Do you enjoy a no-sugar-added soda with dinner every night? What about a low-sugar, high protein ‘nutrition bar' after a workout? At the office, are you mindlessly grazing through the low-sugar or no-sugar added cookies? Do you read food labels to see where on the ingredient list sugars are hidden? If you're regularly drawn to sweets- or foods laden with artificial sweeteners-try going without them for a few days and see what happens. Are you having headaches, irritability, cravings, and symptoms that could only be described as withdrawal? Do you find yourself so uncomfortable that you're drawn right back to those same foods? It could be you're trapped in what is called a cycle of sugar addiction.
Sugar is a carbohydrate, one of the major nutrient groups, but it doesn't provide vitamins, minerals, or even fiber to our diet. Still, it's added to an array of foods, including ketchup, fruited yogurt, cereal, canned soup, certain brands of lunch meat, salad dressing, condiments, bread, and so much more. While we require some sugar (glucose) in order to function property, all of this added sugar is harmful to our system and quite frankly- unnecessary!
SUGAR'S ADDICTIVE QUALITIES
When we ingest sugar, our body generates a response similar to that seen in addictions, which is why we develop cravings for more. It's often called the cocaine of dietary additives.
Here's how it works: Sugar -- whether natural, processed or artificial -- enters the bloodstream quickly, causing your blood sugar level to spike. The body recognizes this imbalance and acts to bring blood sugar back to normal. Insulin, a hormone, pushes glucose into the cells to be used for energy. But if you eat a lot of sugar, the body can't keep up. Insulin has to work harder and the body overcompensates, causing blood sugar to drop too low - and your brain reacts. You feel depleted, irritable, and crave more sugar.
SUGAR BY ANY OTHER NAME
Sugar names you might recognize are sucrose (table sugar), fructose (found in fruits, some root veggies, and honey), and lactose (milk sugar). Naturally occurring sugar in fruit and vegetables has a place in a balanced diet. But added sugar, artificial sweetener, and processed ‘natural' sugar like high fructose corn syrup are detrimental to your health.
ELIMINATE UNHEALTHY SUGAR FROM YOUR DIET
Learn where Sugar Hides. On ingredient lists, look for words ending in '-ose,' which equate to sugar. If they're among the first five items, it's not worth buying. When sugar is among the last items in the list, that's a better choice.
AVOID THE FAKE STUFF. Products containing artificial sweeteners are not a healthy alternative. Diet soda, 'fat free' and 'sugar free' candy and cookies are associated with weight gain and cravings, creating a cycle of addiction.
SIP WITH AWARENESS. A single can of soda, flavored water, Gatorade, or a juice box typically contain nine or more teaspoons of sugar.
MAKE SWEET SUBSTITUTIONS. Look for snacks labeled 'no added sugar' or 'unsweetened.' Use canned foods packed in water or natural juice. When baking, swap table sugar with applesauce, date paste, molasses, or fruit puree. Cinnamon or vanilla powder is a great way to sprinkle flavor onto yogurt, oatmeal, or coffee. Opt for coconut sugar or syrup, brown rice syrup or cane sugar over other processed sugars.
Reprogram your sugar meter slowly. If you put two sugar packets in your coffee, cut back in half-packet increments. Keep sugar off the kitchen table. Small steps add up to sweet success!
Oddly wrinkled, with a single pit in the center, dates (Phoenix dactylifera) have been a sweet treat for more than 5,000 years. A modern day favorite, the Medjool date made its way from Mesopotamia and, in the 1920's, was introduced into the U.S. when 11 roots were quarantined in Nevada for seven years. Nine plants survived, were relocated, and grown in Southern California in 1935. Medjool dates, which come in three sizes (jumbo, large and fancy/small), can be picked and eaten fresh.
The health benefits of dates are plentiful. A rich source of carbohydrates, mostly from natural sugars (66 g per 100g / 3.5 oz. serving), they contain vitamins A and K, as well as many of the B vitamins. The minerals copper, selenium, magnesium and manganese contribute to their preventive health benefits. Just one serving provides seven grams of dietary fiber, which supports healthy gut function. Eating dates in moderation can protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, and that's good for the whole body.
Dates are used in vinegars, chutneys, butters, paste, and as a natural sweetener. Dates satisfy a sweet tooth without adding fat to your diet. When eating raw dates, mix them with raw nuts and seeds or add to a raw cream cheese - spread it on brown rice cakes for a yummy, nutritious snack. They're the perfect snack to take on a long hike or for one of those days when you're on the run and might need a quick pick-me-up.
We don't hear much about selenium, but that doesn't mean it's not important to our health. In fact, while it's a trace mineral -- meaning we only need small amounts of it on a daily basis -- it's critical to our well-being. Not only does selenium protect our cells from free-radical damage, it supports heart health, and is essential for the production of thyroid hormone, blood sugar regulation and joint health.
While selenium occurs naturally in most foods, because of our modern agricultural practices, many of our foods are not as mineral rich as they used to be. For some of us that could mean selenium deficiency; look for these signs: weakness and pain in the muscles, discoloration of hair and skin, and whitening of the fingernail beds.
To increase your selenium levels naturally, try eating more button mushrooms, Brazil nuts, and sunflower seeds. Consuming too much selenium through food is not likely, with the exception of large consumption of Brazil nuts.
If you have signs of selenium deficiency, and before increasing your intake through a supplement, be sure to consult your holistic healthcare practitioner to ensure proper levels. Selenium toxicity can cause nausea, vomiting, hair loss, skin lesions, abnormalities in the beds of the fingernails, and fingernail loss.
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NATURE'S SWEET HERB: CINNAMON (Cinnamomum verum)
Naturally sweet cinnamon revives our senses with its wonderful aroma and can enhance health with its medicinal properties. Cinnamon was first used in China (2700 B.C.) to treat fever, digestive, and menstrual problems. Indian healers used cinnamon to treat gastrointestinal complaints, as well as sore throat and cough. Today, modern herbalists continue to use the herb for digestive issues, chest congestion and colds/flu, but they've also discovered it helps ease arthritis pain, as well as manage blood sugar levels.
Because cinnamon reduces the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream, it can help prevent blood sugar spikes. This is hopeful news for some people with Type 2 diabetes. But more studies need to be done around this issue. It appears that cinnamon may work better in people whose diabetes is poorly managed as compared to those who have good management of their condition. As a medicinal supplement, different people respond to different amounts -- it's not just a matter of sprinkling a teaspoon on your oatmeal. Cinnamon may also change the way some medications work, so it's important to speak with your physician before adding cinnamon to your supplement regimen.
Cinnamon is available ground, in capsule form, and as a tea. There are many species of cinnamon. Be aware that typical grocery store cinnamon (‘the cassia cinnamons') contains coumarin, which, in high amounts, can be harmful to the liver. Ceylon Cinnamon has lower levels of coumarin, which makes it a better choice for most people.
- Cleveland Clinic: Cinnamon. Accessed 2 Dec 2016.
- Examine.com: Cinnamon Essential Benefits, Effects & Information. Accessed 2 Dec 2016.
- World's Healthiest Foods: Cinnamon (ground)
- Johannes, L. Little bit of Spice for Health, but Which One? The Wall Street Journal (online, 2014, Oct.) Accessed 4 Dec 2016.
- Hlebowicz, J. et al., 'Effect of Cinnamon on Postprandial Blood Glucose, Gastric Emptying, and Satiety in Healthy Subjects.' Am J Clin Nutr. (2007 Jun) 85:6,1552-6. Accessed 4 Dec 2016.
HEALTHY EATING THROUGH COGNITIVE- BEHAVIORAL THERAPY
Do you love that slice of cake every night after dinner? Those morning muffins? How about those cookies and seemingly harmless pieces of candy you mindlessly enjoy throughout the day? If you're regularly drawn to sweets, try going without them for a few days and see what happens. As mentioned earlier, if you are having headaches, irritability, cravings, and symptoms that could only be described as withdrawal, it's likely you have a sugar addiction.
WHY WE CRAVE
Food craving, particularly for sweets, is more involved than not being able to resist a second slice of chocolate cake. Researchers have discovered that 'intense sweetness' (from sugar or artificial sweetener) creates a biochemical change in the brain that is a lot like the response to addictive substances. Sugar actually alters the dopamine network - part of the brain's 'pleasure response.' Other factors that play a role in the food we crave include stress, family habits, where we eat and whom we eat with, and time of day.
CURING THE CRAVINGS
Our thoughts affect how we feel, and how we feel affects our actions and the choices we make. If you're struggling with food choices and having a hard time managing sugar intake, consider cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Working with a psychotherapist trained in CBT, you'll learn to identify and change thoughts that influence emotions. You'll develop insight into how even the smallest choices allow a behavior to persist and what is getting in the way of changing your patterns.
In a CBT session, clients use educational exercises, talk therapy, and simulations to change behavior. Sessions usually involve intense work over several weeks to arrive at effective solutions. If you're struggling with cravings, depression, anxiety or addiction, give CBT a chance. It could make all the difference in your way of life.
- National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists. 'What is CBT?' Accessed 5 Dec 2016.
- Ahmed, S.H., Guillem, K., Vandaele, Y., 'Sugar Addiction: Pushing the Drug-Sugar Analogy to the Limit.' (2013, July) 16:4, 434-9. Accessed 5 Dec 2016.
- Dmitrijevic, L. Popovic, N. et al., 'Food Addiction Diagnosis and Treatment.' Psyiatry Danub. (2015) 27:1, 101-6. Accessed 5 Dec 2016.
- DiabetesSelfManagement.com 'CBT' Accessed 5 Dec 2016.
- MacGregor, G. & Pombo, S., 'The Amount of Hidden Sugar In Your Diet Might Shock You.' (posted at TheConversation.com, January 2014). Accessed 5 Dec 2016.
The information offered by this newsletter is presented for educational purposes. Nothing contained within should be construed as nor is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. This information should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider. Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before embarking on a new treatment, diet or fitness program. You should never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information contained within this newsletter.