The Simple Science of Sugar

There was a time, long before you, I or anyone else reading this post were alive, when the only sweet-tasting foods that was around were fruits and honey.  It was a simple time back then when the available sweet-tasting foods were not only limited in variability, but their availability was not all year long, rather only seasonally and in year-round, warm climates.  The beauty of it back then, was that naturally sweet-tasting foods didn’t over-stimulate the palette or lead to cravings as today’s refined sweet foods do.

So how does sugar lead to cravings?   It all comes down to Dopamine.  We’ve all heard this word, but may not know exactly what it means.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical messenger that delivers signals to and from the brain.  Dopamine is responsible for communicating signals that control the feelings of reward and pleasure.  As you would imagine, dopamine is released for many reasons, including physical touch and exercise as well as in response to the consumption of certain substances, including caffeine, narcotics, and sugar.

If dopamine is responsible for the feelings of reward and pleasure, then, when do you think dopamine would go into action?  You’ve probably guessed correctly…whenever something feels good, dopamine gets released.  In the case of sugar, when you eat sugar, dopamine gets released and then you crave more sugar, and then, you eat more sugar.  This vicious cycle is otherwise known as the Sugar Addiction Cycle.

This cycle wouldn’t be bad if the sugar being eaten were nutrient dense, like a naturally sweetened food, such as fruit or honey.  Unfortunately, in today’s world, the majority of sugar consumed is not nutrient dense, rather it is refined, “bad carbs” and in this case, this vicious cycle can be devastating.  Take a look at the example below comparing an equal serving of calories from sweet potato versus wheat bread.   Compare the values of nutrients for each.  If you are one to “count Calories” you may think 100 calories is 100 calories, no matter what you eat…This can’t be further from the truth!

103 cals of sweet potato 101 cals of unenriched wheat bread
24 grams of carbohydrates 20 grams of carbohydrates
4 grams of dietary fiber 1 grams of dietary fiber
438% of the RDA for vitamin A 0% of the RDA for vitamin A
37% of the RDA for vitamin C 0% of the RDA for vitamin C
4% of the RDA for calcium 0% of the RDA for calcium
4% of the RDA for iron 1% of the RDA for iron
sweet potato as a good carb
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More nutrient-rich carb option

With this example, you should note the nutritional benefit of choosing the sweet potato over the wheat bread.  Eating real whole foods instead of processed enriched foods will always be a better choice because of the natural balance of vitamins and minerals in the real whole foods.  Vitamins and their cofactors function best when they are in their natural state, so when things get added back into a food, it’s not the same.

While walking through any grocery store aisle, you will notice foods that are “enriched” or “fortified” or “supplemented” with some vitamin, mineral or another.  Keep in mind, that many of these foods need to be supplemented because the manufacturing process stripped the food of the said vitamin or mineral.  This, among other reasons, is why processed foods should be avoided…the natural vitamins, minerals and overall nutritional value are missing.

Minimize the effects of the vicious sugar cycle by making better choices when eating carbs.  Focus on eating real whole foods instead of the processed options.  You will experience less hunger, have better dopamine balance, and have more energy.

7 better carb choices

Eating healthier starts with your next bite.  As we discuss on here, we’re all about introducing baby steps.  So, with baby steps in mind, start with these simple alternatives for a better nutritionally-balanced meal:

  1. Instead of French fries, eat sweet potato fries
  2. Instead of soft drinks, drink sparkling mineral water with lemon and a couple of drops of stevia or other “healthier” sweetener infused with vanilla
  3. Instead of potato chips, eat baked kale chips
  4. Instead of saltine crackers, choose seaweed snacks
  5. Instead of whole wheat pasta, eat spaghetti squash
  6. Instead of couscous, eat quinoa
  7. instead of any cereal, eat steel-cut oats

What are your favorite “good carbs”?  Do you feel differently when eating a good carb versus a bad carb?  Please comment below and share your thoughts.


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Michael Ortiz

Business Consultant | Amen Method Professional | Lifestyle Entrepreneur at Family For Health
I am passionate about real food, health, wellness, fitness, business and my wonderful family!

I am fueled by "Paying It Forward in Health" on this site.My main driver in creating this website, alongside my family, is to share our ongoing family health journey in hopes of encouraging others to have the health epiphany that we have been blessed to experience.

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