While driving my son to soccer practice, I reached over and picked up my favorite organic 73% dark chocolate bar.
I was about to take a bite when I heard, “Mom…don’t eat that chocolate. It makes you cranky.” I was caught off guard by those words and quickly began to defend my chocolate honor. “There are antioxidants in the chocolate, Sam. It is good for me.” For goodness sake, I am a Certified Health Coach, I should know what is good for me and what is not! But, the truth is, my son was right. The sugar in that chocolate bar does make me feel a bit cranky. Well….first I feel uplifted and fabulous and then I come crashing down….feeling lethargic and irritable. I just had no idea that my then 11 year old son was noticing. Out of the mouths of babes.
Most of us love sweets. I know that I do. Does sugar really affect our mood? Does sugar change how we relate to one another? As my son so eloquently pointed out a few years ago, the answer is…yes. Do we have to give up sweets to be healthy? The short answer is…NO! However, we may want to consider a few things about sugar and then make a decision about how much of a role we would like it to play in our daily life.
The average American consumes about 30 teaspoons of sugar each day! This works out to approximately 100 pounds per year. CBS news reported in April of 2012 that the number is actually closer to 130 pounds per year. Whoa Nelly! That is A LOT of sugar.
Contrast that with the average amount of broccoli we each consume in a year…8 pounds. Let’s sit with that a moment.
Next time you are in your kitchen grab a bag of sugar or flour and measure out 30 teaspoons. See what it really looks like. Take out a package or container of something in your pantry or fridge that contains sugar. Look at the food label. Find the sugar grams. Every 4 grams = 1 teaspoon of sugar.
The American Heart Association recommends a daily consumption of no more than 6 teaspoons a day (24 grams) for women, 9 teaspoons a day (36 grams) for men, and 3 teaspoons a day (12 grams) for children. For a little perspective, consider that ONE 12 ounce can of Sprite contains 36 grams of soda….the highly refined kind. That is three days worth of sugar for a child in one small can of soda.
This realization gives a whole new meaning to the word….moderation. Is there ANY amount of soda that would be considered moderation?
Sugar is added to many of our mainstream foods such as yogurt, bread, cereal, chips, crackers, cookies, salad dressings, baby food, peanut butter, pasta sauce, protein bars, granola bars, smoothies, non-dairy creamer, and our condiments. We drink concentrated sugar in beverages such as fruit juices, soda, coffee drinks, and alcohol.
Sugar is highly addictive. It qualifies as an addictive substance for two reasons.
1. When we eat even a small amount, our brain responds by triggering a desire for more.
2. Suddenly stopping sugar entirely will create withdrawal symptoms such as; headaches, mood swings, cravings, and fatigue. Patience, compassion, love, and kindness becomes a challenge when we are cranky and looking for our next sugar “fix” to feel good.
Yikes…it is beginning to sound like sugar is a drug.
In the 1300’s when sugar was first refined in India, it was recognized as a drug and kept under lock and key by an apothecary. In the 1600’s when it was introduced into Europe, French business men used it as a drug and called it “crack”. Hmmm….funny how these white powdery substances have similar qualities. A “high”…a withdrawal if we stop…a desire for more….Maybe there is something here worthy of our consideration.
What is the solution? How can we enjoy the sweet stuff without negatively impacting our health, becoming grumpy, or feeling guilty?
First…follow the 90/10 rule or if that feels too strict, make it the 80/20 rule. 80-90% of the time eat the foods that create physical and emotional balance. 10-20% of the time enjoy your treats.
The foods that leave us feeling balanced are typically whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits.
Second…if you are going to eat something sweet, enjoy it to the fullest. Guilt = Stress. Stress = unhealthy. If you are making the choice to indulge a bit, embrace and enjoy it!
Third…Consume naturally sweet foods such as fruits, squashes, root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, onions), and potatoes. If you would like an added sweetener use something like coconut palm sugar or brown rice syrup which are filled with vitamins, minerals, enzymes and are low glycemic. Additional healthier options include pure grade B maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, or honey which are high glycemic, but do contain these same valuable nutrients.
Fourth….Be kind to yourself. Bring some gentle comfort and lifestyle sweetness to your daily life. Take nature walks, enjoy time with friends, get a massage, pamper yourself with a pedicure, curl up with a good book. Find ways to love yourself that don’t involve food. We all need it and we all deserve it!
When we treat ourselves with loving kindness, we then have more loving kindness to share with those around us. This is true sweetness. The sweetness that we all deep down want more than the next cookie or piece of organic 73% dark chocolate.
This post was originally published May 14, 2013 on my good friend Alison Cebulla’s Kindness Challenge Blog. It has been updated and edited slightly in order to be as accurate as possible.