Where does our lust for sweetness come from? Already as babies we are given a glucose-lollipop during a vaccination or blood sampling and lo and behold, the pain is forgotten. Secondly, most people just love the taste of sweetness and thirdly, sugar activates the reward system in the brain so chocolate really makes you happy - in the short-term at least.
According to latest research, sugar is not immediately addictive like nicotine, for example. However, it triggers reward reactions in the brain that can lead to addictive behavior. We know it is harmful, but find it hard to reduce the consumption of sugar and gradually more and more servings of sugar are needed to trigger the same reactions in the brain. This is the start of a "big" problem because the consumption of sugary drinks is associated with obesity and this in turn can lead to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
How to escape the spiral?
To reset the sugar sensors in our body, it takes time. As a rule, it takes about eight weeks to give up sugar consumption. Humans are creatures of habit – so ease into it. It is also easier when doing it together with like-minded people.
In essence, there are two options: cold withdrawal or successive reduction.
The radical method consists of the rigorous renunciation of all the sugars that we crave in everyday life: whether it is sweetened muesli in the morning, fruit juice or chocolate in front of the TV. The initial longing will be great, but the body gets used to it and the craving for sugar eventually lessens.
Your alternative is to fight against sugar in a less radical way. Gradually reduce the amount of sugar in your coffee. Walk past fruit yoghurts in the refrigerated aisle and instead grab some natural yoghurt, which you refine with fruits and honey - with time less and less. If you can’t do without chocolate, buy some with a higher cocoa to sugar ratio - every time a few percent more.
If you feel a craving for something sweet, just drink a glass of water. You will be amazed that often there is a very simple reason behind it: thirst.
If it lingers, prepare a healthy snack: a few nuts, a piece of cheese or half an avocado.
If you just snack out of habit (the classic example here probably being the chocolate in front of the TV) brush your teeth before you settle on the couch. This will make you more reluctant to give into the urge.
Also, remind yourself: which foods actually contain sugar? Ingredients are listed on food packages in descending order, so the ones highest in content are mentioned first. Accordingly, the manufacturers sometimes sub-categorise the term “sugar”. Therefore sugar is called different names such as sucrose, fructose, glucose syrup, dextrose, sweet whey powder, lactose, corn starch, maltodextrin and many more.
What about the alternatives?
Alternatives to sugars are abundant. But those who believe that by consuming alternatives that they are automatically doing their health a favour are mistaken.
And although honey is a natural product with many valuable ingredients, it has almost as many calories as industrial sugar.
Xylitol has about 40% less calories than household sugar, it does not affect the blood sugar level as much and is not harmful for the teeth. However, for financial reasons it is often extracted from the waste from (sometimes genetically manipulated) corn cobs. Also, xylitol, consumed in larger quantities frequently is not easy to digest.
Stevia is a sugar substitute that is extracted from sweet grass. The list of benefits sounds promising: No calories, not unhealthy for the teeth, no influence on the blood glucose level. However, Stevia also contains nothing valuable. What remains is - in the truest sense - a bitter aftertaste.
Coconut sugar obtained by hand from coconut tree blossoms contains numerous vitamins and minerals. With a kilo price of up to €40, however, it is also very expensive. Coconut blossom sugar is not supposed to increase the blood glucose level as rapidly as industrial sugar. However, there are currently no representative studies on this effect.
Last but not least, more and more consumers rely on concentrates, such as agave syrup. The advantage: minerals and trace elements stay intact due to the vacuum process used for the production, but they are rich in fruit sugar - fructose. Agave syrup is therefore not a permanent solution because too much fructose consumption can be harmful in the long run: it can increase the blood fat levels and result in a fatty liver.
How dangerous is sugar really? Our tip: "That Sugar Film". For his informative and very entertaining documentary, director Damon Gameau consumed almost 160 grams of sugar daily without eating more calories than before. The result: weight gain and bad liver values. An interesting film worth watching about this sweet poison.