good fix.
How to Quit
Make the Leap
Many people believe it’s best just to quit sugar cold turkey. If you do this, your withdrawal symptoms won’t last as long as if you were to gradually taper your sugary food intake. You could also eat more protein while doing this, which will help you feel full, as will eating foods that are high in fiber like beans and vegetables. These types of foods will also work to maintain blood sugar levels so you don’t get headaches or feel nauseous.
Drinking more water will help you feel full, and if you saw our recent post on the right types of water you should drink, you know thirst often masks itself as hunger in the body. Sip some water before grabbing for a snack. Chances are good, you need more hydration.
Use Stress Reduction Techniques
Lastly, if you’re in the midst of a stressful situation at home or at work and that’s the time when you usually grab for something sweet to make you feel better, find more healthy ways to de-stress. Go for a walk, exercise, go to a yoga class, get together with a friend who makes you laugh, listen to music, or just sit for a moment and breathe.
When withdrawing from sugar, you might initially feel more tired than normal. This is extremely common and the best way to handle it is just embrace it. Go to bed earlier than you normally would if you’re feeling extra tired. This is normal and temporary as you detox, and it’s okay! In fact, it will actually help because not getting enough sleep contributes to sugar cravings. This is partly because you’re not thinking as clearly as you would if you got your 7 to 8 hours and you want a quick reward to help you feel less tired, less grumpy, and give you an energy boost.
How to get your sweet fix naturally
Alright, you’ve kicked your sugar habit. How can you maintain this new no-sugar you and still enjoy sweet things every once in a while?
Eat more sweet vegetables like carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes. They contain natural sugars that will help satisfy your sweet tooth.
Grab a piece of fruit before grabbing something full of refined sugar. Always keep blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or an apple on hand. Cantaloupe is a great go-to if you really need something sweet. Plus, berries are great because they’re high in fiber, which will help you feel full, reduce inflammation, and lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Watermelon is another great sweet fruit choice. In fact, you can make your own Watermelon Sorbet at home!
Watermelon Sorbet Recipe
That’s it! Cut the watermelon into cubes and arrange them on a baking sheet. Put the baking sheet in the freezer for about 2 hours. Once the cubes are nice and frozen, transfer them to a blender or a food processor, working in batches. Blend until smooth. Divide the puree you’ve created among two loaf pans, packing them down so you can fill the pans as much as possible. Put the pans in the freezer for about 1 to 2 hours more until the watermelon is scoopable and enjoy!
Another way to overcome your sugar cravings is to eat chia seeds. These little guys are so good for you. They’re high in fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. When you soak them in water or in your favorite type of non-dairy milk, they swell up, which makes you feel fuller faster.
Vanilla Chia Pudding Recipe
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 cups non-dairy milk like coconut, hemp, or almond
- ½ cup chia seeds
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
The maple syrup is entirely optional. You can also throw a handful of blueberries into the chia pudding, which makes it sweet enough, but it’s up to you!
To make this Vanilla Chia Pudding, all you have to do is combine all the ingredients in a container or a mason jar and place in the refrigerator for about 2 hours to let the seeds swell up. You can periodically check on it and give it a stir so all the liquid is absorbed.
Chocolate Cherry Chia Pudding
This is another great option to satisfy not only your sugar fix, but your chocolate one, too.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 ½ cups non-dairy milk like coconut, hemp, or almond
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- 3 tablespoons raw cacao powder
- 2-3 tablespoons raw organic honey or pure maple syrup
- ½ cup cherries, pitted and sliced
We recommend using the honey or maple syrup in this recipe since they’ll cut the bitterness of the cacao powder.
You make this one the same way you made the Vanilla Chia Pudding – combine everything except the cherries in a container or a mason jar and let sit, covered, in the refrigerator for a couple hours until it sets. When indulging in a bowl, thrown in a handful of cherries!
Natural Sweet Smoothie Recipe
This is loaded with sweet fruits, it’s filling, and it’s so good for you! Here’s a recipe for a smoothie that has tons of nutrients, a delicious naturally sweet taste, and can reduce inflammation. Plus, it’s a gorgeous purple color.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 cups baby kale
- 1 small beet, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup water
- 1 orange, peeled and quartered
- 2 cups frozen mixed berries
- 1 cup frozen pineapple
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated or chopped
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
Place the kale, beet, orange, and water in a blender and blend until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and again, blend until smooth.
There are a lot of sugar alternatives on the market, especially as the need to eliminate sugar from the diet gets more attention in the media. Raw organic honey, stevia, and pure maple syrup are really the only ones we recommend you use, since they have a lot of health benefits and can help reduce inflammation. There are other alternatives like coconut sugar or monk fruit sweetener, but these pose some of the same health risks as sugar, and they are usually cut with another artificial sweetener to give them that sweet, sugary taste.
Today we told you everything you need to know to kick your sugar addiction, including:
- The recommended max daily dose of sugar is less than half of what Americans on average consume daily, so chances are you are getting too much sugar, especially if you eat processed or packaged foods regularly.
- Sugar can become a real addiction. Sugar releases dopamine and endogenous opioids, which are responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward, in the same part of the brain as drugs like cocaine and heroin.
- Sugar withdrawal can leave you feeling lethargic, mentally foggy, irritable, and depressed, but after as little as a week or so, you’ll be back to you’ll be feeling great and much healthier!
- Great ways to curb your sugar craving include more proteins — and not just in the form of lean meats and animal proteins, but also beans, nuts, and seeds — Grabbing a smoothie or a piece of fruit, and making naturally sweetened desserts using raw organic honey or pure maple syrup like chia pudding.
Hopefully you found this information helpful, and you can use it to kick the sugar habit and start feeling and functioning better!