I had a nutritionally-based DNA test done last year. The purpose was to help me understand how my DNA affected my eating habits and my metabolism. The 50+ page report was a bit overwhelming, but it was interesting.
One of the things affected by your DNA is your attraction to sweets. My DNA says that I have a little lower attraction to sweets than average. That makes sense to me. I do love my sweets, but I prefer a dark chocolate MilkyWay Bar to the standard milk chocolate variety. I know others who really don’t care for sweets at all, and those who can’t go a day without chocolate, candy, or other types of sweets in their diet. Everyone is unique.
How Important Are Sweets to You?
As my DNA testing showed, not everyone has the same level of attraction to sweets. But that doesn’t mean you can blame all your sugar cravings on your genes. A few years ago, I interviewed a few experts on the subject for an article I was writing. They provided some additional insight into how our bodies interact with sugar.
Erica Schulte led a study on food addictions at the University of Michigan. The study used three criteria to define a person as having a food “addiction” rather than an overeating problem:
- A loss of control over consumption
- Continued use despite negative consequences
- The need to increase consumption over time to achieve the same results
The study noted that most individuals who suffered from food addiction consumed a large amount of foods which contained high levels of processed sugar. They didn’t find people binge eating vegetables like broccoli and carrots (even though my DNA says I should be more attracted to broccoli than sugar). Why do we react to sugar the way we do?
Sugar and the Brain
Sweet things taste good to us. God made us that way. He put taste buds on our tongue that send a message to our brain saying, “This is a good thing.” Our bodies need carbohydrates to fuel our energy. Sugar meets that need, especially when we need a quick energy burst.
Sugar is rapidly absorbed into our system, immediately triggering our brain’s “pleasure center.” For many people, instead of getting a signal of satisfaction from our brain, we get the message: “Give me more!” This is the same response people with drug addictions experience. It is also the reason why it can be so hard to decrease your consumption of sweets.
If you go a month or more without sugar in your diet, you should experience a decrease in your cravings for sweets. Add them back in, and it won’t take long at all for those cravings to grab hold of you again. (I know that has been true for me.)
Managing Your Relationship with Sugar
Susan Brown, author of Simply Sugar Free: Six Simple Steps to Conquer Sugar Addiction is an Integrated Nutritional Health Coach who has battled her sweet tooth all her life. For her, eliminating sugar completely was the only answer. The only sugar source that she can safely consume without creating sugar cravings is raw fruit. Even though fruit has fructose, a natural form of sugar, it is highly concentrated. Consumed in the raw form, fruit also includes fiber and water to slow down the absorption process.
In her book, Brown advises against quitting sugar cold turkey. Instead, she encourages us to start by simply adding more protein and fiber when consuming sweets to slow the absorption. She also recommends stevia as a natural sugar replacement rather than using an artificial sweetener.
Moderation in All Things
God created honey, sugar beets, and sugar cane. He also caused us to have an appreciation for sweet tastes. But, like everything else in life, he warns about the danger of over-indulgence. In Proverbs 25:16 (NIV) he specifically lets us know that too much sweetness at once is not healthy: “If you find honey, eat just enough – too much of it, and you will vomit.”
Replacing sweeter treats with fruit works for me (most of the time.) Not having sugary snacks available helps too. What about you? Have you found ways to moderate your sugar cravings? Have you ever eliminated processed sugar from your diet completely? Share your healthy eating tips with the rest of us.