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Here I was, thinking I’d given up all my addictions when I quit smoking and drinking…

And then I watch the documentary Hungry for Change, after which I begin to suspect that I–along with likely every other average American–am addicted to a NEW crack: Sugar.

sugar is crack

Yes, Sugar; ‘Suga,’ ‘suggs,’ ‘sweets,’ or ‘candy’ as it can be called on the street.  In the lab, this evil drug has even more names, including high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, and at least fifty-some others to be sure we have no idea what we’re eating.  And this is not to mention the sugar substitutes of the world, which the film considers just as bad as the real thing (I’ll explain below).

Sugar an addiction? No… Its just yummy, that’s all.  And I don’t have to worry… I only eat sweets once a day.  Yes, this was my initial response.  But as I sat munching my protein bar, listening to the film outline exactly how many products we eat every day that contain added sugar, I began to face a startlingly different realization.  They didn’t call out just the easy-to-target foods high in sugar like candies, donuts, and juices, but the sneakier ones such as ketchup, dried fruit, pasta sauces, meat marinades, and milk.

The most disheartening claim of the film was that all this added sugar in our food is a deliberate tactic food scientists use to ensure people will want, and continue to want, to eat these foods.  Why would this work?  According to the film, eating sugar (or sugar substitutes) triggers a physiological response of satisfaction, because in nature foods high in (natural) sugar are also very nutritious.  So our bodies, if needing nutrients, crave these foods.  But if you are eating foods with added sugar, and not a whole lot of other nutrition (thus not getting the vitamins, fat, or protein you need), you will continue to have cravings to eat more.  And that’s not the worst.  Those cravings will be for more foods high in sugar, as your body (still) thinks they will provide the most nutrition.  Its a vicious circle.  For a more scientific description, see the Insulin section of this site, which includes all carbohydrates as contributing to this issue.

I hit my pantry to see if it really was true:

  1. Peanut Butter – sugar is ingredients #2 and #3; 4g per serving
  2. Granola Cereal – sugar is ingredient #2; 14g per serving! (not to mention the sugar I get from processing the carbs)
  3. Protein and Fiber bar – sugar is ingredient #3; 7g per serving (compared to 4g protein and 4g fiber… they should call them sugar bars!)
  4. Greek Yogurt (all natural) – sugar is ingredient #2 (called ‘evaporated cane juice’ by the way… super interesting story on that here); 19g per serving!

I was shocked.  As I started to look at other products I ate all through the day, I realized I was taking in added sugar in every meal, and sometimes every piece of my meal.  Now, I admit, I have not fully vetted the claims of this film, but I have to say, this ‘vicious circle’ sounds (unfortunately) quite familiar.  I continually fight the urges to eat breads, cookies, cakes, etc. at work and at home.  And most of the time I try to stick to my ‘normal’ food… I guess I just didn’t realize that this wasn’t getting me much further from the problem.

For the past week or so, I’ve started making some major changes to my diet.  I wanted to test it out… to see if I felt any different.  Although I’m sure a week isn’t enough time to really see a difference, I did feel like I saw a minor improvement in the cravings.  I also felt more satisfied.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I had an awful time giving up the quick-to-consume protein bars and bowls of cereal, but I replaced them with ready-made egg cupcakes and baggies of vegetables, and a few pieces of fruit tossed in.  And I really did feel better.  I also felt less volatile, if that makes sense. Meaning I wasn’t zooming and crashing every few hours, but felt like I had a more steady source of energy.

Now I’m in the process of making an inventory of all my typical snacks and meals, and trying to find palatable replacements, to see how much change I really need to go through to make this a long-term adjustment.  I’m sure I’ll have ebbs and flows with my success, but there’s one thing for sure: I’m no longer going to be hitting off the pipe without realizing it.  And I sure as heck won’t be handing it over to my kids on a regular basis.

Crack kills!  What’s in your pantry?