Here’s how you can wean yourself off it. New research suggests excess sugar could be deadlier than fat and more addictive than heroin. It makes us fat, rots our teeth and has been linked to heart disease and cancer, yet sugar is found in just about everything we eat — and in rapidly rising amounts. Indeed, for many of us, sugar has become our drug of choice, helping us through the afternoon energy crash in the form of a handful of biscuits, chocolate or cereal bars, and going without it makes us tired, grumpy and downright miserable. “People have become sugar junkies, munching their way through a shocking 70 pounds per person every year,” says nutritionist Linda Foster. “Although fewer of us sweeten our tea or coffee, we’re consuming more than ever due to the increase in ‘stealth sugar’, which is added to most processed foods, even savory staples such as soups, sauces, and bread.” But while the risks of eating too much fat have been well documented, sugar’s potential side effects have slipped below the radar. Now experts fear that in our obsession to cut out fat, we’ve become addicted to sugar. They say most of us are simply unaware of the sheer amount of sugar in our daily diet — a shocking 21 teaspoons per day according to some reports when the recommended healthy limit is 10. But can all this so-called ‘sugary goodness’ really be that bad for us?
Why sugar is toxic
Although we need a certain amount of sugar in our diets to fuel our body and brain, large amounts have been linked with raised levels of insulin, which increases the risk of diabetes. The body also turns surplus sugar into fat and stores it around the vital organs, placing us at risk of liver and heart disease. There are also fears that high-sugar diets and the spikes of insulin they trigger may fuel the growth of cancerous tumors, while other research has found that sugar may coat semen and damage male fertility. To top things off, studies have suggested that sugar could be as addictive as drugs and alcohol.
Just can’t get enough?
The official line has always been that while sugar is high in calories it’s not addictive, but research suggests the opposite may be true. Scientists at Princeton University found that chemicals released when we eat sugar actually travel along the same brain pathways that heroin does. And when we’re stressed or sad, the foods that can produce this feeling trigger powerful cravings, causing us to eat up to six times more than our normal intake. “Sugar stimulates the release of endorphins, which make you feel good,” says nutritionist Patrick Holford. “Too much on a regular basis means you become deaf to your own natural endorphins, and ‘ n e e d ‘ sugar to feel good.” In other words, you become hooked and suffer withdrawal effects if you try to quit.
How to cut down
When first cutting down on sugar, you’ll probably experience headaches and feel grumpy and lethargic for a few days. But after a week, you’ll start to feel better and be amazed at how quickly your addiction fades.
Cut down gradually
“Set yourself reasonable targets based on halving your sugar intake each week until you have none,” suggests Patrick. “If you normally have two sugars in your tea, have one in the first week and half a teaspoon in the second week.” After six weeks you’ll find food you never realized tasted sweet actually does because your palate has returned to its natural state and is more sensitive to sweetness.
Eat little and often
This will keep your blood sugar levels steady so you won’t be hit by a sugar slump in the mid-morning or afternoon.
Keep a food diary
Carefully checking the ingredients, note down exactly what sugary foods you eat, what time you crave them and any mood changes over the day. This will help you understand what triggers your cravings and plan for how to beat them. Is it tiredness, stress or hormones? Could a phone call to a friend, a hot bath or listening to music help instead?
The mineral chromium can help stabilize blood sugar leve
ls to prevent cravings. Boost your levels naturally by eating plenty of broccoli, cheese, dried beans, and chicken.
The more tired you are, the more your body craves sugar to give you an energy boost. Aim to get seven to eight hours of shut-eye per night and avoid burning the midnight oil at both ends. Don’t use coffee as a pick-me-up if you’ve had a late night as caffeine can make sugar cravings worse. Go for decaf drinks or fruit tea instead.
Are you hooked?
Are you a slave to cakes and colas? Do you rely on regular sugar rushes to get through the day? Take this quiz to find out if you’re addicted…
Do you eat high sugar foods such as sugary sweets, white bread or pasta every day?
Do you feel tired and irritable in the morning and again mid-afternoon, but find it’s immediately relieved when you eat something sweet?
Do you ever feel out of control when eating sweet foods and find that once you start eating it’s hard to stop?
Do you end up with sweets and biscuits in your shopping trolley — even though you promised yourself that you wouldn’t buy any?
Does eating something sweet lift your mood when you’re feeling down?
Have you ever tried and failed to limit the number of sugary foods in your diet?