Fact: we love our sugar and sugary treats. Arb fact: Former US President Ronald Reagan had to have jellybeans on his desk always. Vending machines and even till points almost everywhere feed our cravings for sweets. With South African sales of sugar filled drinks and other sweets soaring and the highest percentage of fat children and adolescents on the planet, we as a nation are addicted to sugar in all its glorious forms.
While sugar is not literally addicting, (scientists long ago proved that people are born with a preference for sweets), this innate desire does not disappear as we grow older. Some people find it impossible to leave the dinner table without dessert; others can’t fathom a day without chocolate. Many women blame hormonal surges for the sweets cravings they get around the same time each month.
Sugar and other sweeteners add calories with few other nutrients and have no doubt helped contribute to our current epidemic of obesity. True, sugar is not alone in promoting obesity, a lack of exercise and excessive calories from poor nutrition habits also contribute.
Sugar has been blamed for everything from diabetes, tooth decay, obesity, and heart disease to disruptive behaviour in the classroom. But sugar by itself will not cause any of these conditions, except for cavities.
A comprehensive review of scientific research, published in the journal Nutrition Research in 1997, showed that sugar is not a direct cause of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or hyperactivity. A more recent government report concurs that sugar is not by itself linked to any of those conditions. However, too many calories, in any form, can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Changes in our behaviour are often attributed to changes in our blood sugar levels. When you consume a meal made up of simple, refined carbohydrates – like a doughnut or a soft drink – the result is a spike in blood sugar. Your body responds to this spike by secreting large amounts of insulin to normalize your blood sugar level. In response to the insulin, your blood sugar level drops quickly, leaving you with a feeling of sluggishness and irritability. When your blood sugar gets too low, hunger reappears, and the roller-coaster ride resumes, that is, if your next meal is also mostly simple carbohydrates. These are the carbohydrates that the latest diet books denounce, not the healthy, fibrous carbohydrates that come from whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
At Tiger Athletic, your personal trainer will help you choose these healthy carbohydrates or give you nutritional advice that adds protein or fat to your meal, so your blood sugar will rise and fall more normally without the negative side effects.
When we say we have a sugar addiction, we may mean anything from a mild desire to intense cravings for sweet foods and drinks. Some people go so far as to equate the effects of sugar to a drug, saying it calms them and helps them deal with stress. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Guide Pyramid recommends we limit added sugars in our diet to 12 teaspoons per day, as far back as 2001, the average American ate and drank the equivalent of 31 teaspoons of sugar daily, however, even with these scary numbers, South African children still managed to overtake American kids as the fattest on the planet! We are failing the next generation!
Sugar finds its way into virtually every kind of processed food, from tomato sauce to soups and, especially, soft drinks. One 330ml can of your favourite soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar. As if that is not bad enough, some data suggest that we consume an average of 155 litres of soft drink per person annually. That’s a lot of sugar – and extra calories!
Sugars have 4 calories per gram, or 15 calories per teaspoon. If you want to shave calories, it’s a good idea to limit added sugar in your diet. Sounds simple enough, but what about those hard-to-ignore cravings? Here’s the trick: Gradually decreasing the amount of sugar you eat, and how often you eat it, will help you reduce your desire for sugars while lowering your caloric intake. Old habits are hard to break but our personal trainer will guide you into making small and gradual changes in your eating style will help you break free from your sugar addiction.
Many people, newly diagnosed with diabetes find that after they start eating fewer sweets, foods like fresh fruit taste sweeter and can satisfy their cravings for sweets. Remember, moderation is the key. If you can control the quantity, you will be able to enjoy sweets on occasion.
Here are some tips to help you break the sugar habit:
- Book an assessment with a personal trainer at Tiger Athletic and get professional help.
- Read the label on all processed foods. Check the amount of sugars and choose products with the least sugar per serving.
- Become familiar with sugar terminology. Recognize that all of these are sweeteners: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, honey, molasses, turbinado, and brown sugar.
- Keep up with your journal, and use the notes section to document your mood, setting, and activity whenever you feel the urge to eat sweets. Review your notes and look for patterns or triggers that you can alter to help control your sugar intake.
- Select one behaviour to change each week. Try satisfying your sweet tooth with a snack-sized chocolate bar instead of a full-sized one. Next week, trade in a soft drink for sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice.
- Satisfy your desire for sweets with the natural sweetness of whole fruits or no-sugar-added juices.
- Buy unsweetened food and beverages and add small amounts of sweeteners if you need them. Enjoy whole-grain cereal with one teaspoon of sugar instead of presweetened cereals, which contain much more sugar per serving.
- Try using less sugar in your coffee or tea. Gradually decrease the amount you use to let your taste buds adapt.
- Don’t substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar; this will do little to alter your desire for sweets. Moderate amounts of artificial sweeteners are not unhealthy, but they won’t help you retrain your taste buds.
- Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder — and it also intensifies cravings. Allow yourself small portions of sweets on occasion. Try to satisfy your cravings with a piece of sugarless gum. If you totally deny yourself, it will be hard to think about anything else. On the other hand, if you know you are allowed one small treat per day, you will savour every bite.
- Quench your thirst with flavoured waters that are calorie-free. Jazz up plain or sparkling water with fresh mint, a slice of lemon, lime, or orange, or a splash of fruit juice.
If you’re a sugar “addict,” kicking the habit will do your body good. Doctors newest nutritional recommendations suggest a balanced diet, low in fat, with a reduced sugar intake, along with regular exercise, as the best way to lose weight and keep it off.
Your Tiger Athletic Weight Loss Program of exercise and good nutritional advice supports these recommendations. It is designed to promote a weight loss of ½ to 1 kilogram per week and to encourage the eating of healthy foods while weaning you from excessive sugar. So, book a trial session, sign up, stick with the plan, follow our tips, and find out just how sweet better health can be!
Tiger Athletic Fitness & Conditioning is a modern, private, appointment only gym in the heart of Sandton. Our personal trainer is a fitness professional who uses a personalised approach to assess, motivate, educate and coach clients regards their health and fitness needs.
Together changes everything. Let’s get you healthy!
SOURCES: Nutrition Research, 1997; vol 17(9). Family Economics and Nutrition Review, Jan. 10, 2002. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, May 1998. Food Review, Winter 2002; vol 25(3). USDA Economic Research Service. USDA Economic Research Service, 1990-1997 Food Consumption Data, April 1999. Clinician Reviews, 2001; vol 13(11). WebMD