Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why do we have sugar cravings, sweet teeth, and steal cookies from the cookie jar?

Are you rockin’ at Primal/Paleo with exercise, mindset, and diet…except that sweet tooth you need to satisfy after every meal?

To be Primal/Paleo sweets are on the 'eat sparingly' list because it raises your glycemic index, promotes fat storage/weight gain, spurs cortisol and adrenaline release, plus much more.

Most of us have come from previously carb loaded diets. The morning Danish leaves you hungry two hours later to munch on a mid-morning snack, lunch two hours after that – yum pizza, afternoon crash…must have latte, ahhh... much better. Get my drift? Usually, munching on sugary snacks makes you crave more sugary snacks = tons of carbs with no protein or fat to fill you up.

The bad news: 

A hardwired appetite: "Sweet is the first taste humansprefer from birth," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD. Carbs/sugars stimulate serotonin, which is termed the “happiness hormone.” Sugar also releases endorphins. Endorphins are released during exercise, pain, love, orgasm, and after you eat spicy food.  So basically sugar makes you feel pretty amazing and it tastes like bliss. No wonder we often use sweets to reward ourselves. 

Americans consume 156 pounds of sugar a year per capital or 52 teaspoons per person per day!!! 29% of those teaspoons are right out of the sugar bowl (traditional), the rest are from processed foods. Obvious sources are candy, soda, donuts, and other junk. Not-so-obvious sources are peanut butter, ketchup, cereal, tomato soups/sauces, juice, flavored yogurts, and low-fat products.


We have a donuts available on every street (bakery, gas station, grocery stores, etc.) and a coffee shop (local or chain) on every corner, plus our creation of the neighborhood restaurant chains (Chili's and Applebees). In America, we don't have a shortage of food to threaten our reality, but the availability of food doesn't change our genetics. Our bodies are still programed to store unused sustenance as fat. Yet, we salivate at the sight of a sugar inducing coma (fried Snickers bar on a stick) and generally eat way more then we should of things we don't need.

The good news:
You can still have sugar. Just don’t consume 52 teaspoons worth. Why not reward yourself at the end of the day for not eating pizza, donuts, pasta, potatoes, and cake by having a piece of dark chocolate or one double almond white chocolate chip cookie? Still craving the ‘happiness/feel-goodness’ hormones? Go exercise, have sex, or eat a habanero…wait, maybe don’t do that last one.  Have something less spicy and call it a day.

The best way to get rid of sugar cravings is to go cold turkey. After a week the cravings go away and you eventually become sensitive to sweets (some people report 75% cocao content in dark chocolate will taste too sweet). But, perspective and understanding are key. The main concern with most forms of sugar truly can be boiled down to the idea of empty calories. Be careful when you read about the "dangers of sugar" because the risks are actually related to increased caloric intake; exhibit A: Type II diabetes is not an end result of a high sugar diet if that diet has an overall low caloric intake. True, that diet is not healthy because there is less overall nutrition (vitamins, minerals, anti-ox, trace elements) but sugar is not the malicious one at that party. If sugar fits into a healthy Paleo/Primal diet, there is no need to eliminate it entirely. Before imbibing, ask yourself this: are the "empty calories" of the sugars worth the health benefits of the rest of the food item? In some situations (fruits and the occasional Paleo/Primal desert), the answer can be a definitive yes.

What's your go to quilty pleasure?