Kellyann Petrucci, ND, a leading naturopathic physician and nutritionist, is an inflammation expert. This week, we're sharing Dr. Petrucci's expertise in a series on fighting inflammation for optimal health. To learn more, check out her new mindbodygreen course, Beat Inflammation: A 21-Day Plan for Glowing Skin, Long-Term Weight Loss, and Vibrant Health.
It’s no secret that sugar is bad for you. It rots your teeth, packs on pounds around your belly, and provides zero nutrition.
But you know what? I consider these to be the least of sugar’s crimes. In fact, the biggest reason you should say goodbye to sugar is that it’s one of the most pro-inflammatory foods.
Research now suggests that chronic, body-wide inflammation is associated with many modern diseases, like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In addition, this inflammation can age you rapidly, contributing to everything from painful joints to dry, wrinkled skin.
So what role does a high-sugar diet play in chronic inflammation? It constantly spikes your blood sugar, leading to three very bad consequences:
- When your blood sugar rises, your body cranks out greater numbers of pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines.
- In addition, high blood sugar levels cause your body to produce molecules called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. These are destructive molecules that trigger inflammation.
- When you have high blood sugar, your cells become insulin resistant. This means that they refuse to accept insulin and its cargo of sugar. As a result, this sugar gets stored as visceral fat. Visceral fat, in addition to giving you an unsightly belly, churns out pro-inflammatory chemicals.
In short, consuming excessive sugar can cause massive inflammation throughout your body.
Unfortunately, here’s another thing you need to know about sugar: It’s addictive. If you’re skeptical, think about this: In one study, rats in a maze chose a path that led to Oreos just as frequently as a path that led to cocaine. Plus, the Oreos had an even stronger effect than cocaine on a part of the rats’ brains that's linked to addiction. And other animal studies have shown that sugar produces three symptoms consistent with addiction: cravings, tolerance (so you want more and more), and withdrawal.
So breaking the sugar habit definitely isn’t easy. However, I’ve helped thousands of people do it—and I know that you can, too!
Twenty years of experience as a weight-loss specialist have shown me that the best way to break your sugar habit is to go “cold turkey” with a low-carb, sugar-free diet. (You’ll need to cut out artificial sweeteners as well because they feed your sugar cravings.) Sugar is just like any other addiction, and the best way to conquer it is to stop feeding that addiction. Period.
However, here’s one big caution: The Sugar Demon won’t give up its hold on you easily. For a few days shortly after the start of a low-carb diet, you’re going to feel miserable. That’s because your cells are used to a steady stream of sugar, and when you stop eating sugar (and cut down on other carbs, which turn to sugar in your body), they’ll need to learn to burn fat instead. This is a challenge, and at first, they’ll put up a fuss. During this time, you’re going to feel tired, cranky, wired, and weird.
I call this the “carb flu,” and it’s actually a very good sign because it means you’re taking the first big step toward kicking your sugar habit. Also, it’s very temporary. Eating a little avocado, some unsweetened coconut chips, or some rinsed olives can help ease your symptoms.
Once you’re past the carb flu, you’ll discover that your cravings for sugar grow milder and milder over time. Eventually, you’re likely to find that the idea of eating a doughnut or a piece of cake actually turns you off, and you’ll happily reach for a healthy snack instead. Really!
In the meantime, here are five ways to handle the Sugar Demon when it attacks:
1. Distract yourself.
Most craving last only three minutes, so play a game online, read a magazine article, or take a short walk. By the time you’re done, your craving will probably be gone.
2. Eat a naturally sweet food.
Grab a handful of blueberries, an orange, or an apple. As you eat, really pay attention to the natural sweetness in the food. Over time, you’ll train your taste buds to appreciate it, and you won’t need a massive overload of sugar from cookies or candy.
3. Make sure you’re eating enough fat and protein.
Both fat and protein fill you up and satisfy your hunger, so you’re less likely to crave sweets.
4. Drink bone broth.
It takes time to savor a rich, steamy cup of broth—and by the time you’re done, your craving will be gone.
5. Learn to handle stress in a healthy way.
Stress can make you crave sugar and weaken your ability to fight temptation. So take up tai chi, yoga, or meditation to help calm your mind.
I won’t pretend that cutting sugar out of your life will be completely effortless. It’s going to take some strength on your part, and it might take you a few tries before you succeed. (I like to compare sugar to that bad lover you keep going back to until you finally say, “enough.”)
But when you triumph, you’re going to see incredible rewards in the form of quicker weight loss, beautiful skin, and glowing health. And best of all, instead of letting the Sugar Demon control your life, you’ll be the one in charge!