how to quit sugar

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Why You Find It Hard To Quit Sugar (and what to do!)

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Written by hayleigh bennett
personal trainer, nutrition advisor
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The ‘S’ word... don’t say it out loud!

There are many ways to sweeten the concept of sugar addiction – we’ve accustomed ourselves to having a giggle at our bestie being a ‘chocaholic’ and our Grandma having a ‘sweet tooth’. Sugar addiction can lead to a number of chronic health problems that may not present themselves until it’s too late. It’s time to ditch the secret stash, the donut shop loyalty cards and create new habits to avoid sacrificing your health.

 

Types of Sugar

Sugar comes in many forms and can be hidden behind a number of different names. Often sourced and extracted from sugar beet or sugar cane plants, you’ll also discover sugar in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars by our digestive system, which provides energy for the body. There is an abundance of names for sugar that I’ll add below, but let’s break it down into four for now -

Glucose is our body’s preferred energy source and primary fuel – almost all foods contain glucose.

Fructose is found in ripe fruits, honey (40%), maple syrup (35%) and agave sugar (90%) – this is usually found together with glucose and is what makes food taste sweet.

Galactose is mainly found in dairy products in the form of lactose.

Sucrose is derived of half glucose and half fructose and can be found in the form of table sugar, brown sugar, caster sugar, raw sugar and low GI sugar.

 

As mentioned above, there are a number of hidden names that the food industry uses for sugar – particularly those promoting ‘healthy’ foods (check out our blog ’20 Health Foods That Aren’t Actually Healthy’). This may seem like a long-winded list, but there are many more hidden out there - acesulfame potassium, alitame, aspartame, cyclamate, monk fruit, neotame, saccharin, stevia, sucralose, thaumatin, agave nectar/syrup, coconut sugar, corn syrup (dark), fructose, glucose, golden syrup, grape syrup, honey, isomalt, lactose, maltose, maltitol, maple syrup, molasses (treacle), polydextrose, rice syrup, sugar and xylitol.

 

How Sugar Affects Us

Sugar is an addictive substance, often compared to drugs such as cocaine and alcohol. It increases dopamine levels and for many it creates a sensation that the only way to feel ‘normal’ is to have access to the substance. If this craving is not satisfied the brain reacts by going into a mild depression. The high that we receive when we consume sugar does not satisfy hunger and spikes our dopamine levels, followed by a sugar-induced cortisol elevation, reducing our immune system by 50% for the first hour – this ‘fructose infusion creates building blocks for chemical addiction’ (Gillespie).

 

The over-consumption of sugar can also incur the following health issues –

·      Chronic inflammation

·      Gut bacteria issues/imbalances (including increased Candida)

·      High blood sugar

·      Tooth decay

·      Implications for obesity

·      Insulin Resistance

 

Fructose can be the culprit for mineral depletion (including collagen and elastic), uric acid elevation, has links to heart disease, stroke, fatty liver disease, cancers, PCOS, infertility, impotence, depression and anxiety.

 

How to Reduce

First and foremost, there is no ‘healthy’ amount of bad sugar, secondly it’s not going to be easy and you’re going to have to make some seemingly hard decisions whilst altering your mindset.

1.     Attitude – nutritious foods don’t have to be boring or expensive

2.     Eliminate habits – drinking liquid calories (soft drinks, frappes, alcoholic beverages), buying confectionary at the supermarket

3.     Create good habits - increasing water intake, eating mainly low-GI carbohydrates

 

As per J. Clear’s Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad One’s, to eliminate and build habits you need to follow 4 rules – cue, craving, response and reward. To eliminate we need to make it invisible (cue), unattractive (craving), difficult (response) and unsatisfying (reward). To create good habits we need to make them obvious (cue), attractive (craving), easy (response) and satisfying (reward).

 

‘The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible’ (Clear).

 

Whether you gradually reduce your sugar intake or quit cold-turkey, it’s up to you to take control and beat the addiction that is sugar. It’s important to be aware of your habits before you can change them.


 

References

D. Gillespie, 2010, Sweet Poison Quit Plan, Penguin Group, Australia

J. Clear, 2018, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, Random House, Great Britain

A. Barclay, P. Sandall, C. Shwide-Slavin, 2014, The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners: Discover the Taste, Use, Nutrition, Science and Lore of Everything from Agave Nectar to Xylitol, The Experiment, United States 

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Swap Sugar For These TODAY

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There’s no secret that refined sugar is bad. It’s bad for the body, it plays havoc with your teeth, and more... In this post, I will tell you in detail why Stevia and Erythritol are far better for your body, and why you need to ditch the highly processed sugars entirely and make the switch to one of these sugar substitutes today.

 

Refined Sugar

This is the worst element of the modern-day diet, causing a plethora of harmful effects that can bolster a number of diseases within the body. Refined sugar is highly calorific and has absolutely no nutritional value. It also feeds bacteria in the mouth with can cause and accelerate tooth decay.

On its journey through the digestive system, sugar is broken down into Fructose and Glucose. Glucose is produced naturally by our body whereas Fructose is not. Additionally, Fructose can only be metabolized in the liver which isn’t a problem if you consume sugar in small doses, such as your daily intake of fruit (which is able to be metabolised due to the fibre content). However, if your liver already has enough Glycogen, which is fairly common, the Fructose is instantly converted into fat, which of course, is bad. If you consume processed sugar regularly, and this can be sugar in food, as well as in hot drinks, on cereals etc., then it can result in you having a fatty liver, and lead to other much more serious issues.

Sugar is also known to be one of the contributing factors to Diabetes and Cancer. There are many studies that prove consuming sugar puts you at a higher risk of developing Cancer. It is also a leading cause of obesity, high-cholesterol, and it can lead to Heart Disease.

The list could quite literally go on, and on; however, I have said enough about sugar. The rest of this post will be focussed entirely on why Stevia and Erythritol are both better for your body.

 

Stevia

You might not know this, but the Stevia plant has actually been used by the people of Paraguay and Brazil for more than 1500 years. It has been used to sweeten the traditional Yerba Mate Tea, as a sweetener in foods, and is used in medicine as well.

The product itself originates from a herbal plant and is around 200 times sweeter than typical sugar which is grown in North and South America.

Almost in direct contrast to sugar, Stevia can actually help to prevent some types of Cancer. It can help to control Diabetes, as well as serving as an effective aid to weight loss, protect the teeth and oral health generally, and help to strengthen your bones. Another intriguing fact about the Stevia Plant is the nutritional value is carries. It has a huge array of antioxidant compounds and many other essential minerals.

Weight Loss - Stevia is exceptionally low in calories.
Diabetes Control - It provides essential regulation of blood sugar levels.
Oral Hygiene - It reduces the formation of bacteria in your mouth.
Skin Health - When the plant is used topically, it can help to treat dermatitis and eczema.
Cancer Prevention - Due to its high antioxidant contents, it aids Cancer prevention.
Bone Health – It can help to reduce the likelihood of Osteoporosis

 

Erythritol

This is another sweetener with a very low calorific value and is classified as a sugar substitute that is derived naturally, being made mostly from plant sugars. Specifically, it has 70% of the sweetness of sugar and contains only 6% of the calories. It will not cause blood sugar levels to spike and it has no effect on Insulin in the body.

Unlike sugar, it will not stimulate the production of bacteria in the mouth. There have been many studies carried out that demonstrate a reduction in bacteria and associated plaque, this proving that using Erythritol can help to improve oral health.

Oral Hygiene - It prevents the decay of teeth.
Anti-Aging Properties - Due to the antioxidant contents, it can help to prevent damage from free radicals that can be absorbed into the body.
Obesity - It can aid weight loss and help with treating Obesity and has a zero-glycemic index.
Digestive Issues - It is easily absorbed into the body and can reduce problems which can occur in the gut.
 


As you can see from the list of benefits above, both Stevia and Erythritol are two superb alternatives for sugar. Not only does refined sugar cause harm to your body, it can in fact seriously put your health at risk through prolonged and sustained use, even if only in low doses.

In this post, we have explained just how bad sugar for your body can be. One other important point to mention is that not all sweeteners and sugars substitutes are created equal. The FDA have approved five artificial sugar substitutes as safe for consumption. These are acesulfame, saccharin, neotame, aspartame, and sucralose. Using one of these non-natural sweeteners could in fact be doing more harm than good. This is because of the how the brain and the body respond to these sweeteners. In a study outlined by the Harvard Review, there has also been a suggestion that these artificial sweeteners could also be highly addictive. So, I would urge you to seriously consider a natural alternative to sugar, such as the two I have outlined here for you today.

Both the natural sugar substitutes I have spoken about in this post today will work intrinsically to help repair the damage which has been caused to your body from the consumption of sugar. They are also both heat stable, meaning they can easily and safely be used for baking.

So, the next time you consider using sugar in your everyday foods to sweeten the taste, consider Stevia or Erythritol as two of the best sugar alternatives.

Your teeth, and your body will thank you.             

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Have You Weakened Your Immune System?

Feeling run down? Are you frequently getting colds or flus? We all know taking Vitamin C can help give you a boost, but could you accidentally be suppressing your immune system without knowing it?

Our immune system is our shield against the bacteria and diseases from the outside world. There are two components to the immune system: innate immunity (the things you are born ‘equipped’ with, such as skin, body temperature, low pH levels and specialised cells, e.g. white blood cells), and acquired immunity which develops as your body encounters invading pathogens (B- and T- lymphocytes which excrete chemicals and control your immune response). If you find that you are regularly getting sick or run down you may be stopping your immune system from functioning to its full potential, here are some of the common causes:

Stress

Chronic stress, which is caused by stressful situations extended over a long period of time can cause cortisol levels to rise and inhibit the production of good prostaglandins, these are cellular messengers that support immune function and have anti-inflammatory properties. Our bodies trigger chemical reactions to various stimuli that we consider a ‘threat’, even it if it just something as simple as an exam. These chemical reactions still may have physical consequences, stressing our immune system (Miller, 2004). It is important to take time to relax and spend time de-stressing. Go for a walk, meditate, do something fun to help reduce those cortisol levels!

Lack of Sleep

Sleep loss may not only cause your immune system to operate below its optimum functionality, but can also influence how long your sickness will hang around for. A good amount (8-9 hours) of sleep regularly is essential for optimum physical and mental health and studies have shown that interactions between brain chemical systems and immune-signalling molecules are altered during sleep. However, if we are sleep deprived our T-cells decrease (T-Cells are responsible for ‘killing’ infected cells) and the amount of inflammatory cytokines in our bodies increase (a pro-inflammatory which promotes inflammation), this factor alone increases the risk of developing a cold or flu (Imeri & Opp, 2009).

Lack of Exercise

There is a considerable amount of research showing that a moderate amount of exercise on a regular basis enhances the function of the immune system, and a lack of exercise decreases the effectiveness of the immune system. People who are not exercising regularly are not able to take advantage of the increased production of macrophages (cells that attack bacteria which trigger upper respiratory diseases) that people who exercise regularly experience. The physiological changes in the immune system that happen when a person exercises promote more rapid circulation through the body, this effect is able to increase the rate at which viruses and bacteria can be destroyed. The increased circulation and macrophage production only lasts for a few hours after each session of exercise. More than 60% of people who exercise report fewer sicknesses than those who are sedentary (Nieman, 2000). It is important not overdo it however, positive changes to the immune system take place with moderate exercise, but too much exercise with too little rest can also decrease immunity.

Excess Use of Medications

Now, we are not saying “don’t take medication”, this is just a “watch out you’re not taking too much medication, but probably talk to your doctor about this we are just presenting the facts” haha. Excessive uses of antibiotics, cold and fever medications, steroid drugs and SSRIs have been found to weaken the immune system. All steroid drugs, from corticosteroids to anabolic steroids suppress the immune response; this is why it’s recommended you take a probiotic or immune support when you are on antibiotics. Even asthma inhalers contain synthetic steroids. Although the synthetic steroid is able to reduce inflammation in the airways it can still reduce the ability of the lungs to fight bacterial and viral infections (Journal of the American Medical Association, 2004). Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor antidepressant drugs (SSRIs) such as Zoloft and Prozac help to increase serotonin levels, but according to researchers at Georgetown University Medical Centre, this boost can push the immune system into overdrive and the body can begin attacking itself, leading to an autoimmune disease. Even long-term use of pain killing opioids such as codeine and morphine can seriously alter the effectiveness of the immune system against viral and bacterial invaders.

Dehydration

Dehydration is much more than just “not drinking enough water”, the side effects that result from being dehydrated can eventually be life threatening, and thus it is vital to maintain a good level of hydration. Water makes up a large percentage of blood, and a lack of hydration can cause the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to slow, and decrease immunity in the body (Vuong, 2004). Dehydration can allow cellular waste products to stay in the body for longer and can also have a negative effect on the brain. The brain continuously consumes a large amount of glucose, and this is delivered via the blood supply, so a lack of water means a lack of blood and glucose being delivered to the brain (Germain, 2006).

Fake Fragrances

Although most products that contain fake fragrances contain chemicals in small amounts, if you are regularly getting sick and none of the other factors seem to suit, perhaps take a look at these and limit your exposure to see if it makes a difference. Fake fragrances in products such as perfumes, colognes, deodorants, detergents and other beauty/cleaning products can be lung irritants and even cause asthma in children. Wearing fake fragranced clothing, sleeping in bed sheets washed in scented fabric softeners and having air fresheners around can definitely impact your lungs. For example, camphor which is found in perfume, shaving cream, nail polish and air fresheners is readily absorbed into body tissues, has been shown to be a local irritant and an irritant to the central nervous system (Kendall, 1997). A study titled Twenty Most Common Chemicals in Thirty-One Fragrance Products completed in 1991 also shows that a commonly used chemical a-terpineol, found in perfume, detergent, fabric softener, air freshener, hairspray and deodorants is highly irritating to mucous membranes, can cause headaches and repeated or prolonged skin contact should be avoided.

Smoking

I don't think we even need to explain this one!

Excess Refined Sugar

When your body is fighting an infection your white blood cells “swallow” the viruses and bacteria. In order to be able to do this your white blood cells need to have a very high amount of Vitamin C. The problem with consuming too much refined sugar, or even letting your blood sugar level exceed 120, is that your white blood cells confuse glucose (sugar in the blood stream) with vitamin C as they are chemically very similar. When your white blood cells are taking in glucose instead of vitamin c, their vitamin c level is not high enough to effectively combat bacteria and viruses. In fact, their ability to destroy the invading pathogens is reduced by up to 75% (Afkani-Ardekani, Shojaoddiny-Ardekani, 2007). Once your blood sugar level is back below 120 it can take a further 4-6 hours for your white blood cells to regain the amount of vitamin c they need to be completely effective again. Therefore, if you are consistently eating products with lots of refined sugar, and allowing your blood sugar levels to spike frequently, you’re actually reducing your body’s ability to fight off infection and bacteria.

Bad Diet

Following on from refined sugar, a bad diet in general can suppress the body’s immune response. People who are eating very low calorie diets (~1200kcal per day, often found in many popular meal plans nowadays) are at greater risk of infection and have decreased immune function compared to those eating an appropriate amount of calories per day (Wikstrand, Torgerson & Brostrom, 2010). Conversely, excessive calorie intake (overeating) can also have a negative effect on the immune system. Obesity is linked to an increased rate of disease (Karlsson, Sjostrom & Sullivan, 1998). Diets that are high in saturated fats appear to suppress the response of the immune system, and therefore increase the rate of infections. It is important to have a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, limit the intake of saturated fats (not all fats, your body does need ‘good’ fats for brain function, check our Get Lean guide to learn more), and restrict the amount of refined sugar you include in your diet.

Zinc Deficiency

Studies conducted by Oregon State University are showing that Zinc appears to effect immune response in the human body. Particularly when it comes to inflammation.

Reference List:

2001, ‘Does exercise alter immune function and respiratory infections?’ Research Digest, vol. 3, no. 13.

Afkhami-Ardekani, M & Shojaoddiny-Ardekani, M 2007, ‘Effect of vitamin c on blood glucose, serum lipids, and serum insulin in type 2 diabetes patients’, Indian Journal of Medical Research, vol. 126, pp. 471-474.

Germain, R et al 2006, ‘Dynamic imaging of the immune system: progress, pitfalls and promise’, Nature Reviews Immunology, pp. 497-507.

Imeri, L & Opp, M 2009, ‘How (and why) the immune system makes us sleep’, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol. 10, pp. 199-210.

Karlsson, J, Sjostrom, L & Sullivan, M 1998, ‘Swedish obesity subjects (SOS) – an intervention study of obesity. Two-year follow-up of health-related quality of life (HRQL) and eating behaviour after gastric surgery for severe obesity’, International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 113-126.

Kendall, J 1997, ‘Twenty most common chemicals in thirty-one fragrance products based on a 1991 EPA study’ Health Hazard Information. Neiman, D et al 2000, ‘Immune function in female elite rowers and nonathletes’, British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 34, pp. 181-187.

Segerstrom, S & Miller, G 2004, ‘Psychological stress and the human immune system. A meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry’, Psychol Bull, vol. 130, no. 4, pp. 601-630.

Shankar, A & Prasad, A 1998, ‘Zinc and immune: the biological basis of altered resistance to infection’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 68.

Vuong, C et al 2004, ‘Polysaccharide intercellular adhesion (PIA) protects Staphylococcus epidermis against major components of the human innate immune system’, Cellular Microbiology, doi: 10.146/j.1462-5022.2004.00367.x.

Wikstrand, I, Torgerson, J & Bostrom, K 2010, ‘Very low calorie diet (VLCD) followed by a randomised trial of corset treatment for obesity in primary car’, Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 89-94.