At Sandy Family Dentistry, Sandy dentist Dr. Derek Conklin wants every patient to know the types of risks their oral health faces on a daily basis. And one of the biggest hidden threats to our health comes from sugar consumption.
Nutritional experts estimate that the average American consumes approximately 2,700 calories a day. Of those calories, roughly 500 (18.5 percent) come from added sugar.
Unlike the sugars found normally in fruits and milk, added sugar referrers to syrups and sugars added to food products during processing or preparation. The items most frequently the recipient of added sugar include such sweet treats as candy, cakes, and cobblers along with beverages like soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks, and sports drinks.
Added sugars come in a variety of names, many of which might seem familiar if you usually look at the ingredients listed on the packaging of the foods you consume. Brown sugar, confectioner’s powdered sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, sucrose, and nectar are just some of the many different types of sugar added to the foods and drinks people consume.
Sugar plays an especially large role in the development of tooth decay and gum disease. Plaque, a sticky biofilm of food particles and bacteria, uses the sugars we eat to produce substances that slowly erode away at tooth enamel, which leads to the development of cavities and decay. Individuals who consume at lot of added sugar in their daily diet have a much higher risk of suffering from cavities, decay and gum disease when compared to those who limit their sugar consumption. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for some to cut back on the amount of sugar they take in daily.
Considering the amount of sugar found in the diets of most Americans, it’s not surprising that sugar detox diets have become such a popular trend. But can spending three weeks avoiding all sugar really break a person’s dependency on sweets, and does sugar addiction really exist? Here’s what you need to know about sugar and your diet.
Does Sugar Addiction Exist?
If you consider the morning incomplete until you’ve had that daily donut or don’t feel satisfied at dinner unless it includes a desert, you may think of yourself as a sugar addict. But does wanting a daily dose of sugar mean that you have actually developed an addiction to sugar?
While researchers don’t have a definite answer to that question, they do have several theories. The most accepted states that a need to eat sugar has more to do with a person developing a pattern of withholding and binging more than it does an actual dependency on sugar itself. This pattern of resisting the temptation of eating sugar until finally giving into a craving mimics addictive-like behavior, and can even cause changes to occur in a person’s brain chemistry. When eaten, sugar causes the brain to create the same chemicals that make the body feel good, such as dopamine and serotonin, as illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Despite this similarity, researchers are not ready to lump sugar together with these type of narcotics, but it does have a profound effect on the brain. Sugar provides fuel to every brain cell, and has the ability to influence brain chemicals, as well. Overloading on sugar may even have the ability to alter receptors in the brain that regulate how much a person eats.
Laboratory studies involving rats have shown that binging on sugar causes changes in the brain that mimics drug withdrawal. In studies involving humans, just looking at pictures of milkshakes was enough to trigger activity in the brain similar to what drug addicts experience. This activity was even more dramatic in women who scored highly on food-addiction tests than in women who didn’t have an eating addiction.
Individuals who eat a lot of sugar and maintain a high blood sugar level can also manifest symptoms similar to withdrawal when they skip their daily dose. When blood sugar levels drop, they experience symptoms that can include anxiety, jitteriness, shakiness, and breaking out into a cold sweat.
The Highs and Lows of Sugar Consumption
When you eat a donut, the sugar that treat contains, referred to as a simple carbohydrate, quickly gets converted into glucose in the bloodstream. By consuming simple carbohydrates, you cause your blood sugar levels to rise and spike. Simple carbs, such as those found in table sugar, candy bars, soda, syrup, and other sweet snacks get processed almost immediately. This causes you to experience a sudden rush of energy, often referred to as a sugar rush. While simple carbs are also found in dairy products, vegetables, and fruits, the protein and fiber these foods contain help the body process the carbohydrates more slowly.
After eating sugar, the pancreas begins to release insulin to move the glucose from your bloodstream and into your cells. This can cause an almost immediate drop in your blood sugar levels, which results in you feeling tired or sluggish. A drop in blood sugar can also cause you to once again become hungry, and leave you feeling dizzy and shaky, and in search of more sugar so you can regain that initial rush.
Do Sugar Detoxes Work?
Most sugar detox programs call for avoiding all types of simple carbohydrates, such as pasta, fruit, dairy, and any refined grains, so you can purge your system. However, as with any diet or detox plan that requires extreme dietary changes, you’re most likely to return to your old habits once you’ve completed the two or three week program. Habit plays a big role in any diet. If you’re used to eating a lot of simple carbs, you’ll eventually return to those habits regardless if you spend a few weeks doing without.
To wean yourself of sugar, you need to make permanent, lasting changes to your diet. Instead of eating a breakfast that contains sweet muffins, donuts, or cereals, you need to start eating more whole grains and protein. Instead of finishing every meal with something sweet, try eating a piece of fruit or cheese instead. By making small, but noticeable changes in an effort to reduce your sugar consumption, you can slowly reduce any sugar dependency you’ve developed.