It is estimated that Americans consume 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. Studies have shown that sugary, processed foods trigger a special region in the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This is the pleasure center which when activated can lead to addictions. In other words, once this pathway is stimulated, the intoxication from the sugar high, makes you feel as if you can never get enough.
Take for example, a 20 ounce bottle of soda with 65 grams of sugar. Your gut quickly absorbs the liquid sugar which causes a domino effect of high blood sugar leading to high insulin levels. Insulin increases storage of belly fat and inflammation. Insulin blocks your appetite –control hormone, leptin. Now the brain never gets the message that you are full. Instead it thinks you are starving. This lights up your nucleus accumbens driving you to crave more sugar and processed foods.
Several years ago, a landmark study in France revealed that addiction to sugar was stronger than cocaine addiction. Lab rats were offered a choice between an intravenous dose of sugar water sweetened with saccharin (an artificial sweetener) or cocaine. They were given the chance to choose the cocaine lever 2 separate times before making their final decision. Around 94% of the French rats chose the sugar water!
Another study using American rats, revealed that the nucleus accumbens actually became smaller when they were fed a daily sugar laden diet. They had to eat greater amounts of sweet food to get the same response. In other words, one small square of chocolate today could lead to the entire bar tomorrow.
So, how do we enjoy the holidays and not ignite the nucleus accumbens? First by being aware of the physiological addictions to sugar and artificial sweeteners. Try sparkling water instead of soda. Next, become reacquainted with your kitchen. It’s in the house for more than just a coffee pot and a school calendar on the fridge! Cooking can be fun. Learn to substitute unrefined sugars, such as coconut sugar, maple syrup, molasses, or even Xylitol. Pure Stevia is another choice. Also try cutting the sugar content in half.
Good nutrition is crucial for a wellness lifestyle. Choose your holiday options wisely and mindfully. Celebrate the next 3 months with healthy food choices, fun activities with friends and family, and moments of gratitude and grace.
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