In the recent times, sugary foods consumption has hit an all time high, both in terms of calories consumed and elation experienced after consumption. “Donut” times are perhaps the most looked forward to moments. Ah … the sugar rush makes us happy. But what really happens when we consume sugar? The body releases a hormone called dopamine into the bloodstream. Dopamine is also known as the “happy” hormone that is released by the brain when we bite into sugary foods, which is why we feel happy. That makes us want to eat more sweet things to keep us feeling happy, which over time can become an addiction.
Sugar consumption has sky rocketed since the 1950 with the introduction of food made with high fructose corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners. Average sugar intake has gone up from 17 grams of sugar per person in the 1950’s to anywhere between 70-80 grams of sugar today. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation that no more than 10% of an adult’s calories – and ideally less than 5% – should come from added sugar or from natural sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juice. For a 2,000-calorie diet, 5% would be 25 grams.
However, the barrage of advertisements on TV and social media for sugary foods has contributed to increase in consumption. In fact, companies are aware of the dopamine affect of sugar and want to cash in on that. Consumers need to be more savvy about diet choices and keep their wellbeing in mind before consuming these products. The fast paced and sedentary life style lacking adequate rest are prime triggers for consumption of sugary snacks, which provide instant gratification. High amounts of sugar result in hormonal responses similar to illicit drugs. Over time our body adjusts to increased sugar consumption and the brain may crave higher amounts of sugar in an attempt to reach a certain dopamine concentration in the blood. Therefore addiction to sugar is on the rise and we are seeing obesity and health problems increasing at an alarming rate.
Diets high in sugar suppress the immune system, accelerate the aging process, amplify cortisol (stress related hormone) production, increase risk of cancer and last but not the least impact oral health. Once the body is used to a certain amount of sugar, cutting it out suddenly causes sugar withdrawal.
Symptoms of sugar withdrawal are as follows
1) Fatigue and Weakness: When the body get less of this substance, it responds with a generalized feelings of fatigue, partly due to decreased dopamine levels.
2) Extreme Craving: When body is deprived of sugar, the brain sends an “extreme craving” signal to consume more sugar.
3) Confusion: Cutting down on the sugar consumption from a previous high confuses the brain and will result in a sense of ” not feeling like normal self”.
4) Headache: When the sugar is taken away from the system, it signals for more sugar by causing aches and pain in the body, but mostly in the head.
5) Depression: When the dopamine trigger is reduced, it impacts mood and can cause depression.
6) Poor sleep quality: When sugar intake is reduced, it can cause the brain to react in unnatural ways and cause disturbed sleep.
7) Weight Loss: One common side effect of reducing sugar intake is weight loss. Studies show that just by decreasing 5% of sugar intake, individuals lost an average of 0.8 kg of their body weight.
Some tips to overcome sugar withdrawal
1) Understand how sugar impacts the system and make food choices that are healthy and nourishing.
2) Overcoming sugar addiction is a slow process. Setting realistic goals to overcome the sugar withdrawal goes a long way in sticking with the program.
3) Find healthy alternatives like fruits and health bars to substitute for the high calorie, low on nutrition fructose snacks.
4) Consuming more protein reduces the craving for snack as protein takes time to digest.
5) Consult a nutritionist or a doctor for a good sugar withdrawal program.
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