Last weekend I went to Pop Physique’s nutrition talk with Miriam Jacobson, a registered dietician. The talk was mainly about sugar and why we eat so much of it–here’s what I learned:
Our sugar addiction is mostly related to our emotional health–it’s a behavioral response.
What is sugar?
Bread. Quinoa. Squash. Sweet potatoes. Legumes. Edamame. Black beans–all in addition to those small packets of sugar found at every coffeeshop, fruit, and of course–candy and donuts.
Eating legumes is better than eating a donut because it takes the body longer to break down and doesn’t cause as much of a spike in blood sugar (which can lead to weight gain). After eating a donut you have a blood sugar spike and then a dip. This is when we crave more sugar–which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Our bodies need sugar but when there’s this dip in blood sugar, we go for the crappy/unhealthy sugar options.
A diet that’s high in refined carbohydrates causes your body to crave more sugar. When you choose to eat more simple carbs, it actually takes nutrients to process the carbs. When you eat a piece of white bread, your body needs to use chromium to metabolize that white bread. And when you have a chromium deficiency you crave more sugar. It’s a vicious cycle.
Protein causes us to be satiated. Not having enough protein with every meal leads to sugar cravings. Eating it in the morning is essential because it helps prevent that 3pm sugar crash (have 12-15 grams for breakfast e.g. 2 eggs or a protein shake). It helps stabilize that blood sugar response. Protein in combination with carbs such as legumes and sweet potatoes makes us feel more energized and mentally acute.
Sugar alcohols make our bodies crave more sugar because they create a false response. Our bodies/brain expect a sugar high that it doesn’t get–so it secretes hormones that causes us to crave more sugar. These fake sugars are often 600x sweeter than actual sugar so they desensitizes our taste buds and train our bodies to crave more sweet things.
When it comes to stevia, look at how you’re using it. If you feel like you need it, then cut back.
Candida is a yeast and a fungus that grows inside all of us (it decomposes our bodies when we die). It’s opportunistic–when we have a bad diet, when we’re stressed out or on antibiotics–it tends to over grow. Since it feeds off of sugar, it causes us to crave more. It also feeds off of alcohol and stress. An overgrowth can create a lot of havoc in our bodies–bloating, digestive pain, reflux, brain fog, joint pain, yeast infections, etc.
It’s a conditioned response.
We train our bodies to crave it. For example, “Every day after lunch, I’m going to have some chocolate.” The anticipation of enjoying the sugar is more rewarding and satisfying than the fleeting moment of the dopamine hit. It hits and then goes away.
Sugar is rewarding and has a big effect on our brain health–it is classified as a drug. In studies with mice, they will choose sugar over cocaine–that’s how addictive it is. Sugar secretes endorphins and dopamine (FYI–working out also secretes endorphins) which makes us feel really good. When we’re sad it’s an easy pick me up.
The hit needs to become bigger over time–it’s like a drug. The receptors in our brain start to desensitize so you need to eat more sugar to get the same pleasurable response that you had, for example, the day before.
How are you using it?
You have control over your diet. “Is this what I want to be eating right now? Or is my body addicted to it?” Build awareness. Look at your food with the question: “Is this nutrients or anti-nutrients?” “Am I really hungry or just bored at my job? Stressed?” Is it habit or is something more emotional going on? You have to step back and ask yourself these questions and then choose a better option like meditation, taking a walk, listening to music, etc. Separate from the world a little and process that stress.
What do we do?
A diet that’s high in starch causes our body to crave more sugar because of the blood sugar response. Think about a plate as your hands put together and one palm should be a piece of protein. For example, pasture raised eggs. It’s important to look at where your food comes from. If your food was fed corn and grains, it’ll lead to inflammation (this inflammation will manifest as a digestive imbalance, joint pain, foggy brain or it might even be silent). Wild salmon is another great addition to reduce cravings. Chia seeds are another option that are high in Omega-3’s and protein. Other options: pasture raised chickens, grass-fed beef.
Anti-inflammatory fats are important. One serving would be a tablespoon of oil, 1/4 of an avocado, some raw almonds, raw cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia or flax. Fried foods and roasted nuts are off-limits. When they heat nuts the fats get damaged and that leads to inflammation in the body.
Vegetables is where people usually fall short. A whole hand (on your metaphorical hand plate) should be non-starchy vegetables (2 cups). Vegetables have fiber which help that blood sugar response. Cruciferous vegetables are the best option–broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, etc. They help boost the liver’s detoxification efforts which helps the liver process hormones (estrogen, testosterone, insulin). Green juices are a good addition to your diet but don’t rely on them for your vegetable intake.
The best carbohydrates are the complex ones: sweet potatoes, quinoa, lentils, hummus–not toast.
It’s important to not overdo it with fruit. You shouldn’t exceed 2-3 servings per day. Bananas, mangoes, dates and dried fruit have way more sugar than apples, peaches and berries. Acai bowls are a sugar bomb.
If you’re going to drink, stay away from grain based alcohols (like whiskey). So tequila and red wine would be good options.
90% of serotonin is created in the gut. It’s important to eliminate yeast and add in healthy bacteria like probiotics. It helps the gut heal and elevates our mood. An imbalance of bacteria can lead to depression.
Rewire your brain
We aren’t born with habits, we make habits. We can rewire our brains. Connect to you “why?” If you have weight goals, ask yourself why–is it to feel energized? About keeping a promise to yourself? Understand your purpose and what drives you. When things get hard, it’s easy to cheat. It’s important to connect to your higher purpose–it makes the decision much easier. Create an intention when you decide what to eat and how you’re going to eat. Set a place setting at a table–don’t eat while watching TV (this leads to overeating).
Creating new networks in our brain takes work. We often make associations in our brain–e.g. “every time I sit down to watch a TV show, I eat popcorn.” You start to associate watching a TV show with eating popcorn. Ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” It could be because of habit, stress, or even just a way of unwinding. “What’s a different and healthier decision?” It could be a protein shake or tea with almond milk. Changing the habit makes it an easier switch than just going cold turkey. The more you repeat these new habits, the easier it gets. You begin to adopt them into your every day life. It only takes 14 days without sugar to retrain our taste buds.