Sugar, we’re going down swinging. These are more than just angst-ridden song lyrics—sugar really is taking us down, and we are fighting it because we don’t wanna hear it. Oh, how I love sugar. A melt-y ice cream cone on a steamy summer night, a powdery funnel cake at a carnival, a hot, flaky donut on a windy winter morning…these are just a few of my favorite things. But, in case you weren’t aware, sugar can be as addictive as alcohol or any other drug, like cocaine and nicotine.
When you consume large amounts of sugars, the reward centers of the brain are affected. A large amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers (aka makes us feel good), is released. Millions of people are suffering from sugar addiction without even realizing it, and not without consequences. Addiction symptoms: needing something sugary after a meal, rewarding or comforting yourself with sweet and starchy foods, special trips to the grocery store to satisfy sweet cravings, a secret “sweet stash,” justifying sugar as healthy (“But it’s organic cane sugar!”), the midday sugar slump, and the most telling of all—trying to quit it and failing.
The war on sugar is not a new one. Health gurus and doctors have spoken out on this issue for a while, and much research has been done on the effects of sugar and refined sugars, like high fructose corn syrup, which lurks in tons of processed foods, including many “diet” or “healthy” foods. There are even some people who want to tax sugar in hopes that this would dissuade Americans from eating so much of it. In 1822, Americans consumed 25 grams of sugar every five days. In 2012, Americans consumed 756 grams of sugar every five days—that’s 130 pounds of sugar a year. Eating too much sugar—which comes disguised in our food in a variety of forms—causes a number of health problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. Consumers are so concerned with nutrition facts (“Well this has a lot of fat, I’ll get the one without fat.”) yet don’t even glance at the ingredients, the most important part of the label. A food can have little calories and fat but be packed full of additives and chemicals that are detrimental or useless to our bodies.
The next time you are in a grocery store, try to buy products without one of the 56 names for sugar in them. No, seriously, try it. In a normal grocery store, most products have added sugar, or several types of added sugar with various names, amidst a slew of other chemicals and preservatives.
Whether it’s high fructose syrup or organic agave nectar, it’s sugar, it’s unnecessary, and it can be harmful and addictive. A good rule of thumb is to stick to eating ingredients that you recognize as naturally occurring—names of whole foods, herbs, and spices.
I’m not saying that you can never enjoy something sugary and delicious. There are plenty of very healthy people that indulge in sweets. The key is to indulge moderately and to be aware of the effect that the substance has on you. If you find that you have too many intense cravings for sugar, or cannot control your portions, you may want to try giving up sugar completely, at least for a while. Like alcohol to an alcoholic, the smallest amount of sugar can be a trigger for a binge and to relapse back into the addiction.
Hopefully, now that we are realizing the tricks of the food industry and the negatives that additives like sugar have on our bodies, the wiser our food choices will become. I may not completely abstain from sugar—sometimes you really need Ben and Jerry—but I am much smarter about what I eat, primarily eating vegetables, fruits, proteins, and healthy grains, all which have whole foods in their ingredients. Know what you’re putting in your body…you only get one. Make your food your medicine. It’s time to take back our health, NY!