The Scoop on Quitting Sugar
You might say, processed sugar is the antithesis of a superfood. Research shows the sweet stuff contributes to inflammation, weakened immunity, premature aging, and countless diseases. Still, even if you’re otherwise leading a healthy lifestyle, it can be an incredibly tough habit to shake. Maybe that’s because sugar dependence is often likened to cocaine addiction, according to Dr. Inna Lukyanovsky, PharmD, Functional Medicine Practitioner, Gut and Hormones Expert, Doctor of Pharmacy, bestselling author of “Digestive Reset.” Equally compelling, are those deeply ingrained emotional motivations rooted in early childhood. Think lollipops, birthday cakes, and trick or treating. Each joyful experience links positive associations in the brain with sweet rewards.
Curious about how long it takes to detox? Dr. Lukyanovsky usually sees results after at least 21 days of quitting. Around then, patients begin to change their relationships to sugar. According to Dr. Lukyanovsky, once people begin to taste sugar differently, their cravings diminish. Keep in mind, quitting isn't the same for everyone. For some it can be a lengthy process, “I have seen a client that needed a full 6 months of added sugars plus therapy to get fully off this addiction,” says Dr. Lukyanovsky. Expect withdrawal symptoms/side effects too. According to Dr. Lukyanovsky you may experience headaches, aggressiveness, bad moods, and more. Luckily, the doctor says that eating a healthy balanced diet is one of the best methods of curtailing your sugar cravings.
Your Brain on Sugar
A certain amount of sugar is natural since the brain uses sugar for energy, according to Chinese medicine specialist, Tsao-lin Moy, founder of Integrative Healing Arts,” author of, “Will I Ever Get Pregnant?” There’s a major difference between eating sugar versus allowing your body to convert it. Moy says, sugar goes straight to the bloodstream creating a chemical high, and “releases opioids and dopamine in your brain. So the more you eat it the more you crave it.” What happens to your brain when you overdo? “High intakes of sugar can create metabolic dysfunctions in the brain by disrupting the insulin signaling associated with brain energy metabolism and impair synaptic function (thinking),” says Moy.
The Glycemic Index
What about so-called, healthy sugars, like honey and fructose? According to Moy, how different sugars are processed and digested matters. Moy says the glycemic load measures how much a food raises a person's blood glucose level. According to Moy, foods that have a high glycemic index convert to sugar and spike blood sugar levels. In turn, this affects metabolism and can create insulin resistance. Therefore, low glycemic index foods are healthier choices.
Think again before making that morning smoothie. Turns out, it’s not as healthy as you might think. “One thing people don’t realize when they are making their fruit smoothies, it is when fruit goes in the blender, the shaking releases the sugar from the fiber and so it tastes sweeter and goes to the bloodstream faster,”says Tsao-Lin.
Caffeine & Sugar
Be careful of stimulants. Instead of reaching for coffee, Moy recommends substituting green/black tea, or reduced caffeinated drinks; the crash that follows a caffeine high can cause sugar cravings, which “is why people go for the afternoon pick-me-up for something sweet,” says Moy.
Making the Change
Not sure if you should quit? According to Moy, telltale signs that you're consuming too much sugar can be, yeast infections, impaired cognitive function, saggy skin and headaches.
Once you decide to quit, how can you stay on course? According to Moy “eating more leafy green foods that are nutrient dense, and protein rich foods gives your body what it needs and the glycemic index is lower. Certain foods help stabilize the release of feel good chemicals in the brain and eating those foods will help regulate mood and the urge for a sugar fix. An example is avocados that are high in tryptophan and a precursor for serotonin.”
According to Moy, these natural foods help reduce cravings...
Chinese Yam (dioscorea batatas) - antidiabetic effects, made into tea, often used in Chinese herbal medicine.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) - anti inflammatory and antioxidant, research shows cinnamon has a positive effect on lowering blood glucose levels and is anti-diabetic. Add to anything from tea, yogurt, cereal, to main dishes.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) - helps with digestion by warming the stomach and facilitating absorption. Antibacterial, anti inflammatory, studies show ginger positively affects blood sugar and possibly has anti-diabetic properties. Use in tea, cooking, and more.
Leaving sugar behind involves awareness. According to Dr. Lukyanovsky, it’s important to differentiate between hunger, and cravings that stem from stress or anxiety; so when you experience a desire for something sweet, identify your feelings and respond appropriately to them. Create new “alternative methods of coping with stress: take a walk, call a friend, read a book, play with your pet, watch a movie. Overcoming your sugar addiction involves giving yourself what you really need instead of using sugar as a substitute,” says Dr. Lukyanovsky.