Written by: Kelley Herring, Healing Gourmet
- Do you ever find yourself needing something sweet as a “pick me up” during the day?
- Do you experience deep cravings for foods like chocolate or ice cream… or have trouble stopping once you start eating sweets?
- Do you have difficulty saying “no” to dessert or candy when it’s offered at work or social gatherings?
- If so, you’re not alone. In fact, most people find that they have a love-hate relationship with sweets. And the reason might surprise you.
Sugar: The Taste of Sweet Survival
We have a primal urge to eat sugar. In fact, humans are evolutionarily hard-wired to crave sweets.
You see, when the food supply was very unpredictable – and caloric energy was difficult to come by – calories were an evolutionary advantage. Sweetness represented energy, and energy meant survival.
Of course, in the days of our ancestors, sweet foods were uncommon, available only at certain times of the year or they took a lot of effort to obtain (picture yourself climbing a tree or cliff face to gain access to a bees nest). There was also competition for sweet foods from animals and others in your tribe.
But all of that has changed. Where sweets were once scarce and difficult to obtain, today they are cheap and ubiquitous.
While the landscape of our food supply has changed, the hard-wired survival instinct to consume sugar has not.
Sugar Addiction & Deafening Leptin’s Message
The result? A vicious cycle of sugar addiction.
Some people say that eating sweets is like “opening Pandora’s box”. Once they have that brownie, cookie or any form of sweet treat – it’s difficult to stop.
But it’s not just about a lack of willpower. Your hormones are also to blame.
After eating a sugar-sweetened treat, blood sugar levels rise. The hormone insulin (often called the fat-storing hormone) is called upon to mobilize sugar from the blood. As blood sugar levels fall, signals are sent to the brain that available energy is dwindling. Hunger ensues.
And what do you reach for? That cookie… or brownie… or sweet treat – the very food that put you in the hormonal hunger cycle in the first place.
But there’s more to the equation than just blood sugar and insulin. Eating sugar actually deafens the message sent to your brain that you’re full. And it does this by causing leptin resistance.
Leptin (also known as the satiety hormone) is an important regulator of hunger. It monitors the amount of energy we consume and provides feedback to our brain. When leptin works properly, our eating is in control. But as we become resistant its signals, this important biofeedback mechanism is compromised.
The result is not just that we become hungry again faster after eating a sweet treat – it’s also that we tend to eat more on the rebound because we’re not satisfied.
Of course, the most visible result of sugar addiction is weight gain. But a high sugar diet is also closely correlated with every chronic disease.
Chronic Disease & A High Sugar Diet
In addition to promoting systemic inflammation and speeding up the aging process, a high sugar diet is associated with heart disease, declining brain health, cancer and more.
And while I could fill a book with the studies that establish this correlation, I’d like to share two recent ones that I think are particularly meaningful:
• Sugar and Declining Brain Health: In a recent study published in the journal Neurology, researchers found a direct relationship between brain shrinkage and blood sugar. They also found a direct relationship between memory loss and elevated blood sugar. What’s more, it wasn’t just “diabetic” levels of blood sugar that caused these effects – even relatively moderate elevations caused harm to the brain and memory.
• Sugar and Heart Disease: The Journal of the American Medical Association published a report this month entitled Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality among US Adults. Researchers evaluated how added sugars in the diet related to the risk of death from a cardiovascular event. The study showed a direct correlation between the amount of added sugar in the diet and the risk for death from a cardiovascular event. What’s more, when the researchers compared people whose added dietary sugars accounted for less than 10% of their total calories to those whose added sugar exceeded 25% of daily calories, those consuming the most added sugar had a 300% higher risk of death from a cardiovascular event!
How To Do A Sugar Detox
Detoxing from sugar and adopting a long-term, low-sugar lifestyle isn’t just important to improve body composition: it’s absolutely essential to prevent chronic disease.
Doing a sugar detox is especially important:
• If you ever feel controlled by cravings for sweets and carbs – or you just can’t say no
• If you become irritable or have mood swings based on blood sugar
• If you feel you need sweets or carbs for a boost of energy during the day
• If you just can’t stop once you start eating sweets
Did you answer “yes” to any of these questions? If so, your health would greatly benefit from a firm commitment to completely QUIT sugar for at least three to four weeks.
When I say sugar, of course I mean processed foods containing sugar like candy and soda. But I’m also talking about natural forms of sugar – honey and maple syrup – as well as starches that are rapidly converted into sugar.
And while many “sugar detox” programs still allow some level of carbohydrate and even fruit as part of their detox program, this strategy typically isn’t sufficient to fully elicit the important metabolic and hormonal changes that can help you break your sugar addiction including:
• Resetting your metabolism from a “sugar burner” to a “fat burner”
• Eliminating wild fluctuations in mood and energy levels
• Resetting appetite and reducing leptin resistance
• Resetting your taste buds so you no longer require sweet foods to feel satisfied
In fact, most people find they achieve the biggest benefit and quickest results by focusing their consumption solely on grass-fed meats, pastured poultry and eggs, wild fish, bone broth and stock, healthy fats (lard, tallow, grass-fed butter, duck fat, coconut oil) and non-starchy vegetables.
Here’s what your sample sugar detox daily menu might look like:
Breakfast: Pastured eggs with grass-fed butter or coconut oil, pastured pork sausage and avocado
Snacks: Bone marrow, bone broth, olives, Brazil nuts
(Please Note: My sample menu is a very low carb/potentially ketogenic menu that may not be appropriate for everyone.)
I want to hear from you! Have you done a sugar detox? If so, what were your results… what did you experience… and what foods did you enjoy during that time?
Read more articles by Kelley Herring here.
Kelley Herring is author of more than a dozen books on nutrition and natural healing. She is also the co-founder of Wellness Bakeries, which has just released their newest product – Better Bread – a 100% Paleo bread mix you can whip up in 5 minutes flat.
1. Lucia Kerti MA, A. Veronica Witte PhD, Angela Winkler MA, Ulrike Grittner PhD, Dan Rujescu MD, Agnes Flöel MD. Higher glucose levels associated with lower memory and reduced hippocampal microstructure. Journal of Neurology. November 12, 2013
2. Quanhe Yang, PhD; Zefeng Zhang, MD, PhD; Edward W. Gregg, PhD; W. Dana Flanders, MD, ScD; Robert Merritt, MA; Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD. Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine. February 3, 2014
3. Banks WA1, Coon AB, Robinson SM, e al. Triglycerides induce leptin resistance at the blood-brain barrier. Diabetes. 2004 May;53(5):1253-60.