It’s not much of a stretch to say that a sugar habit is a socially acceptable drug addiction. And yes, it really is that bad for you. Like addictive drugs, sugar triggers the release of happiness hormones—like dopamine—and stimulates the reward center in your brain. Eating sugar reinforces that response; the more often you indulge, the more you want. So rest assured that afternoon candy craving is real. And for the sake of your health, it’s time to do something about it.
Most topics surrounding diet and fitness involve some degree of debate. It’s nearly unheard of for an entire community of experts to agree on one thing. But when it comes to the health hazards of added sugar, it’s unanimous. Unlike the sugar in whole foods like fruit, added sugar contains zero fiber, protein, or other nutrients to help buffer its impact. It is empty calories in the purest form. Processed sugar feeds harmful bacteria, promotes inflammation, causes unwanted weight gain, hurts your liver, and is strongly linked to chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes. The list goes on and on. And not to be dramatic, but too much of it can eventually kill you.
Dietary fat has taken the blame for heart disease, the number one killer in the world. But more and more research is pointing to sugar as the cholesterol-raising culprit. And true to form, Americans eat around three times the recommended daily amount. It’s not hard to do; sugar is hiding everywhere. The food industry has mastered the art of disguising added sugar as seemingly healthy ingredients. Organic cane sugar, beet sugar, agave nectar, barley malt, coconut sugar, turbinado—it’s really all the same.
It’s unfortunate that we have to play detective to protect our own health, but by next summer it seems we’re getting some help. In an effort to aid consumers in making smarter choices, the FDA will start requiring that products list the amount of added sugar on Nutrition Facts labels; a move that might curb its use by manufacturers.
And there’s more good news for sugar junkies. There are ways to kick the habit. Try committing to a no-sugar week, to reset your palate and give your body a chance to feel better. Learn to savor the natural sweetness of fresh, whole foods like cherries. And perhaps most importantly, find satisfying replacements. Grab one of these no-sugar treats the next time you’re craving sugar. It’s like eating rich, chocolatey cookie dough. I wouldn’t lie to you, not about cookie dough.
-1 cup raw cashews
-1/2 cup oats
-1 T cacao powder
-1 T coconut butter
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1 tsp maca powder (optional)
-Pinch of sea salt
-1/2 cup + 1 T creamy cashew butter
-2 T unsweetened vanilla almond milk
-1/3 cup cacao nibs
-In a food processor, add all ingredients except almond milk and cacao nibs.
-Pulse/blend until mixture is smooth. Add almond milk as needed to reach creamy texture.
-Pulse in cacao nibs until mixed in well.
-Scoop out balls with a tablespoon onto sheet of parchment paper, let set in freezer about 20 minutes.
-Store in air tight container in freezer or fridge and enjoy. If frozen, may need to thaw for a minute.
Makes 20 balls
Ashley Sigmund is Paste’s Recipe for Fitness columnist. She is a Denver-based dietitian promoting wellness through whole foods and plant-based nutrition.