ARE YOU HOOKED ON SUGAR?
Is your compulsion for sweets your biggest diet downfall? Find out why sugar sabotages your weight loss – and how to fight back
Before you say no, consider what you’ve put in your mouth lately. If it includes anything from breakfast cereal and coffee-shop beverages to ham and tomato sauce, there’s a decent chance you’re riding a sugar rush right now. Don’t feel bad – just about every person in SA is buzzed. Research shows that around 10 percent of our daily kilojoule intake – 671kJ on average – comes from sugar. But it’s possible to free yourself from the diet-destroying confines of the sweet stuff. This book, brought to you by the experts at Women’s Health, is here to show you how.
Feel the rush…
Sweet treats are bad news because they typically deliver a load of kilojoules while offering little or no nutrition in exchange. And, more worryingly, as our consumption of the white stuff rises, so do the numbers on our scales.
What’s really scary about sugar, though, isn’t just its ability to make you put on more weight than you should. It’s the way it behaves. Firstly, eating sugar often ends up stoking your appetite rather than satisfying it. And, secondly, it can become addictive – no surprise to those of us who have a daily 3pm chocolate craving that would tempt us to hurl an office chair at the vending machine if we ever ran out of change.
But there’s no need for you to despair. There’s light at the end of this icing-coated tunnel. With a little determination and some simple diet tweaks, you can train yourself to stop craving sugar. And when you do, you’ll experience something truly sweet: successful, long-term weight loss.
Take your lumps
Even when you’re fully aware that your favourite peanut butter is spiked with sugar, buying the unsweetened kind can feel like a major sacrifice. And that’s just peanut butter – think of the Danish pastry on the way to work; your colleague’s homemade biscuits; the caramel-flavoured cocktail in the sugar-rimmed glass at happy hour. There’s a reason you keep coming back for more: you’ve got a habit.
In a study in Physiology and Behaviour, researchers found that eating sugar triggers the release of opioids, neurotransmitters that activate the brain’s pleasure receptors. Addictive drugs, including morphine, target the same opioid receptors. “Sugar stimulates receptors to activate the same pathways that are stimulated directly by drugs such as heroin or morphine,” the study reported.
So if you regularly swap your breakfast for a sweet coffee drink, you could be setting yourself up for a sugar addiction that will influence the rest of your day’s eating plans.
How hooked you get on sugar may depend largely on what kind you eat. Fructose, the natural sugar found in fruit and certain vegetables, doesn’t make you immediately feel as if you need another sugar hit, mainly because the fibre and other nutrients in those
foods slow down the digestive process and help keep your blood-sugar level stable. That’s one reason nutritionists always advise that you snack on fibrerich fruit and not sweets.
But the main issue is that ever since the creation of that particular sugar, increasingly higher amounts of all sugars have found their ways into our diets – often in the least likely places. All that sugar can adversely affect the way we metabolise various foods.
And if getting too many kilojoules is what worries you, reaching for a diet fizzy drink isn’t the solution: artificial sweeteners may be almost as bad for you as plain ol’ sugar. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that rats ate more after consuming an artificially sweetened drink than they did after sipping sugar water.
Researchers speculate that kilojoule-free artificial sweeteners act like stomach teasers: as you swallow diet drinks, your body anticipates the arrival of kilojoules. When they don’t show up, your body sends you looking elsewhere for them.
A study by US researchers found that people who drank a can of a diet drink every day had a 37 percent greater incidence of obesity. And because artificial sweeteners are often many times sweeter than sugar, stirring a teaspoonful into your daily cup of java may mean that when you do use real sugar, it just doesn’t taste sweet enough for you, sending you grabbing for extra sugar packets.
Cut the sugar, shrink your belly
Here comes the hard-to-swallow truth: the only way to curb a sugar habit is to cut back drastically. It will be rough in the beginning, but your body will crave sugar less as it regains its insulin sensitivity. In order to extract your sweet tooth, you first need to know how much sugar you’re actually eating.
There are plenty of hidden sources of sugar and a wide range of sweeteners – learn their names and you’ll dodge their attempts to sneak into your diet. Read labels on the foods that you’re eating for a week and keep an eye on how much sugar, on average, you’re taking in – the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a limit of 10 percent of your daily kilojoule intake, which is about 50g, or 10 teaspoons, but state that a further reduction to six teaspoons would be best.
You’ll also realise that many products that are touted as healthy are still high in sugar. Twenty-eight grams of dried pineapple has about 21g of sugar, compared with 2.6g for the same amount of fresh pineapple. So watch your portions.
The first few days of your plan will involve this kind of monitoring and analysis of exactly what’s going into your shopping basket and your mouth. We believe that it’s the best way of fending off the sugars that sneak into your diet – and securing room for the sugars that you’ll choose to treat yourself with once the plan is completed.