Sugar Man's Ultimate Addiction

by John Diaz

Do you have the will power to walk into a bakery and not buy anything? If this is a battle you have fought and lost, and perhaps more than once, you must take comfort in knowing you are not alone. Still this fact probably doesn’t make you feel any better, you may be angry with yourself, possibly even depressed. Those few blissful moments, the ones you so skillfully rationalized into being (I worked out today, I’ll eat a light dinner) have now passed. Soon it will just be you, your mirror and your conscience. Oh, if I can just walk past the bathroom mirror and not look.

If I told you that it’s not entirely your fault, would that help? Millions of years ago our primate ancestors developed sugar cravings as a method of survival, hunting wasn’t always reliable and fruit was an excellent source of energy. It’s also great at converting to stored fat, back when stored fat was a survival requirement. Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman says, “Sugar is a deep, deep ancient craving”.

Those cravings eventually lead to the domestication of sugar cane around 8000 BC New Guinea. The process of crystalizing sugar cane juice was discovered around 350 AD in India. Over the years the use of sugar spread around the world. Initially more refined sugars were only available to the wealthy.  In the mid-19th century sugar from a new source (sugar beet) flooded the market dropping the price significantly. Refined sugar was now affordable to all.

So what started out as survival instinct may very well now be the exact opposite. Fruit, besides being high in sugar, is also rich in fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and even minerals.  Refined sugar is almost devoid of any nutritional value. Worse yet, because of its effect on blood sugar levels once we have some we tend to crave more.  

Sugar and syringe - Ultimate Health Personal Training - Hollywood, CA   

The extent of sugar in your diet is not always obvious to everyone. Sure you know about the teaspoon worth you added to your coffee, or the sweetener in your coke, maybe the ingredients in your cupcake, but what about all the other sources. That glass of juice you or someone in your family had this morning had 7 teaspoons of sugar; that can of tomato soup 6 more.  How about that bowl of cereal, the one you added more sugar to, immeasurable. So, you don’t drink juice or sodas, never touch cupcakes and swore off years ago, how about potatoes, rice, corn, bread and pasta You see starch is really just another version of sugar. Literally once the starch touches your saliva it begins to chemically breakdown into its constituent sugar molecules. Now you know why bread is so addictive.

You know too much sugar consumption leads to diabetes, but that’s just part of it. Excess sugar can cause elevated serum triglycerides levels which can lead to heart disease.  A recent study by British psychiatrist Malcolm Peet showed that sugar consumption can increase depression.  Sugar is also known to increase inflammation which can disrupt normal function of the immune system.  A study posted on the National Institutes of Health’s website sites that cancer cell metabolism is characterized by high rates of glucose uptake and that fructose intake is associated with increased risk of several types of cancer including pancreatic cancer.

Cutting all sugar out of your diet is not only unnecessary, but quite difficult to accomplish. What we need to focus on is being better about it. There are various types of sugar here are just 3 common ones; fructose found in fruit and many plants, sucrose which is your basic table sugar, glucose also found in plants. A nice rule of thumb is to make sure sugar is not one of the first 5 ingredients on a food label and don’t just count the sugar grams consider all the carbohydrate grams as well. Eat foods that are natural or less processed. Choose high fiber foods that slow absorption of sugars. Limit your starchy foods by choosing slower digesting versions such as sweet potato instead of white potatoes, whole grain brown rice instead or white, whole wheat bread vs white bread, whole wheat pasta etc. Even still do not make these your main stay, but rather a side dish. You can actually change starches from a high glycemic value to a low one by letting them cool before you eat them. When they cool after cooking the molecules realign (retrogradation) forming a type of soluble fiber.

Some examples for breakfast would be egg whites and fruit or oatmeal and berries with a side of Greek yogurt. Low fat cottage cheese with a fruit topper or a protein smoothie with no sugar added.

No conversation about sugar would be complete without mentioning High Fructose Corn Syrup. HFCS was first used in Japan in the 1960’s eventually making its way here. It consists of 24% water and fructose and glucose in varying percentages. It starts as corn processed to yield corn syrup that is then treated with enzymes to change some glucose into fructose. The food industry loves it because it’s cheap, is an easily transported liquid gel, and has a long shelf life. Though the AMA deems HFCS to be no more harmful than table sugar a study at Princeton University demonstrated that HFCS use caused significantly more weight gain in rats over table sugar use even when caloric count was the same. Now I know we are not rats, but considering that since its introduction into the American diet in the early 1970’s obesity and all types of cancer are on the rise. That’s enough reason to me to avoid it altogether.

Lastly, if you are craving sugar the best time to give in and have some is in your post workout meal. Your recovery meal is most beneficial when it consists of a 4/1 carbohydrate to protein ratio with little fat. Simple sugars are okay at this time because you are trying to illicit an insulin response to begin muscle glycogen restoration. To take advantage of this you must consume your meal within an hour of exercise cessation; that is the magic window.  

Considering that sugar is naturally more addictive than crack, we have our work cut out for us, but that’s definitely a battle worth having.