If you want to make one fundamental change to dramatically improve your health and protect yourself from chronic disease and premature death, cur back on sugar. That’s the conclusion of a new study published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association.
The study used a wide range of scientific data—from nutritional surveys to studies linking sugar with disease—to develop a detailed model of the likely health effects of sugar reduction in processed foods. The model showed that cutting 20 percent of sugar from packaged foods and 40 percent from beverages could prevent American adults from suffering:
- 2.5 million cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes
- 490,000 cardiovascular deaths and
- 750,000 cases of diabetes.
Why sugar is bad for you
The average American consumes about 22 teaspoons of “added” sugar a day (sugar that is added as an ingredient to processed foods). That’s more than three times the amount recommended by the American Heart Association for women and more than six times the amount for men. Added sugar negatively affects health in many ways.
- It is an empty calorie, devoid of health-giving nutrients. Sugary calories replace more nutritious calories.
- It has no fiber, a nutrient that balances blood sugar and regulates appetite. A low-fiber diet can lead to chronically high blood sugar and obesity.
- It directly weakens immune cells, allowing viruses, bacteria, and fungi to flourish.
- Sugar triggers high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflammation, three key drivers of heart disease.
- Sugar affects the brain. It drives the addictive desire for more sugar, working in much the same way as other addictive substances, like cocaine. And it damages brain cells in ways that lead to negative emotions like depression, anxiety, and hostility.
Four types of sugar addiction
You can break your addiction to added sugar. The trick: understanding the four main types of sugar addiction and customizing your sugar-reducing strategy to your type.
Type 1: The Energy Loan Shark
If you’re tired all the time and use quick hits of sugary foods (and caffeine) to restore your energy, this is likely your type. Other signs of type 1 include the constant feeling that there is never enough time in the day to get everything done, a midafternoon slump nearly every afternoon, and frequent headaches.
If you’re type 1, use these strategies to reduce sugar intake:
- Take a good multivitamin supplement. A steady supply of energy depends on nutrients like the B vitamins and minerals like magnesium. To make sure you’re getting them, take a multivitamin supplement that supplies much more than the RDAs (which are calculated to prevent deficiency, not to optimize health).
- Forget sugary energy drinks; take an energy supplement. Many herbal supplements now include adaptogens—herbs that energize cells, like Rhodiola, ashwagandha, and ginseng. Preliminary results from a clinical trial showed that taking a supplement containing the adaptogens Rhodiola, ashwagandha, Schisandra, and green tea extract increased daily energy levels by 70 percent.
- Practice energy fundamentals. Get eight hours of sleep, exercise regularly, eliminate junk food, and stay hydrated. These fundamentals—along with a good multivitamin supplement—are useful for all four types of sugar addicts.
Type 2: Feed Me Now or Else
Modern life delivers 24/7 stress and the worry and tension that go along with it. This nonstop stress can exhaust your adrenal glands, the organs that generate the hormones cortisol and adrenaline in response to stress. Adrenal exhaust has two main symptoms: You get irritable when you’re hungry (cleverly called being hangry) and you crash under stress. Type 2 uses sugar to compensate. If you’re a type 2, try these strategies:
- You can’t eliminate stress from your life, but you can cultivate a realistic framework for worry and tension. When you start feeling anxious and stressed out, ask yourself, “Am I in imminent danger?” If you aren’t (and almost always the answer will be “no”), simply taking a moment to realize this will turn off the “fight or flight” reaction and allow your adrenals to relax. If you still feel stressed, take three deep breaths.
- Nourish your adrenals. The adrenal glands need specific nutrients to function. Supplement your diet with vitamin C (300 to 1,000 milligrams [mg] daily), vitamin B5 (100 to 300 mg daily), and the mineral chromium (200 micrograms daily). Also take licorice extract, which slows the breakdown of adrenal hormones (200 to 400 mg daily, standardized to contain 5 percent of the active agent glycyrrhizin).
- Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Eating small, frequent, high-protein, low-sugar meals as opposed to the usual three large ones can make a huge difference.
- Snacking is also important. Snack on high-protein foods like mixed nuts and cheeses two to three hours after lunch and at bedtime. Hard-boiled eggs make great snacks, too.
Type 3: The Happy Ho-Ho Hunter
You crave sugar, but you’re not tired or irritable: You’re just happily searching for a sugary snack. This type of craving is often caused by intestinal overgrowth of candida, a yeast that feeds on sugar. If you’re type 3, you also likely suffer from one or more of the conditions linked to excess candida, like chronic nasal congestion, chronic sinusitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. For type 3, treating yeast overgrowth is the best strategy:
- Eliminate all sugar and use sugar substitutes instead. Among the healthiest are stevia (PureVia) and erythritol (Truvia). If you don’t like the taste of this substitute, try saccharine (Sweet’N Low; pink packet), which has a long history of use and safety. Avoid aspartame (Nutrasweet; blue packet) and sucralose (Splenda; yellow packet), which have poor safety records and can cause digestive problems.
- Take natural antifungals. Many natural herbs and products can kill yeast, and the most effective approach is to take a low dose of several natural antifungals. Try this daily regimen for six months: 240 mg coconut oil powder with 50 percent caprylic acid, 200 mg oregano powder extract, 120 mg uva-ursi extract, 160 mg grapefruit seed extract, 200 to 500 mg berberine sulfate three times daily, and 200 mg olive leaf extract.
- Take a probiotic. As you kill the yeast in the gut, it’s important to replace the yeast with friendly bacteria, or the yeast will simply grow back. Take a probiotic supplement or eat a cup of sugar-free, probiotic-rich yogurt daily.
Type 4: Depressed and Craving Carbs
Your cravings may be caused by hormonal fluctuations. If your sugar cravings are more intense around your menstrual cycle, if they increased when you entered perimenopause, or if you’re a middle-aged man with the signs of andropause like depression, lack of motivation, and excess abdominal fat, the following strategies are right for you:
- Eat edamame. Women in menopause who have low estrogen can benefit from eating a daily handful of soybean pods (edamame). If you’re perimenopausal, you may find it helpful to eat edamame around your period.
- Enjoy chocolate. Chocolate in moderation—especially dark chocolate, which is rich in antioxidants and low in sugar—is a potent mood elevator and antidepressant. Chocolate also contains a mild stimulant called theobromine, which provides an energy boost. Aim for 1 ounce daily.
- Exercise for 30 to 60 minutes daily, preferably outside. Not getting enough vitamin D can increase the risk of depression and increase sugar cravings. More than 90 percent of our vitamin D comes from sunshine. (Avoid sunburn, not sunshine.)
Exercising daily also boosts serotonin and endorphins, biochemicals that help alleviate depression and improve mood. Again, daily exercise is a good strategy for all four types.
- Consider bioidentical hormones. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with natural (bioidentical) rather than synthetic hormones can improve low estrogen and progesterone levels in women and low testosterone in men. Bioidentical HRT boosts energy and overall well-being and helps curb sugar cravings.
One strategy for all four types
Several strategies apply to all four types of sugar addicts, but the most important one is to stop eating foods with added sugar. Eating added sugar fans the fires of your addiction and, as with any addiction, you have to cut out the addictive substance to start healing.
The major sources of added sugars are soda, candy, cakes, cupcakes, cookies, pies, fruit drinks, desserts, various dairy products (like ice cream and yogurt), and nondessert grain-based products like cereal and waffles. Sugar also lurks in fast food, processed foods, and fruit drinks with sugar.
Many foods have hidden sugars, so read labels carefully and avoid foods with sucrose, glucose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, and other words ending in “ose.”
Also be on the lookout for high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, corn sweetener, cane sugar, raw sugar, syrup, and molasses.