It’s late in the evening after a hard day at work. You’re finally relaxing at home watching the latest episode of your favorite TV show. Almost subconsciously you reach out to the box of chocolate candies lying on the table nearby. Nothing provides a better sense of instant gratification and pure pleasure. Far later you will start worrying about your health, weight and self-esteem.
Even if you don’t recognize yourself in that situation, most likely you are one of the many people who habitually need a sugar-boost on a regular basis. Here are some of the most important reasons why you should break your sugar habit immediately:
Excessive weight, as most of you know is caused by calorie intake exceeding calorie expenditure. Sugar contains huge amount of calories, a lot more than your body needs, so the excess is stored and as a result you accumulate fat. So where is all that sugar coming from in your diet? Research by Harvard School of Public Health shows that consumption of soft drinks, which contain large quantities of sugar, is directly linked to higher obesity rates. You can check the fact sheet here. It turns out that you have to be as careful about what you eat as much as about what you drink.
What is it you can do in times of sugar cravings? Have a spoon of honey instead of Nutella. Honey is sweet, but it contains natural unprocessed sugar, which gives you an energy boost. It will satisfy your sugar craving a lot faster than chocolate, because its natural sugars are easily released in the bloodstream. To find out more about the beneficial effects of honey, read the Medical Daily’s preview here. Of course, make sure you have no allergies first!
Sugar consumption is not only linked to obesity, but to other health problems, too – diabetes, heart disease and gout, to name just a few. Surely, you can’t say that eating too much sugar will definitely cause the illness, but it is a major factor. The American Diabetes Association aimed at breaking some myths about Diabetes that you can read about on their website. For example, what I often hear from parents trying to stop their kid from having a second dessert is something along the lines of: “If you eat it, you will get sick.” Of course, things are a lot more complicated than that, but surely, by having too many treats you are increasing the risks of developing diseases.
So what can you do instead? Eat a healthier diet. It sounds like common sense, but I am surprised at how many adolescents and young adults show lack of common sense! Unfortunately, the daily menu of a huge portion of the population in the Western world now consists of pizzas, burgers, chips, biscuits, chocolate bars, etc. – things some call “food-like products” exactly because they are not the food your body needs – they are full of unnecessary sugars and give you nothing but calories. Not to mention the recent trend of “BIO” labels that are put on all sorts of such products with the sole purpose to increase sales. You can find some pretty useful explanation of what should be considered ‘bio’ as well as the differences between ‘organic’ and ‘GMO’ in the Forbes article here.
So let’s face it – how can you combat this? You don’t have the time to cook a meal, you want to grab something fast, and you need it to have some nutritional value. There are dozens of “10-min meals” videos on YouTube now – you can find plenty of ways to prepare each and every kind of vegetable sold in the local supermarket. It’s a matter of taste, after all. “I can’t go to the grocery store and prepare my own food during my short lunch break”, you might object. So do many people who run to the closest McDonald‘s and order a take-home menu. What those people forget is that they can also have salads there, a much better alternative. And you don’t really have to get that soft drink.
You feel tired, you lack energy, and you don’t remember the last time you had a full-night sleep? Again I ask: What do you eat? Increased sugar intake influences your alertness, energy, ability to focus and maintain attention. One of Men’s Health authors explains how in the article “How your diet may affect your sleep”, where you can read more about the Columbia University study on the biological mechanisms.
By avoiding sugar-containing products and focusing on fruits and protein rich food, you can improve your cognitive functioning and enjoy better memory and attention, successfully manage low energy levels, and be more productive and efficient overall. Of course, to experience the healthy diet to its best, it is important you do not have too much coffee, tea nor alcohol – products that give you an immediate boost, but leave you drained in the long run.
Excessive weight, which is often the major result of sugar-rich diet, does not only account for medical conditions, but also for impaired psychological well-being. Numerous psychological disorders have their roots in impaired self-concept and self-esteem – that is, how you perceive yourself. The plague among today teenagers is the belief “I’m too fat!”, which is symptomatic of the most common eating disorders. So is the obsession with counting calories! Where is the healthy balance? Check the Eating Disorders Hope Foundation resources to learn more about the symptoms.
What is the effect of sugar that makes it so addictive? To put is simply, it does make you happy, and that’s pure chemistry. Sugar intake leads to the release of serotonin – the hormone of happiness. Unfortunately, such a reaction makes the body want more and more. It works by the same mechanism as other narcotics. A BBC’s post presents an interesting evolutionary perspective of how that mechanism evolved and why it might had been useful to humans in the past. Today, it is more of a burden than a gain.
What to do instead? Go for a run. Physical activity leads to an increase in the happy hormones in the body and it is often the first task prescribed to individuals prone to depression. If you can’t find the time or energy to do it on a regular basis, a good idea is to substitute sugar treats with herbal tea. If you are not sure where to start, I suggest you have a look at these options and pick the ones you like the most.
It’s not all about diet
One of the best favors you can do yourself is limit your sugar consumption. However, diet is not the single important factor for good health – you also need a decent amount of sound sleep per night, a few hours of daily social interaction outside work that is pleasant and meaningful, as well as active sex life you are an adult. Just as you need both dieting and physical exercise to keep your body in shape, you need a good balance between eating, sleeping, and socializing to keep your mind sharp.
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