What is sugar ?

Sugar is the generic name for sweet-tasting, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food. The various types of sugar are derived from different sources.

Sugar in the diet can be found in 3 forms. Sugar can be:

  • Natural  – as found in fruit and honey
  • Added – as found in biscuits or cereals
  • The product of the digestion of more complex carbohydrates (e.g. bread)

100 gms of sugar has almost 400 calories which is equivalent to calories in one full meal of a normal daily diet.

Sucrose, glucose and fructose are three types of sugar that contain the same number of calories gram for gram.

They’re all found naturally in fruits, vegetables, dairy products and grains but also added to many processed foods.

However, they differ in their chemical structures, the way our body digests and metabolizes them and how they affect our health.

Sucrose

Sucrose is a disaccharide consisting of one glucose and one fructose molecule, or 50% glucose and 50% fructose.

It’s a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in many fruits, vegetables and grains, but it’s also added to many processed foods, such as candy, ice cream, breakfast cereals, canned foods, soda and other sweetened beverages.

Enzymes in our mouth partially break down sucrose into glucose and fructose, and acid in our stomach breaks it down further. However, the majority of sugar digestion happens in the small intestine.

The presence of glucose increases the amount of fructose that is absorbed and also stimulates the release of insulin. This means that more fructose is used to create fat, compared to when this type of sugar is eaten alone.

Some foods high in sucrose are cake with frosting, cookies, dark chocolates etc.

Glucose

Glucose is a simple sugar or monosaccharide. It’s our body’s preferred carb-based energy source. Monosaccharides are made up of one single unit of sugar and thus cannot be broken down into simpler compounds.

Glucose is absorbed directly across the lining of the small intestine into our bloodstream, which delivers it to our cells.

It raises blood sugar more quickly than other sugars, which stimulates the release of insulin.

Some foods which contain high content of glucose are sugary soft drinks, grape juice, honey, apple pie etc. In addition our body breaks down 100 percent of bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, sugar, yogurt, and milk into glucose.

Fructose

Fructose, or “fruit sugar,” is a monosaccharide like glucose .It’s naturally found in fruit, honey, agave and most root vegetables. Fructose is sourced from sugar cane, sugar beets and corn.

Of the three sugars, fructose has the sweetest taste but least impact on our blood sugar. Like glucose, fructose is absorbed directly into the bloodstream from the small intestine. It raises blood sugar levels more gradually than glucose and does not appear to immediately impact insulin levels.

However, even though fructose doesn’t raise our blood sugar right away, it may have more long-term negative effects.

Our liver has to convert fructose into glucose before our body can use it for energy.

If we eat more fructose than the liver can handle, the excess is turned into cholesterol and triglycerides.

Some foods which contain high content of fructose are soda, candy, sweetened yogurt, frozen junk foods, breads, breakfast cereal etc.

Why do we get sugar cravings ?

The human mind craves sugar for various reasons, and generally, each craving is different for each person. Our brain may experience an intense craving because it needs sugar for energy and to function properly.  But beyond meeting a need, sugar cravings for adults tend to be habitual, rewarding, or even just physiological. Let’s take a look at this with some of the reasons why we crave sugar when we do.

Habitual

Our daily habits are formed deep within our brain, and while some sources may say that it takes 21 days to form a habit, the truth is any habit can form as long as the brain is satisfied with the end result. Certain neurochemicals in the brain can cause addiction to sugar, similar to that of illicit drugs, opioids, and alcohol. In addition, changes in dopamine receptors in the brain appear to have an impact on addiction to sugar. Dopamine gets released when we experience some sort of happiness and results in a feeling of euphoria. As a result of this hormone response, our brain will habitually desire sugar the way it does other harmful compounds like drugs and alcohol.

Pathologic

The brain needs glucose to properly function, so it makes sense that the brain will crave sugar in order to get it. Though the body breaks down all carbohydrates into simple sugars, so we don’t literally need to eat sugar to feed our brain glucose, physiologically speaking, the brain could be craving this nutrient as a way to get what it wants, even if it doesn’t need it. Perhaps our blood sugar is low and our brain is asking for sugar? Our mind could be tricking us into thinking we need sugar when we really don’t.

Post a hard workout

Working out does quite a bit to our mind and body, and for the most part, we gain valuable rewards for our hard efforts. Many people are likely to experience a sugar craving following a workout, and often this may be after we had a personal best in a run, lifted heavy weights, or tried a new high-intensity interval training workout. Whatever be the reason, as long as we deplete the glycogen stores in our body, we are likely to be craving sugar to replenish this. This would be considered a pathologic or physiologic reason as to why we are having a craving, and it serves a valuable need for the brain and cells.

Our Diet is Not Right

There is no right or wrong when it comes to diet, but if we are having sugar cravings then it could be due to a diet that is not optimal. If our diet already includes donuts, bagels, candy bars, and soda then chances are our sugar cravings are because of how we have been eating. The more we eat these simple sugars, the more our brain will want them, which can continue the vicious cycle of sugar cravings.

Poor Sleep Quality

A common reason for a sugar craving is when we have poor sleep quality at night. Typically, the body needs a certain amount of REM and deep sleep as a way to replenish the mind and body, but when we have inadequate amounts, our body is susceptible to craving sweets the following day.

High Stress

Another reason for craving sweets could include high levels of stress throughout the day. Typically, a little bit of stress in our day is considered healthy and necessary; however, chronic levels of high stress could lead to sugar cravings increasing in intensity following a stressful event or day.

Meal Skipping

The last common reason on this list involves a common practice among people trying to lose weight. As a way to conserve calories for a future meal or to make up for being “bad” on a prior meal, some adults skip meals. While this seems logical as a way to prevent weight gain, skipping meals can cause us to have sugar cravings as a result. Generally, this is caused by reduced blood sugar levels.

ILL EFFECTS OF SUGAR ON OUR BODY

Experts believe that sugar consumption is a major cause of obesity and many chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

Here are some reasons why eating too much sugar is bad for our health.

-Can Cause Weight Gain

-May Increase Risk of Heart Disease

-Has Been Linked to Acne

-Increases Risk of Diabetes

-May Increase Risk of Depression

-May Accelerate the Skin Aging Process

-Can Lead to Fatty Liver

-Negatively impact dental health

How to Stop Sugar Cravings ?

Eat More Fiber

Fiber serves a valuable role in our health and wellness. High fiber intake tends to be associated with better colon and cardiovascular health, as well as a reduced risk of cancer and obesity. Fiber is a starchy substance that passes through the digestive system untouched, meaning that fiber is not processed at all in the stomach or intestine. Fiber helps to slow the absorption of the foods we eat and it can also help to curb cravings by keeping us full for longer. Consider eating foods that are naturally high in fiber—like vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains can help curb cravings.

Consume Lean Protein

Lean protein options are beneficial for health for a variety of reasons. Eating lean proteins such as chicken can help to fill up at a meal and keep us feeling full for longer. This means that our blood sugar levels are better managed, which means a possible reduced risk for a sugar craving before the next meal.

Drink Enough Water

Our body is mostly made up of water; it is the most abundant substance in our body by far, which means we need to replenish our water stores as much as possible each day. Many of the body’s processes are associated with our overall hydration status. In addition, the more dehydrated we are, the greater the chances that we will have some hormonal imbalance. Our sugar cravings may occur as a result of being thirsty, so replenishing the water in our body is often a quick fix. 

Cut Out Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are becoming quite common in today’s world, and now it seems more people are consuming more of the artificial product rather than sugar. Many of these users are attempting to cut sugar out of the diet to lose weight (by saving calories) and improve wellness. However, studies have shown that the use of artificial sweeteners in foods and beverages can lead to weight gain, as well as strengthen and encourage sugar dependence and cravings. With this in mind, it seems that one of the best ways to cut out sugar cravings from our life once and for all is to stop eating both sugar and artificial sweeteners. While this lifestyle change may take some time to completely master, the rewards will be worth it when successful.

Avoid these foods, in order of importance:

Soft drinks: Sugar-sweetened beverages are unhealthy. We should avoid these like the plague.

Fruit juices: Fruit juices actually contain the same amount of sugar as soft drinks! Choose whole fruit instead of fruit juice.

Candies and sweets: We should drastically limit our consumption of sweets.

Baked goods: Cookies, cakes, etc. These tend to be very high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Fruits canned in syrup: Choose fresh fruits instead.

Low-fat or diet foods: Foods that have had the fat removed from them are often very high in sugar.

Conclusion

Eating too much added sugar can have many negative health effects.

An excess of sweetened foods and beverages can lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease, among other dangerous conditions.

For these reasons, added sugar should be kept to a minimum whenever possible, which is easy when we follow a healthy diet based on whole foods.

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