Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Biology of Sugar Addiction

Knowing what's going on in my body has been an enormous tool for helping me choose what I want to eat. When you don't know... well, then it's a big and pretty overwhelming guessing game. It's hard to know what signals and cues to look for from your body.

My guess is that you've experienced a sugar high before. And so you've probably experienced a sugar crash too. It's might feel fun at first, but there's some serious and not-so-funny chemistry going on inside you...

Here's an over-simplified, but effective snapshot of what happens when we eat sugars or simple carbs:
  • Digestive processes break carbs down into basic sugars, including glucose, which goes into our blood for transportation and use around the body. Sugars require very little breakdown and enter the bloodstream very rapidly.
  • Your pancreas releases insulin to escort blood sugar (glucose) and other nutrients into your muscle cells, where they are used for fuel, repair and revitalization.
You've maybe heard of insulin before. Insulin acts as a “nutrient taxi” hormone.

Processed foods (like white flour and sugar) deliver a massive amount of simple carbs into the digestive system all at once, which means a . This triggers a drastic release of insulin all at once to deal with the consequent spike in blood sugar, setting a metabolic nightmare in motion.

Here's the nightmare. A large influx of insulin in the blood stream signals your body to go into fat storing mode - it has plenty of sugar available for fuel! Having frequent blood sugar (and consequently insulin) spikes leads to stubborn weight gain and type-2 diabetes, where your body becomes resistant to insulin (it isn't as effective) and you begin to run out (because we only have so much). I hope there are alarms going off when you read this: 1 in 3 children born today are expected to develop type-2 diabetes in their lifetime.

Here's why sugar is addicting: Spiking your blood sugar on a regular basis knocks your metabolism upside the head. Your blood sugar and insulin levels spike (sugar high) and then as the insulin rushes to do its job, your blood sugar drops dramatically (crash). Since your body has also been signaled to use up the sugar and store away all the fat that comes in (which it would normally use for energy purposes as well), but now your blood sugar has crashed, your body screams for more sugar - the quick fix - to meet its energy needs. And so a craving and binge cycle begins.

More truth to swallow, loves - though knowledge is power, and a great motivator. Excess insulin also disrupts other hormonal system that regulate our muscle growth, sex drive, appetite, mood, energy and fertility. I know, it's hard to hear. It certainly didn't make me happy. But not many people are talking about sugar in this way, and it has dramatic drug-like effects on our body and brain.

In fact, this stuff makes me angry when I think about the way sugar is added to processed foods just so that they'll "taste better" and because of "consumer demand". The truth is, they hook us when we don't even know we're getting it. Number one reason to read labels.
bread, baby
 Read the label for everything that passes your lips. Here are some of the most commonly used names of sugar to look out for on:
  • Corn syrup
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Dextrose, or Glucose
  • Honey (whole other story, often cut with corn syrup without labeling - buy raw/local/organic)
  • Invert sugar (it's not opposite sugar, unfortunately)
  • Lactose (milk sugar)
  • Levulose, or Fructose
  • Sucrose
  • Sorbitol, Mannitol, Malitol, Xylitol (processed low-calorie sugar alcohols)

What to do?
Hang tight, I've got glorious news coming your way. Until then, here's your first inspired action step: Go through your kitchen, fridge and pantry and read your labels - especially any baked goods and salad dressings. In addition to sugar, look for any chemical names you can't identify as a food. Throw it out, those are preservatives and "conditioners." Mmm, maybe taste ok, but they're toxic to your body. Clean our your kitchen and get ready!

What to eat?
If you want a *delicious* head start, join me at Whole Foods in Oakland this Friday for my Satisfied Sweet Tooth class and tasting! It's filling up so RSVP to Jesse to reserve your spot.

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