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Do you panic if there's nothing sweet in the house? Start with just a bite, then end up polishing off a pint? If your cravings have been controlling your life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it might just be time to declare your independence from sugar!
Sweets raise our blood sugar, which offers a quick energy boost. They also deliver serotonin to the brain, which makes us happy. So it's not surprising that the average American tends to overdo it, consuming over 150 pounds of added sugars each year. But the energy boost and happy feeling from sugar is short-lived, followed by a crash. That's when we need another boost. And so the cycle of dependence begins.
We all know that sugar certainly isn't good for our waistline. But is it just “empty calories?” Let's look at 5 ways the white stuff impacts our overall health:
1. Sugar makes us hungry.
Sugar lurks not just in soda, candy or cakes; it's also in alcoholic beverages, sweetened teas and coffees. Because refined flours quickly convert to sugar, they create a similar reaction. When we eat these things, our blood sugar rises. This signals the pancreas to release insulin, which is needed to deliver glucose from the blood into the cells, and therefore lowers blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels drop, this signals the body that it is hungry, so we tend to reach for that quick fix again. You can read more about this cycle in "How Carbs Can Trigger Food Cravings" from the New York Times.
2. Sugar makes us moody and sluggish.
When the blood sugar gets low, so does our energy and mood; some people might even get shaky and lightheaded. Naturally, we'll want to reach for something that will boost our energy and make us “happy” and energized again, which puts us on a "sugar roller coaster."
3. Excess sugar is stored as fat.
When insulin is released, it signals the body to store excess calories as fat — so sugar promotes the storage of fat in the body. Eating a lot of sugar and carbs over time makes the body resistant to insulin, so more of it has to be released to get the job done. And when there's more insulin, there will be more signals to store the glucose as fat. Increased fat stores (especially around the midsection) is a major contributing factor to developing heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases.
4. Sugar AGEs us.
Sugar creates something called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which damages the collagen and elastin in our skin, thereby sagging it and making it look more wrinkled. Ditch the sweets and the skin can recover some of its youthful glow again.
5. Sugar impacts our immune system.
When we eat something sweet, the pancreas releases insulin to reduce the elevated blood sugar and deliver it to the cells. Insulin inhibits the release of human growth hormone, which depresses the immune system, making us less equipped to fight off infections and viruses. Sugar also raises our risk of many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
This AHA statement summarizes many studies that have examined sugar’s link to various diseases.
Convinced that sugar isn't just empty calories? Are you ready to declare your independence?
5 Tips For Breaking Free From Sugar:
1. Get plenty of healthy fat, protein or fiber each time you eat to help keep blood sugar levels even.
2. Ditch the artificial sweeteners; they stimulate your sweet tooth even more than sugar.
3. Cut back on caffeine. It has a negative effect on serotonin levels, so people will often alternate between caffeine and sugar to keep energy and serotonin high.
4. Get your C’s: cinnamon, chromium and vitamin C all are helpful in breaking free from sugar and leveling out blood sugar.
5. Banish it. Get the sweet out of your purse and your house — you'll be less likely to indulge if it means heading out in your PJs to get ice cream.
Realize that you can effectively “reset” your sweet tooth. Skip the sugary snacks for a week, and your taste buds become more sensitive to sweets, meaning those candies will be too sweet, but the apple is just right. Give yourself a vacation from sweets and declare your independence from sugar!