If you’re not familiar, “Just Say No” was a popular advertising campaign that was utilized in the late 80’s and early 90’s to discourage young children and youth from engaging in recreational drug use. While it may be hard to measure the campaigns success, at the very least it was able to raise awareness to the dangers of drugs. We’re now about 25 years out from its inception and I think it’s time to reboot and expand into the realm of nutrition, to raise awareness about a drug like addictive substance found in too many of the foods we eat. I’m talking about sugar! It comes in many forms, it’s cheap, backed by giant corporations and is subtly damaging our bodies! It’s the first thing I tell people to eliminate when they ask me about getting healthier, and now I’m telling you to do the same.
How did America get in such a bad state of health? I believe that sugar (especially the kind found in processed junk that kids eat and drink daily), to be the main culprit. Whenever I arrive at an airport in the states after being in Europe for 6-8 months, one of the first things I notice is how physically different we look. As a whole we’re noticeably bigger. Do you think obesity, and other illnesses like heart disease, cancer and diabetes existed on such a high level fifty years ago? I don’t think so!
Obviously there are various lifestyle and heredity factors that contribute to disease susceptibility, but nutritionally speaking what happened? In his lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth, Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, points to three defining events. 1.) Foods that were cheap to make and had a long shelf life became a priority, so industries started altering foods original structure and adding ingredients that the body didn’t recognize. Harmful ingredients! 2.) High fructose corn syrup, one of those harmful ingredients, was introduced to America and started making its way into almost every processed food and drink on the grocery store shelf. 3.) Fat was found to increase the risk of heart disease (this mindset is no longer embraced), and fat free foods, with all the added sugar, became Americas new obsession. Leave it to the big companies to sacrifice our heath to make a buck.
Could sugar really be an addictive drug? Yes! Picture this for a second: You’ve recently embarked on a healthy eating plan. It’s going really well and then you make a trip to your parent’s house for dinner and sure enough, mom has made her famous chocolate chip cookies. The smell immediately sends a signal to your brain that these taste very good and you should have one. One becomes two, two becomes three, and so on!! Sound like addiction?
Let’s take soda for example. You gulp down a 24oz bottle of your favorite soft drink, loaded with high fructose corn syrup, and soon after you’re ready for another bottle. You would think that after 24oz of a liquid your thirst would be quenched and body hydrated but this isn’t the case. Why not? Soda contains high amounts of sugar, sodium and caffeine. This lethal combination leaves your body unaware of the fact it took in anything, making you thirstier and reaching for another can of liquid coke.
What’s happening is as you continue to over-consume sugar-loaded food and drink, your brain starts to create a dependency on that substance to feel good. With every positive surge of energy comes a crash even more extreme, at which time your brain will send out a signal for the substance that makes you feel good, whether it’s drugs, alcohol or sugar!
Worse yet, the drug dealers for this addictive substance come in the form of unregulated vending machines, bakeries, gas stations, grocery stores and concession stands, making it very easy for our youth to start creating dependencies while their bodies are still developing.
What it’s doing to you. Now you might be saying: “Who cares?”, “Is it really that bad?” Or maybe “I eat a lot of sugar and I feel fine?” I’m here to say that if you over- consume sugar, at some point disease WILL manifest. In 2012, researchers Stephan Guyenet and Jeremy Landen found that Americans consumption of added sweeteners like cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup and maple syrup, has increased from 6.3 pounds per person in 1822 to 107.7 pounds per person in 1999! That sounds like over-consumption to me and our bodies are not designed to take in these amounts. Sugar consumption of this magnitude easily upsets the balance needed to maintain a healthy, disease-free body. The following are some of the many risk factors of a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates (which convert to sugar in the body).
- Obesity-When excess sugar is consumed, our body responds by storing it as fat. More sugar equals more stored fat.
- Hypo and hyperglycemia-Your pancreas, which secretes insulin to bring blood sugar levels down, struggles to maintain balance with all the sugar loaded foods you’re eating. It can end up secreting too much or not enough, resulting in either of these diseases.
- Decreased immunity- studies have found that white blood cells shut off for up to 4 hours after a meal high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, leaving you more susceptible to disease.
- Cancer-these mutated cells feed off sugar. Enough said!!
- Birth defects- Studies have shown that diabetics have a high risk of having a child with a major birth defect. You may be pre-diabetic if you over-consume sugar, which in my opinion is a strong enough connection to ditch it if you’re trying to get pregnant.
- Increased acidity-Sugar is acidic. An acidic body is an environment where diseases thrive.
- Depression- Our brains require glucose to function, but not with extreme fluctuations. Sugar gives the user too many highs and lows.
Plan of action. Trying to eliminate as much sugar from your diet as possible won’t be easy. It’s in so many of the foods we’ve become accustomed to eating and unlike recreational drugs, there are no laws against its consumption. If you’re a heavy sugar eater you’ll likely feel withdrawal symptoms, just know that these are a sign that your body is on its way to becoming balanced again!
- Become knowledgeable. Knowing what foods to avoid is the first step. Soda, sports drinks, candy, cake, cookies, donuts, breakfast cereals and the like are pretty obvious. Fruit juice is one that some people are surprised should be avoided. Even if the label claims 100% fruit, the fact is that the fiber has been stripped during processing therefore allowing the sugar to enter the bloodstream faster than nature intended. Opt for a real piece of fruit. It still contains sugar but the fiber and other health benefits outweigh any negatives. Pasta, rice, potatoes and bread, especially the highly refined white versions. These foods also affect your blood sugar very rapidly, which is what we don’t want. If you need the starch, opt for quinoa, sweet potatoes, sustainably grown whole grain rice varieties and sprouted bread. Also, become familiar with the alternative names for sugar that companies use on nutrition labels.
- Remove from your home. Out of sight, out of mind. Removing the addictive substance will make it a little harder to splurge. It will also force families to find alternative ways to deal with their child’s latest tantrum, which in the long run will have huge benefits for the child and his/her parents!
- Don’t allow yourself to get too hungry. Have healthy snacks with you at work, in the car and at home to avoid the times when extreme hunger hits and you could eat a whole cake!
- Convert to a real, whole food based regimen. Once you see how amazing your body can feel when you ditch the sugar and processed foods, in favor of REAL food, it will be easy to override that tricky mind of yours.
- Eat more healthy fats. Including more healthy fats in your diet can likely curb your cravings for sweets. Try almonds, walnuts, avocado, and pumpkin seeds, as well as various nut butters. Grass-fed raw milk, as well as full-fat plain organic yogurt. Olive oil and raw, unrefined coconut oil are also great choices.
- Try fermented foods. This preservation method has been practiced for centuries, creating foods with superior nutritional value. Full of friendly bacteria and digestive enzymes, your body might start craving these rather than sugar. Try kombucha, sauerkraut or kefir.
- Team up. There’s a reason recovering drug and alcohol addicts join support groups. Rather than go at it alone, having others around that are in a similar situation really helps. Try kicking the sugar habit with friends, family or even work colleagues.
In the nutritional world, knowledge is willpower. If you know what is or isn’t healthy, then you’ll be able to make better decisions as to what goes in your body. While sugar may not be illegal like most recreational drugs, it should be treated as such. Avoid at all costs and your temple will thank you! And remember, the next time you come face to face with a tasty treat, or sugar loaded processed food/ drink, use your new knowledge and “JUST SAY NO”! #Temple28