Do you simply have a sweet tooth? Or are you addicted to sugar, just like a smoker is addicted to nicotine?
Nutrition experts continue to argue about whether sugar addiction really exists, yet there’s no doubt that many of us crave sugar and feel unpleasant symptoms when we try to cut down on it.
Research from Princeton University in the US found that rats which fed on a sugary diet became nervous and anxious when the sugar was removed. They were thrown into a state of anxiety similar to the kind of stress that people feel during withdrawal from drugs, like nicotine and even morphine.
Author and nutritionist Carina Norris said, “Sugar addictions are often a combination of the physical and the psychological. The body becomes used to receiving regular energy rushes, while the brain can become hooked on the instant pleasure that reminds us of getting sweets perhaps as rewards as a child.”
Do you have a sugar addiction? Read the questions below, and answer yes or no honestly:
- When you start a healthy eating regime, are sugary treats the first hurdle you hit?
- Do you often feel lethargic or depressed and feel the need for a sweet-tasting pick-me-up?
- Do you eat sugary foods such as cakes, chocolate and sweets every day?
- If you feel sad, do you reach for something sweet?
- Do you have problems going past the sweet/pudding/cake aisle without putting anything in your trolley?
- Do you often buy ice cream or chocolate, plus a supersize fizzy drink when at the cinema?
If you answered yes to most or all of these, you could have a sugar problem.
What’s the difference?
There are two types of sugar, simple sugars (aka simple carbohydrates) and complex sugars (aka starchy carbohydrates).
- Simple carbohydrates enter the bloodstream quickly, triggering a sugar high and a burst of energy. But this is quickly followed by a low that could include feelings of hunger, fatigue, lethargy and sometimes dizziness. Plus, it seems to be difficult for our bodies to tell when we have had enough sugar, so it’s easy to just keep eating it.Simple sugars are often found in foods, such as cakes, biscuits, chocolate, and also in fizzy drinks.
- Complex/starchy carbohydrates take longer for the body to digest. This means the sugar is released into the system more slowly, keeping your sugar levels at a constant so you stay energised and fuller for longer.Food sources include wholewheat pasta, multigrain bread, oats, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils and brown and basmati rice.
This is really down to whether a food has a high or low glycaemic index. Glycaemic index (GI) relates to how the food affects the blood glucose levels after eating. The higher a food raises the blood sugar levels, the higher its GI. The table below lists some food items in relation to their GI.
|High GI||Low GI|
|Baked potato||Sweet potato|
|White Bread||Mixed grain bread|
|White Rice||Basmati rice|
To try and help explain what foods are high and low GI, UK-based nutritional therapist Lisa Blair (londonnutritionclinic.com) said, “Most high GI foods have been processed and stripped of their natural fibres. However, if you choose more natural whole grains that have not been processed you will make a better carbohydrate choice.”
The highs and lows of sugar consumption
When experiencing a sugar low, you might feel that the easiest option is to pick up a bar of chocolate. This will quickly increase your energy levels, but it is short-lived and you’ll soon be reaching for your next quick fix and once you’re on board this rollercoaster, it’s hard to get off.
“During the ‘crashes’ you could experience anything from energy slumps, fuzzy thinking, poor concentration, low mood, irritability and horrible cravings,” Blair said.
Therefore, you need to get off this rollercoaster and eat to maintain a steadier level of blood sugar so that your moods and productivity are also at a constant. Blair advised, “If you fuel your brain with a slower, more constant release of fuel (glucose) you will be amazed at how much better you feel and more productive you become.”
As we always say here at the Diet Club, nothing is banned from your diet. However, we do always promote the age-old saying ‘everything in moderation’, so opt for a square or two of really good quality chocolate rather than the whole bar.
On top of this we have these tips so you can still enjoy the odd treat without boarding the sugary rollercoaster. When eating simple carbohydrates:
- Enjoy with protein. If you want something sweet, balance it with some protein as this will slow down the release of the sugars in the food. Try sugary mango with some plain yoghurt or dried fruit with some nuts. Chocolate-coated nuts are another good option as is yoghurt with chocolate flakes
- Consume after exercise. If you’ve just endured an intense workout, then this is the time to enjoy a high GI treat. After a fitness session your energy levels are depleted, so in order to bring them back up to their normal level you need a fast-releasing food. A ripe banana, bowl of cereal or a sports bar/drink are all good post-exercise options.
- Don’t eat on an empty stomach. Avoid obvious sources such as biscuits and cakes, but also hidden ones such as dips, sauces, some breakfast cereals and alcohol.
Once you cut down on sugary foods, be prepared to experience the odd headache and you may feel grumpy and low in energy at first. But after a few days, you’ll really start to feel better and your sugar dependence will fade. After six weeks or so, you should find that your palette returns to its natural state and becomes more sensitive to sweetness in foods.
Have your cake and eat it!
Learn how to bake homemade cakes that won’t send your calorie count off track. Plus, discover a healthy substitute for sugar and chocolate! With our healthy baking guide, you can make your cakes and enjoy eating them too, all while losing weight!