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How Sweet It Isn’t
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I was recently working with a client who was struggling to lose weight.  This client eliminated wheat and was feeling remarkably better. Notably, their acid reflux was gone, thinking was sharper, mood lifted and they could climb up a flight of stairs without knee pain.  They stated, “I really was doing well until the peanut M & M’s crushed me.  They just crushed me! This triggered a binge of eating that started with the M & M’s and ended in a bowl of ice cream.

As the client shared their experience, the statement that stood out was, “Sweets have control over me. I can pass on bread, but I can’t help myself when it comes to sugar.”  Ah, yes.  Sugar - the five letter word that is treated, rightfully so, like a naughty word. The temporary cure to a bad day, crabby boss and whatever else ails you at the moment. We all know the world’s problems cannot be solved at the bottom of a bag of jelly beans but it sure can feel good temporarily.

What I find fascinating is if it’s not wheat, its sugar that grabs hold of more well-intentioned people and takes then down the rabbit hole of binge eating.  As Dr. Davis discusses in this video on Cureality Diet Principle Principle #1, the Cureality nutrition approach is the elimination of wheat, grains, and sugars, with limitations on starchy legumes and dairy.

The removal of modern wheat is recommended for several reasons.  It can be addictive thanks to the gliadin protein in wheat that yields opiate peptides, which are very small protein molecules.  These peptides stimulate the appetite and increase calorie intake by 400 calories per day, 365 days per year, setting the stage for an unsettling “need” for more wheat-based foods. One cookie is never enough.  One slice of bread is just the start.

The same could be said for sugar.  Beside salt, Americans consume 10 times more sugar than other food additives. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the average American ingests 156 pounds of sugar annually.  That represents a whopping 31 five-pound bags of sugar each year!  In reality, much of this sugar is in the form of high fructose corn syrup prevalent in processed foods because it’s much cheaper than sucrose (common tabletop sugar).

Nonetheless, this next statement likely comes as no surprise- sugar can be addictive1.  There are studies mounting to support the addictive nature of sugar.  According to functional MRI (fMRI) and PET scans, neuroscientists have shown that sugar lead to dopamine release in the reward pathway region of the brain2.  The results are somewhat shocking.  Sugar fires up a section of the brain that is also the same region that is fired up in response to cocaine, heroin, alcohol and nicotine.    Interestingly, sugar consumption also leads to release of endogenous opioids in the brain, leading to a “feel good” euphoria, also known as a “sugar high”.  The story here sounds eerily similar to the addictive mechanisms of wheat.

It makes me question why food manufactures would place sugar, with its many disguised names; barley malt syrup, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, cane juice crystals, corn syrup solids, dextrin and dextrose just to name a few, in so many products?  Why is sugar added to spaghetti sauce, yogurt, even potato chips?   In my opinion, clever food scientists have long understood the mechanism behind food addiction and what the food industry refers to as the “bliss point” of taste buds, thereby creating an engineered food supply that is busting at the seams with irresistible products.   In the clinical setting, I have noted that the combo of sugar AND wheat in a food item are a double whammy. A one, two punch of sorts to knock your cravings into overdrive and impulse eating through the roof. It makes sense if you think about how they both affect your brain and appetite.  We are addicted to sugar.  Our brains have been hijacked.   It’s a set-up on a grand scale.

Why else would really smart, “know-better” Americans consume nearly 13% of total caloric intake from sugar sources?  Accordingly to The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released last year, children and adolescents consume on average 16% of total caloric intake from added sugar.  To put that in perspective, a young male consuming 2500 calories per day is consuming the equivalent of 25 teaspoons of sugar per day.  A January 2014 study published in JAMA: Internal Medicine found adults consume 22 teaspoons of added sugars per day.

Sugar, whether it be white sugar, raw cane sugar, beet sugar, brown sugar are all suspects in this brain changing game. Oh, and yes honey, maple syrup and agave are largely fructose which has been noted in recent research to be worse than glucose at stimulating the appetite.  In other words, that so called healthy dessert made with ½ a cup of honey or organic agave could potentially trigger your appetite more than a candy bar.  Be careful with the overzealous use of these natural sweeteners.

Based on the experiences of people who have successfully eliminated wheat, they would also argue elimination of sugar is essential to break the grips of these addictive substances. You know yourself better than anybody, right?  Ask yourself can I resist the gallon of ice cream in the fridge or would keeping it out of the house be a wiser option? Can I enjoy a small serving of ice cream occasionally or am I going to devour the entire container in a serving or two?  The lesson here is, all is not well with just wheat elimination.  Else we could eat gum drops all day but not eat wheat.  The Cureality message to ditch wheat, ideally all grains, as well as sugars, is a powerful and necessarily step to enjoy all the sweetness your vibrant health has to offer.

Lisa Grudzielanek, MS, RDN, CD, CDE
Cureality Nutrition Coach


1. Colantuoni, C., Schwenker, J., McCarthy, P., et al. 2001. Excessive sugar intake alters binding to dopamine and mu-opioid receptors in the brain. Neuroreport. 12(16): 3549-3552.

2. Volkow, N.D., Wang, G.J., Fowler, J.S., et al. 2002. "Nonhedonic" food motivation in humans involves dopamine in the dorsal striatum and methylphenidate amplifies this effect. Synapse. 44(3): 175-180.  

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