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Can you be addicted to sugar?

So let me tell you a story . . . At the beginning of 2014, after having lost 18kg, I then decided that I wanted to hit the 20kg weight loss mark. Not that I felt I had to lose that extra 2kg or that it would make a tremendous difference to my appearance, but mentally I just wanted to be able to say “I’ve lost 20kg”. Long story short, I did a challenge and went for 9 weeks without having sugar. I cut out all processed food, cakes, biscuits, lollies, chips, breads - pretty much all carbs and all fruit except berries (no idea why I cut out fruit - how naive I was back then). I was like to do this and get those last 2kg off I need to go hard or go home so really "clean up" my diet so to speak.

At the end of those 9 weeks and having lost that last 2kg, I then decided to indulge and have a Kit Kat. What a BAD IDEA that was!!!

What happened next I was not prepared for. After regaining the taste for sugar, my body then craved it like it was air and the feeling was as if I could not get enough of it. Back then I thought that my diet was pretty good and devoid of sugar, the fact that it affected me so much shows how much sugar there still was in my body.

The next two weeks were probably the biggest test of my willpower to date. It took all my strength to not go and eat liters of ice cream and blocks of chocolate. It took the better part of 3 weeks for me to not be absolutely craving sugar and to get my appetite back under control.

I can now have the odd piece of cake or biscuit without going completely overboard and without my body then craving it for the next week but because my diet now is even healthier than what it was before I just know how sugar affects me and how I am going to feel afterwards so generally don't feel the need to have any or want to have any.

What is sugar?

Before we go any further, lets define what sugar is. Glucose, galactose and fructose are all known as simple sugars. The only difference between these is how our body metabolises them. These simple sugars can then combine to form complex sugars, the most common of these being the combination of glucose and fructose to form what we know as table sugar. The majority of the time when we are talking about sugar, we are talking about the mixture of these two compounds.

However, other complex sugars can exist in many forms, most that people aren’t even aware of. Some sneaky names for sugar that you may see on ingredients labels are High Fructose Corn Syrup, Brown sugar, Honey, Dextrose, Fructose, Sorbitol, Malitol, Xylitol, Molasses and Cane sugar to name a few.

So, is sugar really that addictive?

There have been many reports and studies into sugar addiction and if this is really a thing. Many studies have shown that sugar produces the same kinds of changes to the levels of dopamine that occurs in the brains of drug addicts. Sugar addicts do not exhibit the same withdrawal symptoms as drug addicts do, however they both have been shown to exhibit symptoms of dependence. Contrary to drug use, sugar on the other hand can cause many problems such as obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, blood pressure and metabolic syndrome.

Here are some sources of hidden sugar that you should be wary of.

1. Flavoured yoghurt – Some yoghurt can have as much as 17 to 33g of sugar per serve. Ideally the best way to create a flavoured yoghurt is to buy a plain Greek yoghurt and add the fruit and toppings of your choice. This also saves the added preservatives and additives that usually go in them.

2. Pasta Sauces – Although very tasty, they are not so sweet for the waistline. Many pasta sauces have been 6 to 12 grams of sugar per half a cup serving - This is the same amount, as you would get from a chocolate chip cookie!! Easiest way to make a yummy pasta sauce is to make one from fresh tomatoes and add lots of herbs and veggies.

3. Granola Bars – Many Muesli bars are laced with hidden sugars, additives and preservatives. They are often coated in chocolate or yoghurt, which instantly up the sugar content from 8 to 12 grams of sugar per serving. Try making your own with oats, nuts and seeds and some dried fruit. This will be a much better portion controlled version.

4. Salad dressing – many dressings, such as caesar, vinaigrette and French have the most sugar - about 5 to 7 grams of sugar in a 2 - tablespoon serving so portion control is essential here. A lower-sugar option is a homemade balsamic vinegar and oil dressing or just a mixture of lemon and olive oil. It will have less than 1 gram of sugar in the same amount.

5. Breakfast cereals – We all know what culprits in breakfast cereals are high in sugar, but even the ones found in the health food aisle marketed as healthy can sneak added sugars in. Many popular oat, corn and bran cereals can have 10 - 20g of sugar per cup so make sure to check the ingredients labels. Gluten free porridge (made out of buckwheat or millet) topped with your choice of fruit, nuts and seed is a much better option to packaged cereals.

6. Energy drinks – Energy drinks are one of the highest sugar content drinks around. For one serve of Powerade contains as much as 34g of sugar for a 600g bottle. These types of sports drinks are typically designed for endurance athletes who have events lasting 3, 4 and more hours that need those quick source of energy throughout their races. For the average athlete though who is just competing in a few fun runs, they do not need to this quick energy hit and it is just adding extra calories when they are not needed.

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