Sugar Addiction: How Much Is Too Much?

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Sugar Addiction: How Much Is Too Much?

We used to think that fat and calories were the enemy, the culprit that caused Americans to pack on the pounds. But modern nutritional science has a different take. In fact, it’s the white stuff, sugar, that causes us to gain weight while making it seemingly impossible to keep any weight off once we’ve lost it. What’s more, according to Elizabeth Pavka, PhD, a registered dietitian and holistic nutritionist in Asheville, N.C., sugar addiction is a real problem, more so than alcohol in some cases.

“Sugar is an empty calorie food,” says Dr. Pavka. “It provides nothing that will nourish your body in any way. At the same time, it raises insulin levels and the body stores the calories as fat.”

That’s why Dr. Pavka recommends as little sugar as possible. It should be a treat on occasion, not a daily indulgence. But how do you eliminate the crack cocaine of nutritional science? According to Dr. Pavka, you do it gradually.

“Try to stick to foods without labels,” she says. That means choosing whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, eggs and lean meats instead of processed foods. Gradually reduce the amount you use in cooking to adjust your family’s tastebuds. If you’re going to eat foods with labels, look at the grams of sugar and the serving size because most of us eat far more than the serving size.

One teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams. Health professionals tend to recommend about 6 teaspoons (24 grams) for women or 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for men. But because it’s so addictive and has no purpose in your diet, Dr. Pavka recommends gradually eliminating it.

Beating the sugar addiction means stabilizing your blood sugar levels, which can be done by eating more often and including protein in every small meal. Protein helps to prevent the ups and downs. Water is also important. Most of us think that our thirst is actually hunger. And in a world of excessive coffee and tea, we need more than eight glasses of water a day to stay hydrated. If you feel hunger coming on, drink two glasses of water first before eating and see how you feel.

Supplements like glutamine taken between meals can help as well as a high quality multivitamin and greens powder to avoid deficiencies that can cause you to crave sugar. And just like you’ve been told before, eat a substantial breakfast and lunch (with protein) and a smaller dinner. You want to eat a small enough dinner that you wake up really hungry in the morning, just in time for a good breakfast.

When you do use sweeteners, stick to sources that are minimally processed and organic like honey and agave. Brown rice syrup is another whole source, but there have been some questions about arsenic contamination in rice (organic or not) in recent years.

The white stuff is no good for so many reasons. It causes Americans to consume too many calories and at the same time, they end up malnourished. Sugar is related to so many illnesses it’s hard to count, from diabetes to heart disease, cancer, and inflammation. Not to mention that it leaves the brain malnourished, which can cause mental illness. The bottom line is that reducing sugar in your diet is the single most important step you can take for optimal health.

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Image of sugar cubes from Shuttershock

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