Thursday, January 2, 2014

SUGAR - 'Packaged Crack' For The Brain!

Listen up all you sugar addicts out there! Over the years, research has revealed groundbreaking links between sugar addiction and obesity, cancer, diabetes, and many other health-related problems. Study after study has proven that excessive sugar intake is not beneficial to our health and can actually be the cause of many ailments that we suffer from in modern society.

However, new research now suggests that sugar can be affecting way more than just our waistlines. In a 2011 study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging or (fMRI) to scan the brains of its participants after they had seen or tasted a chocolate milkshake. The results were stunning! The changes that took place in the brains of the subjects in anticipation of the sweet treats were very similar in comparison to the brains of drug and alcohol addicts. Much like the cravings of an addict for his/her 'fix', the sugar craving starts with a cue. A craving is simply a memory of something one has experienced or learned in the past. The "cues" then that trigger cravings, can be anything from the scent of the sweet aroma of fudge brownies floating by from your neighbour's kitchen, to that feeling of boredom that lead to memories of you and Grandma downing that half-gallon of ice-cream.

What's next in this vicious cycle of addiction? Your hormones; those tricky chemical secretions that make rational thinking nearly impossible at times. Ashley Gearhaardt, PhD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, says that the cue triggers the area of the brain associated with pleasure, which in turn, release dopamine, the 'feel good' hormone responsible for desire and motivation. Dopamine also drives us to repeat the
behaviors that are pleasurable and so, we may already be smearing the frosting off another cupcake while we haven't even finished the first. This is a double-edged sword. I say this because over time, new studies suggest, that we may build up a tolerance to the negative effects of sugar. For example, the above mentioned study proved that over time, the milkshake participants showed less activation in the pleasure/reward regions of the brain that would inevitably cause them to stop wanting the sweet beverage. Like drugs then, if you aren't getting the desired satisfaction you so craved, there will be an even greater tendency to consume more of the particular substance in an effort to get the feeling you want. The more you get, the more you need!

There are, however, quite a few things you can start doing today to break those haunting cravings and help keep your body at its best:

Eddie Murphy as Rasputia Latimore, in the
movie, "Norbit".

  1. Visualize the risks. During the onset of a craving, visualizing the negative effects and consequences of eating poorly activates the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, associated with inhibition. This will make you far less likely to fall victim to bad cravings. (If you just close your eyes for ten seconds and picture yourself in the mirror looking like Rasputia Latimore, I'll bet you'll only eat one or two cookies.)
  2. Think about your goals. Make a very accurate list of specific goals you would like to achieve. (Such as washboard abs, or lowering your blood pressure.) Whenever a craving attacks, whip out your smartphone or peep at that note stuck inside your cupboard, reminding you to keep control.
  3. Eat every 3-4 hours. Based on brain scans, high calorie foods seem far more rewarding and pleasurable when we're hungry. This is why fitness enthusiasts and nutritionists warn not to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach because you are more inclined to buy junk food. 
  4. Be more mindful. Become more aware of your emotions and what triggers cause you to eat certain things. Keep a journal of your food-feeling patterns. Not only will writing it down distract you from focusing on your cravings but will also empower you more to make better, more conscious choices. 
  5. Create a healthier environment. Use the information you've learned to change your space. Don't just toss all the goodies mindlessly without realizing what connection you subconsciously have to them. (Although you can't chose what goods are stocked on shelves at the store, you can chose what you will and won't allow on your pantry shelves!)
  6. Identify positive distractions. There are many things that you can do to take the focus off the cravings and even replace them altogether. (Exercise works for me. When you're "in the zone", there's a rush or "high" that feels better than any Tiramisu
    icecream can!)
    Usually it's when you're idle that cravings are harder to manage. 
  7. Get six to eight hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep increases hunger hormones that drive you to seek high-calorie foods. Your brain cannot make rational choices when it is sleep-deprived. 
  8. Ride the waves of the craving. Cravings generally last no more than 15 - 30 minutes. During this time, follow the above tips and watch as the feeling ebbs and tides until your cravings completely vanish. The more you are able to do this, the more you will gain control of them. 

*WHERE DOES YOUR CRAVING FOR SUGAR ORIGINATE? From our ancestors. Berries and other types of sweet fruit were some of the primary items in the diets of hunters and gatherers. Biologically, humans have a propensity to like sweets. 

While we know that damaging effects of taking in too much refined sugar, I do firmly believe that life truly isn't worth living if you can't enjoy it's simplest pleasures. *Sweets just happen to be one of them* Satisfy your sweet tooth occasionally with these suggestions:

  • Keep fresh fruit around for unexpected cravings. After all, fruits are nature's sweets!
  • Substitute white sugar with organic applesauce in your favorite sweet recipes.
  • Properly time your sugar intake with your workouts. Use the times before or immediately after your workouts either as fuel for energy or for glycogen recovery.
  • Savor a small square of anti-oxidant rich 70% or higher dark chocolate.
  • Indulge in a small portion of your favorite dessert. The richer the taste, the less you'll need!

Believe it or not, consumption of refined 
sugar (like sucrose or table sugar) has 
decreased since 1970, but that doesn't 
mean we're eating fewer sweets today. 
According to the USDA (United States 
Department of Agriculture), before the 
1980s, most food industries relied on 
sucrose as their primary sweetener. Since
then, however, use of corn sweetener,
particularly high-fructose corn syrup, has 
spiked a whopping 387 percent because 
it's a cheaper substitute for sugar in 
beverages and processed foods. Here's
a look at how the sugar stacks up.*


                                               THEN      NOW
                                               (1970)       (2014)

Pounds consumed per year      59.8         39.1
Calories consumed per day     283          185
Servings (teaspoons) consumed per day     17.7         11.6                   


                                               THEN    NOW
                                                (1970)    (2014)

      Pounds consumed per year          0.3            27.6        
         Calories consumed  per day           2            131            
         Servings (teaspoons) consumed per da    0.1             8.2                               
*Based on the average American adult.*

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