4 Ways To Kill Your Sugar Addiction Naturally
The average person consumes around 24 kilograms of sugar annually and it’s even more in developed countries. Sugar addiction is a real thing. But, contrary to popular belief, refined carbohydrates have actually been declining since 1999. Regardless, they are still an enormous problem for our health and are clearly a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic.
Did you know that 68% of men and 97% of women report experiencing cravings for certain foods? I wonder how much of these “certain foods” have sugar.
Sugar addiction is all too familiar for many people and causes a great deal of anguish for those who are trying to lose weight and improve their health. In the following article, I’m going to present four methods I think are very effective for combating sugar addiction.
Is Sugar Actually Addictive?
Before we get started I should make a point about my wording “addiction” in regards to sugar. This is a controversial statement as many have made some valid arguments against the idea that sugar addiction actually exists. I do agree that this is perhaps true when we compare it to narcotics which are physically addictive.
However, I think that anything which follows the basic feedback loop of craving, reward and relapse can reach a point where it fits the definition of an addictive relationship.
The definition of addiction is “compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences”, according to the Journal of Addiction and Rehabilitation; I think that stuffing your face with cake and not caring about the consequences (obesity) suffices as fitting this description.
1. Control Your Blood Sugar And Achieve Satiety
Insulin is a hormone produced by beta cells in the pancreas and it helps us regulate and balance our blood sugar. Diabetics either don’t produce insulin or are insulin resistant, meaning that the muscle, fat and liver don’t respond correctly to the hormone.
The constant rise and fall of blood sugar caused by eating sugar (further exacerbated by the frequency of meals) often results in a vicious cycle of seeking sugary foods when your blood sugar falls.
If you want to truly overcome sugar addiction then it’s important to find a way to balance your blood sugar levels.
There are three macronutrients which you need to eat more of as a replacement for sugary food in order to balance your blood sugar levels.
These three macronutrients are protein, fat and fibre. Protein, fat and fibre all increase your satiety. In other words, they make you feel full. Fibre literally expands in your stomach.
You’ve probably experienced this feeling after eating beans, which are both high in fibre and protein.
Protein has always been symbolic of weight loss and good health for this very reason. Protein also takes more energy to digest and thus increases your metabolic rate as well as changing some key appetite based hormones (1, 2, 3)
However, even though I’m recommending you keep an eye on your protein, it’s important to recognise that most people are not deficient in protein and so what you should be focusing on is the quality of protein you’re getting, rather than excessive amounts.
Conversely too much protein can raise your blood glucose to similar levels of certain carbohydrate-based foods and also increase the risk for some cancers (4).
Good sources of protein include free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, fish and beans. Beans such as kidney beans are sources of protein, however, soybeans, in particular, are superior as they offer a source of complete protein. Dairy is also high in protein, but it is questionable whether dairy is something you should eat a lot of or any at all.
Furthermore, including more fat into your diet is a great way to increase your satiety and control your blood sugar as fat is not very insulinogenic.
Although saturated fat is not bad per se, and grass-fed butter, as well as coconut oil, can be a quality source of fat – especially when used for cooking – it’s important to focus on consuming more omega-3 fatty acids and reasonable amounts of saturated fat.
What you must avoid is omega-6 fatty acids (found in refined vegetable oils such as cottonseed and soybean), and of course hydrogenated trans fats.
Nuts such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts in particular (high in omega-3) are good choices for increasing fat in your diet, as well as protein. Using extra-virgin olive oil, eating salmon and other fatty fish, as well as avocado, are choices I highly recommend you incorporate as your primary sources of dietary fat.
Fibre is going to keep you full for longer, but what is extraordinary about fibre is that it lessens the significance of blood sugar spikes. Let me give you an example for context.
The sugar in fruit is the same as sugar in processed foods. Biochemically it can be said to be the same. The difference and the reason why fruit clearly doesn’t make one fat is that fruit has phytonutrients and antioxidants, sure, but fruit is also very high in fibre. Fibre lessens the significance of the blood sugar spike and so the effects of eating kiwi-fruit versus a candy bar are very different.
There are two different types of fibre, soluble and insoluble. Both are incredibly important for our health, digestion as well as preventing disease.
The best way to ensure you’re getting enough fibre is to eat a wide variety of whole-foods. A sign you’re doing so is to see whether your plate has a wide variety of colours.
Colours in vegetables generally signify certain concentrations of specific vitamins. For example, dark green vegetables are particularly high in magnesium.
Eating fruits such as berries are great as a replacement for sugary foods. They aren’t very high in sugar, they are packed full of antioxidants, phytonutrients and they also taste delicious. However, make your priority to focus on low-glycemic foods where possible.
2. Take Care Of Your Gut Microbiome
Most of us know that the human brain is comprised of billions of neurons which keep our fatty organ functioning. However, what many don’t know is that the gut also contains a complex network of neurons. Yes, you heard that right. There’s a good reason why our gut is sometimes referred to as our second brain.
You’ve likely heard of probiotics. We have good bacteria and bad bacteria which live in our gut. Probiotics are really important because they help to get rid of yeast in the gut. Yeast, as well as bad bacteria, feed off of sugar in our digestive system.
Obese people have a lower microbial diversity than those of a healthy weight (5). It’s important to have a large variety of microbiome inside your gut.
Several strains of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus actually improve anxiety and depression-like behaviour.
Hippocrates the ancient physician once said that all disease begins in the gut and he’s right, so much of it does.
What’s fascinating is that recent research is diving into the idea that certain cognitive disorders such as autism are becoming candidates for potentially being alleviated by modifying the microbiome in the gut.
Because so many people’s sugar addiction comes from an emotional drive to seek comfort and well-being in times of stress and anxiety, then it becomes clear that there’s some potential in alleviating sugar addiction through dietary choices which improve gut health.
Serotonin is tightly linked with mood, social behaviour, sleep, memory as well as appetite and digestion. Why? Because 90% of this serotonin is produced inside your gut.
Increasing omega-3 fatty acids is particularly beneficial for the gut as omega-3 is anti-inflammatory. However, too much saturated fat without adequate polyunsaturated fat can cause problems for the gut if consumed in excess.
If you’re going to supplement with omega-3, which is commonly known as fish oil, then I recommend using krill oil instead because the fatty acids such as DHA are more bioavailable in krill oil due to phospholipids.
If you’re going to purchase a probiotic for your gut then go for it, but remember that you should be prioritising the food you eat as opposed to the supplements you take. Probiotic yoghurt (if tolerated) is a great option, as well as kimchi, pickles, tempeh and other fermented foods.
We’ve established that probiotics are live bacteria, prebiotics however (often mistaken as probiotics) aren’t. Prebiotics nourish good bacteria, they feed and fertilise their successful development in the gut.
Prebiotics are basically a special form of fibre, found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. They are particularly abundant in the skin of plant foods. So think twice before peeling away the skin on your sweet potato or apple.
Prebiotics have also been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is a protein which also increases through consumption of antidepressants (6). Additionally, prebiotics have been shown to reduce cortisol and help with emotional processing (7).
3. Try Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is known for weight loss. However, what’s clear is that it’s no more effective for overall weight loss when variables are controlled for (8). remember I said “weight loss” and not “fat loss” (8).
Fasting will reduce your insulin levels and allow you to control your blood glucose. Furthermore, there have been studies which have shown intermittent fasting is beneficial for the good bacteria in your gut (9).
What’s also great about fasting is that it’s a test of discipline and willpower. Having the willpower to periodically abstain from food transfers over to the rest of your life.
The good news is that even if intermittent fasting didn’t help with sugar addiction and gut health, more and more research continues to reveal benefits of fasting for longevity and general well-being.
4. Control Your Stress Levels
Cortisol is a steroid hormone responsible for regulating a lot of processes in the body. It’s most well-known for being the “stress hormone”. Too much cortisol can become problematic.
High cortisol is tightly correlated with insulin levels. If you map them together on a graph, they follow each other around. Being more stressed leads to emotional eating and I believe is one of the main reasons we have such a problem with food. Our lifestyles make it inevitable that we should seek out pleasures to balance the amount of stress we experience in the busy modern world.
I think one promising solution to stress-based sugar addiction is to meditate on a daily basis and/or practice some form of mindfulness.
Mindfulness decreases cortisol and less cortisol is correlated with less emotional eating; it’s simple.
Living a more relaxed lifestyle and reducing the circulating stress hormone cortisol in your body will reduce the emotional need for you to seek out comfort through sugary foods, as your comfort is being generated internally.
Be sure to sleep between 7-9 hours to reduce cortisol. Anything less or anything more than this duration for most people is going to cause trouble.
Sleep is the time your body has to regenerate and recharge, so don’t underestimate the effects that your sleep can actually have on your cravings and desires for certain foods.
• Control your blood sugar levels through the food you eat.
• Focus on taking care of your gut health.
• Try intermittent fasting.
• Reduce stress in order to control cortisol levels.
Reframe who you are as a person. Stop counting the days you haven’t eaten sugar, stop saying “I can’t eat sugar. Start saying “I don’t” and understand that quitting sugar is not only good for the size of your waist but also down to the most fundamental gene expression in the body.
Sugar feeds cancer, rots your teeth and isn’t something we should embrace in moderation.