Understanding the use of sugar and its effects on health and weight is important for all of us who want to remain trim and vital. Of course, the wise use of sugar is crucial for everyone, children especially. As mothers and support guides for our youth, keeping sugary foods in check is a valuable lesson to learn. Paying attention to the foods that constitute “real food” and “treats” is an important guide for kids to learn as early as possible. Real foods are fresher and most natural, while treats are more typically processed and sugary, such as baked goods, sodas, candy, chips and more.
Therefore, given this is one of the key principles for healthy eating, here are my 10 tips for sugar use. Remember, there are many foods that have natural sweetness. Just think of the juice of a peach, apple or strawberry running down your chin, or the fresh sweetness of corn on the corn, peas and carrots, and most fresh fruits and veggies. Plus, grains like rice have a wonderful sweetness. These natural foods are primarily where we should get most of our dietary sugars. Watch out though, even too much of a good thing can be excess!
Halloween time begins the “sugar season.” There are treats everywhere, so stay centered and follow the guidelines that are best for you and your health. Even so, we tend to use birthdays and any holidays to increase the offerings and consumption of sugar.
1. Sugar is found in so many foods that are now available in the modern grocery stores and even natural food stores. It goes into food primarily as refined cane sugar (including brown sugars) and high-fructose corn syrup (the new leader of sugar consumption). More natural sugars include honey, maple syrup, malt sugar, date sugar, molasses and others. Foods that are high in sugars should be used only as occasional ‘treats’ in the diet, not as a main component of our food consumption. The best natural sugar may be the herb, stevia, also called sweetleaf. Xylitol is an alcohol sugar, tolerated by most people and a good substitute for refined sugar. There are also many naturally sweet desserts that include almonds, apples, dates and other fruits.
2. Traditional Chinese Medicine views the desire for sugar, or the sweet flavor, as a craving for the mother (yin) energy, a craving that represents a need for comfort or security. In Western cultures, we have turned sugar into a reward system (a tangible symbol of material nurturing) to the degree that many of us have been conditioned to need some sweet treat to feel complete or satisfied. We continue the pattern with our children, unconsciously showing our affection for them by giving them sugary foods. We ideally do not want to unconsciously reinforce the ‘treat’ pattern.
3. For most of us, sugar is a symbol of love and nurturance. As infants, our first food is lactose, or milk sugar. Over-consumption and daily use of sugar is the first compulsive habit for most everyone with addictions both early and later in life. Simple sugar, or glucose, is what our body, our cells and brain, use as fuel for energy. Some glucose is stored in our liver and muscle tissues as glycogen for future use; excess sugar is stored as fat for use during periods of low-calorie intake or starvation. If we don’t exercise or take periods of lower calorie intake, the fat never disappears.
4. Our problem with sweets comes from the frequency with which we eat them, and the quantity of sugar we consume, about 150 pounds per person per year. The type of sugar we eat is also a contributing factor. Refined sugar or sucrose (a disaccharide made up of two sugars — glucose and fructose) is usually extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets, initially whole foods. However, most all of the nutrients are removed and retained only in the discarded extract called molasses. When the manufacturing process is complete, the result is pure sugar, a refined crystal that contains four calories per gram and essentially no nutrients.
5. Many nutritional authorities feel that the high use of sugar in our diet is a significant underlying cause of disease. Too much sweetener in any form can have a negative effect on our health; this includes not only refined sugar, but also corn syrup, honey and fruit juices, and treats such as sodas, cakes and candies. Because sugary foods satisfy our hunger, they often replace more nutritious foods and weaken our tissue’s health and disease resistance via stressing our immune system.
6. The use of sugar in our culture sometimes resembles a drug and can be treated as such. If you are ‘hooked,’ make a clear plan for withdrawal, while working emotionally to eliminate the habit. Our responses to certain flavors and the feelings we get from them are usually conditioned. Self-reflection can be valuable when trying to understand these compulsions. To stop bad habits and see things clearly, we may need to talk these feelings through, transitioning from compulsion to a safe and balanced lifestyle. Talk to your hands and guide them to reach for healthier foods and snacks.
7. The Glycemic Index basically rates how quickly foods are turned into sugars and/or absorbed into our blood stream. This is an important concept to know about. In simple terms quick-absorbing sugars are more of a concern with our blood sugar and energy. It may be helpful to consume some protein, such as a few nuts or nut butter, when eating some simple sugar like fruit, or easily assimilated carbohydrates like rice, bread, or potatoes. Remember to read those labels in the stores; there are loads of hidden sugars in items you wouldn’t even think should have added sweetener and concentrated sugars, like in some juice drinks. There are now many glycemic index resources online and as apps for your phone so check them out to learn more.
8. If you do crave sugar, there are several supplements that can help you utilize the sugar better, as well as reduce your desire for those sweets. These include the B vitamins (25-50 mg of most twice daily), vitamin C (500-1,000 mg twice daily), calcium (250-500 mg) and magnesium (150-300 mg). Chromium helps the body utilize the sugars more efficiently; it is usually supplemented in 100-200 mcg twice daily, in the morning and about 3pm. Also, the amino acid, L-glutamine (500-1,000 mg 2 to 3 times daily) helps to feed the brain and reduce sugar (and alcohol) cravings.
9. Drinking plenty of water is crucial to keep the body balanced and lessen cravings and addictions. An alkalinizing diet reduces cravings as well and helps with detoxification. Also, regular exercise does the same. Don’t be afraid to move that body for fitness with active aerobics and weight training. Yoga stretches can also give you inner and outer strength to be your true self. Walking in nature is another way to get in touch with your inner nature and gain your will power.
10. There are usually emotional issues around excess sugar and carbohydrate consumption, and being overweight. Be open to explore these areas as you attempt to heal your habits and create a healthier body and weight. A support group or a counselor can help in this healing process.
Good luck and make wise choices!
© 2015 by Elson Haas, MD