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Natural Awakenings Chicago

The Not-So-Sweet Side of Sugar

Feb 24, 2012 12:24PM ● By Sandra Scheinbaum

Sugar is more addictive than heroin, cocaine, nicotine or alcohol. It’s been linked to mental and physical ailments as diverse as headaches, depression, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, diabetes and heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Don’t believe the conventional wisdom that this culprit is just “empty calories.” Sugar disrupts metabolism, suppresses the immune system and causes inflammation, which is the driving force behind a growing epidemic of chronic diseases. It affects the same areas of the brain as addictive drugs, leading to subsequent intake and dependency.

I know firsthand how toxic sugar can be. I’m a psychologist who specializes in nutrition coaching, but 40 years ago, I was seriously addicted to sugar. As a young woman in my 20s, cookies, candy, cakes and ice cream were staples in my diet. Every morning, I woke up vowing to avoid these foods, but inevitably ended up binging by the end of the day. I thought that bagels, pasta and breakfast cereals were healthy alternatives, completely clueless to the fact that these foods are metabolized as sugar.

Some of the consequences of my sugar addiction were anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, brain fog, fatigue and digestive disturbances, not to mention weight gain. I was on a dangerous path towards metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) and full-blown type II diabetes, which has been linked to heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

My transition to living without sugar was gradual. I experimented with all forms of alternative sweeteners, such as brown rice syrup, maple syrup and agave nectar, but these products are processed in the body the same as sugar and can be just as addictive. Today, I relish the sweetness of an apple, a baked sweet potato or a handful of blueberries: whole, real foods that our ancestors would have enjoyed.

Speaking of our ancestors, hunter-gatherers consumed about 20 teaspoons of sugar per year. The average American consumes about 158 pounds per year. We may be eating as much as 500 calories per day in added sugar alone. Where is all this sugar coming from?

Sugar is everywhere. Walk down an aisle in a supermarket and pick up anything that comes in a bag, a box or a can—chances are pretty good that you’ll see some form of sugar on the label. Don’t be fooled if it’s organic or has a health claim on the front. Even canned organic corn has sugar added. Some barbeque sauces have as much sugar as a candy bar.

Processed grains such as bagels, breads, muffins, pastas, cereals, crackers and chips are just another form of sugar, as well. Even those products advertised as “whole grain” fall into the sugar category. Here’s a simple formula to remember: Flour equals sugar equals a shot of glucose.

Sugar may also be hiding under an assumed name. Don’t be fooled by the following: barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, cane juice, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, dextrin, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, sucrose, polydextrose, maple syrup, fructose and agave nectar.

If you want to curb sugar cravings for good, going cold turkey may be the most effective option. Eat protein and healthy fats, such as avocado or olive oil, with every meal. Eat foods with more grams of fiber than grams of sugar. Eat every two to three hours for blood sugar control. Taste the sweetness of fruit and starchy vegetables such as carrots and yams. If you’re seriously addicted, try eliminating all fruit, as well, for the first two weeks.Sugar-free almond truffle recipe

Spend time soothing yourself without sugar. When a craving hits, thinks of what would really feel good instead. Nothing beats the sweetness of meaningful social connections and pleasurable activities.

For those times that call for a sweet fix, choose wisely and eat mindfully. How long can you savor a small piece of extra dark chocolate? This recipe is only sweetened with a small amount of dates.

Sandra Scheinbaum, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 30 years of experience, specializing in holistic approaches to mental and physical well-being. For more information, call 847-604-2752, email [email protected] or visit

Almond Truffles
½ cup raw almonds
¼ cup raw walnuts
2-3 pitted dates, preferably Medjool
¼ cup almond butter, raw or roasted
½ tsp almond extract
1-2 tsp cocoa powder, preferably raw (optional)
Shredded coconut (optional)

Process the almonds and walnuts in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Add the dates, almond butter, almond extract and cocoa powder and process until the mixture holds together. Roll into balls and if desired, roll in shredded coconut. Refrigerate and enjoy.