Annie Lennox was onto something more than just her original meaning when she wrote her 80s hit. We've all experienced the hold sugar can have on us. Its sticky, cloying fingers taking hold, convincing us to just have one more bite...Ok two.
Here's the official music video for Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics. Besides getting a big dose of nostalgia (I totally was the girl singing into a spoon in my living room while listening to my mom's cassette tape!), the lyrics can totally work in this context.
I'll be honest, I have a HUGE sweet tooth. Chocolate, candy, cookies, ice cream, cupcakes... I love it all. And despite trying to "eat clean" and making my health a priority (which means I don't eat much sweet stuff), I still crave it sometimes!
With Christmas right around the corner and Thanksgiving just behind us, you're probably inundated with holiday treats already. Little goodies hanging out on the counter, in the living room as part of the decor... I know, traditions (or are they just habits?) are hard to break and sweets make you feel all warm and fuzzy... at least in the short term.
I discovered, though, as my healing journey progressed, that too much sugar has a pretty gnarly effect on me cognitively, and it messes with my digestion! Personally, too much sugar (even too much simple carbs or starchy foods, which also get broken down into glucose, or blood sugar, in our bodies) makes me cranky, emotional, HUNGRY, tired and foods I can normally eat without issue suddenly give me indigestion. I'm a mess! And I'm not the only one. Sugar can have a detrimental effect on all of us and after I saw the film, Fed Up, over the summer, I was floored by what's happening to people because of the sweet stuff we love so much. Obesity and diabetes typically come to mind but it's even linked to developing depression and dementia!
Sugar has been on my mind a lot this week. A report by The Cornucopia Institute came out recently focusing on the unhealthy and sometimes dangerous ingredients often found in yogurt, including... you guessed it - sugar.
When I worked with The Cornucopia Institute this past summer, I worked on this report and most of the section on sweeteners was researched and written by yours truly! I already knew sugar wasn't good for me but doing research into the details was really shocking and eye-opening!
When talking about sugar, I don't want to scare you off naturally occurring sugar found in fruit, grains and dairy. Those are part of complete, whole foods that come with everything we need to digest and use those sugars in a beneficial way. No, the bad guy here is ADDED sugar. And yogurt, despite being thought of, and marketed as, a health food, often has a ton of it. Even the organic brands.
While doing research, I perused the yogurts available at a grocery store I frequent and picked up an individually sized cup of Stonyfield fat-free Chocolate Underground flavor yogurt. I flipped it over, expecting to see the 24, 26, or 28 grams of sugar per serving that I'd been seeing on the "nutrition facts" labels of fruit flavored yogurts. HA! No, this baby has 35 GRAMS OF SUGAR! A Snickers bar has 27 grams of sugar. I was stunned.
Ok, we're going to eat sugary food. It's yummy. We like it. But how much is "ok" to eat? The World Health Organization recently lowered its recommendations to 5% of our total daily caloric intake, which works out to about 25 grams of added sugar per day.
One teaspoon of sugar weighs about 4 grams, so 25 grams would be about 6 teaspoons, and on most of the yogurts I researched, we get that in one freaking serving! Scary, right? And we haven't even gotten as far as that cookie I had at lunch, or the dessert you want after dinner. Or the Christmas cookies that will soon fill the cookie jar! So what are we to do?
I don't avoid added sugars altogether. I do try to minimize them because of how it makes me feel but that all started with being mindful and aware of how I felt after I ate something and started to feel bad. Like I blogged about gluten last week, food affects how I feel! I still have still have cognitive challenges caused by my TBI, so why on earth would I want to compound those difficulties by eating food that makes it worse?!
When it comes to the holidays, I do indulge. But I pay attention to what I'm eating and why and I don't just pig out mindlessly. Because I can't eat gluten, it saves me from most of the cakes and cookies that tend to lie around people's homes and I'm quite happy to make treats of my own, where I can control the preparation, and the sugar content!
A lot of information is circulating the internet about "healthy" sugars but I really want you to know, THERE IS NO SUCH THING. Ok yes, coconut and maple sugar do contain some minerals that may be beneficial, and raw honey has some enzymes, but they're still sugar with similar fructose/glucose ratios to table sugar. And agave with it's low glycemic index? It can be around 90% fructose, which doesn't spike your blood sugar but rather goes straight to your liver to be processed where it generates the production of fat and other undesirable things! Because it's not glucose, it can't be used for energy in the same way and it affects the brain differently. Glucose makes us feel satisfied, but fructose doesn't and we just get hungrier, so we eat more, which can contribute to weight gain, too.
You probably know that fructose is the "fruit sugar" - the type of sugar found in fruit. But again, don't write off fruit! Remember the fiber and nutrients found in fruit that we need. And besides, fruit like apples, grapes and blueberries have only 5-10% fructose by weight. Dates and raisins have more than that but I'd still pick those, with their fiber and vitamins, over a chocolate bar any day! I actually frequently snack on dried organic mango and pineapple and they've totally become a satisfying and healthy stand in for gummy candy! The sugar content is still higher than fresh fruit, so I limit how much I eat, but it never makes me feel drained and gross! :)
Ok, this is getting long. I just get so fired up about it because sugar is making us SO sick as a nation and it's is hiding in so many processed foods where we wouldn't even think to look. When was the last time you checked the "per serving" sugar content of your pasta sauce? If you have a favorite sugar-free pasta sauce, please share it in the comments below this post!
Eating real, whole foods that you make yourself can help you avoid sugar overload. Sugar hides in processed food (and fast food is typically loaded with it) so reading the label is always a good defense when you have to buy something in a package. If you're worried about your sugar consumption over the holidays, just make it your goal to be mindful of it! Don't deprive yourself, just pay attention. You may find you don't actually want ANOTHER green Christmas tree cookie after all. Drinking lots of water and going to bed on time helps me too. Sometimes what I mistake for hunger or a sugar craving is really just a bit of dehydration, or a need for a quick energy boost because I'm actually tired.
If you need holiday gift ideas, check out THIS post ;) Wishing you a beautiful holiday season and no sugar hangovers!
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