Giving up sugar. Quite possibly more difficult to quit than hard drugs.
Yah, that’s right. I said it. Coke is easier to give up than Coke. And you know what? I’m not even exaggerating this time. Sugar affects the brain in the same way that crystal meth and cocaine do. Scary stuff! Drugs may be addictive but we don’t need them to live. We do, however, need food to survive. These days sugar, in its various forms, is in everything – pop, bread, pastries, desserts, pasta sauce, ketchup, even water! Because this sneaky little “drug” (for all intents and purposes that’s what it is as it’s bleeping addictive) is popping up everywhere it’s that much harder to avoid and “quit”. The more you consume the harder it is to quit and the more your brain tells you that you it and the more unstable your blood sugar becomes. And blood sugar is the key here because it’s got a lot to do with why your body tells you that you need more and more and more.
When your blood sugar is low your body craves stimulants like sugar (iced cap anyone?). Once you get that blast of sugar in you it triggers cortisol, dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline (gives you a temporary boost in energy) which releases sugar from your body and, combined with the sugar you just consumed, jacks your blood sugar up. So now your body has all this sugar floating around and it’s like “Weeoooohhhhhh. I’m on top of the world. Wait a sec, I’m out of control. Ah, get this out of here!”. So it stimulates your pancreas to release insulin to transport the glucose to your cells where it’s either used to make energy or it’s stored as fat. And then you get that all too familiar crash in energy (low blood sugar) where you reach for a donut, croissant or something with blucky fats like a breakfast sandwich to get you going again. Continuing with this cycle leads to a whole world of health problems including insulin resistance and type II diabetes. Not to mention it puts a whole lot of stress on your pancreas. Poor guy!
To show just how uncool sugar is here’s a pretty little diagram (thank you Term Life Insurance) illustrating sugar, specifically sugary pop, and how it affects us:
Can’t read the stats? No worries. Here they are…
- Asthma: Sodium benzoate, found in sodas, is used as a preservative (microbial control) in foods. Sodium preservatives add sodium to the diet and reduce the availability of potassium. Some reported reactions to sodium benzoate include recurring urticaria (rash), asthma and eczema.
- Each day 11 Americans die from asthma
- The annual cost of asthma to the healthcare system is estimated to be nearly $18 billion (WOWSERS!)
- Kidney Issues: Colas contain high levels of phosphoric acid, which has been linked to kidney stones and other renal problems.
- You are more likely to get kidney stones if you are: male, caucasian, very overweight.
- Sugar Overload: Twenty minutes after drinking a soda, your blood sugar spikes, causing an insulin burst. Your liver responds to this by turning any sugar into fat. Forty minutes later, caffeine absorption is complete. Your pupils dilate; your blood pressure rises; as a response, your liver dumps more sugar into your bloodstream. The adenosine receptors in your brain are now blocked, preventing drowsiness. 45 minutes later, your body ups your dopamine production, stimulating the pleasure centers of your brain. This is physically the same way heroin works, by the way.
- Obesity: The relationship between soft drink consumption and body weight is so strong that researchers calculate that for each additional soda consumed, the risk of obesity increases 1.6 times.
- 70% of cardiovascular disease is related to obesity
- 42% of breast and colon cancer is diagnosed in obese individuals
- 30% of gall bladder surgery is related to obesity
- Dissolves Tooth Enamel: Sugar and acid in soft drinks easily dissolve tooth enamel. When tooth decay reaches the nerve, the root, and the area of the base of the tooth, the tooth may die and, if left untreated, an abscess can develop.
- Heart Disease: Most soft drinks contain high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that’s recently come under considerable scrutiny. HFCS has been associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, a condition associated with an elevated risk of both diabetes and heart disease.
- In 2006, more than one in every four deaths were caused by heart disease
- Reproductive Issues: Soft drink cans are coated with a resin that contains BPA (bisphenyl-A). This is the same cancer causing chemical found in plastic baby bottles, water bottles, and plastic containers that wreaks havoc on the endocrine system, potentially causing premature puberty and reproductive abnormalities.
- 99.9% of plastic bottles contain BPA
- Osteoporosis: Soft drinks contain phosphoric acid and a high phosphate content has been associated with bone breakdown and an increased risk of osteoporosis. When phosphorus is excreted in the urine, it takes calcium with it, depriving the bones and rest of the body of this important mineral.
- 80% of those affected by osteoporosis are women. 20% are men.
- Increased Risk of Diabetes: Those who drink more soda have an 80% increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Approximately 1 in 10 health care dollars is spent on diabetes
Well those are some comforting statistics! I think it’s quite clear that our addiction to fizzy, sugary, artificially flavoured and coloured bevvies is not doing us any favours. Best to label them as “non-foods” and oust them from your diet. Once you’ve gotten used to foods that are less sweet your palate will naturally adjust and you’ll be able to say “no” instead of “supersize it”. Occasionally I’ll have a sip of a friend’s Coke and it only takes one sip for me to remember why I don’t need it in my life.
(Oh, and diet soda is no better. Don’t even get me started about aspartame! I’m getting agitated just thinking about it. Haha.)
So how do we get off the vicious circle of sugar highs & lows? Here are three easy things to try:
- Avoid refined sugars. This means glucose, sucrose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, etc. Sugar can come from fruits like apples, berries and pears. These fruits won’t affect your blood sugar levels as much so they’re good to keep in the fridge while you’re quitting.
- Drink something else. To keep your mind off how much you miss your Dr. Pepper, Sprite, Root Beer, Coke, Pepsi, Vitamin Water, Gatorade and so on, drink water, herbal teas, freshly-pressed juices or coconut water. If the thought of drinking plain water makes you yawn then add some sliced up strawberries, blueberries or raspberries to a jug at home to up the flavour factor.
- Supplement with chromium. Chromium is one of the most well-researched nutrients in regards to balancing blood sugar and reducing cravings and is a must-have when trying to quit sugar or for those with hypoglycemia or diabetes.
If you’re still having trouble quitting or are experiencing detox symptoms it’s best to consult with a practitioner to assess what’s going on. I might know someone