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Effects of Eating Sugar and Weight Loss

Each week we’ll be pulling out one of your emails from our mail bag and featuring them here. Feel free to submit as many questions as you would like. All questions having to do with Nutrition, Weight Loss and Obesity-related health conditions are fair game.

“Dr. Kim,

I have such a sweet tooth—I find it so difficult to avoid sweets. What can I do to change this habit?

- Ellie M., Brea, California

Dear Ellie,

Sugar works in several different ways to affect your appetite. First, sugar triggers the release of natural, feel-good chemicals in the brain called endorphins. These endorphins have been studied extensively and are found to be uplifting mood-enhancers. Interestingly enough, the sugar signal starts immediately upon tasting sugar. The sugar compound doesn’t need to circulate to the brain to have an effect. It appears that just the taste of sugar triggers the release of the endorphins. This is important to know because many people report that it’s very difficult to each just one cookie or one piece of candy. The effect takes hold immediately as the particular food hits the taste buds.

Another way that sugar impacts your appetite is by affecting your blood sugar levels. Sweets can lead to a rapid rise and fall in your body’s blood sugar level. This fall in your blood sugar level is sensed by your body as a lack of nutrients, so it kicks your hunger into high gear. This character trait of sugar is most obvious for people in the morning. Shortly after eating breakfast, many people report feeling hungry again. That’s because breakfast, out of all the meals of the day, tends to be richer in sweets and have more carbs, such as fruit juices, sugar sweetened cereals, jams and jellies.

So given that sugar can have these “mind altering” effects, should you avoid them all together? Not necessarily. Sugars and carbohydrates are not inherently bad for you. By themselves, they contribute very little to weight gain. But oftentimes, sugar and carbohydrates come bundled with fat, i.e. cookies, pastries, cheesy pasta dishes. So a better rule of thumb to live by may be to eat sugar related foods that are low in fat.

One last comment about sugar that is worth mentioning has to do with artificial sweeteners. There’s some debate going on about the health benefit from low or no calorie beverages. They are considered by most physician scientists to be unhealthy. For one, because they are no-calorie beverages, people drink them with abandon. On average, people who choose non-caloric, carbonated beverages tend to consume two to three cans a day. Carbonation creates carbonic acid, which can be an irritant to the digestive tract. Also, depending on the drink, people are getting excessive amounts of caffeine. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, drinking these drinks perpetuates a need for sweetness which oftentimes leads to people seeking out other sweets throughout the day. If you have a real sweet tooth, it’s best to avoid soft drinks with artificial sweeteners.

What’s great about working with a medical weight loss center is that not only do you have access to diet plans, a FDA approved weight loss program, safe appetite suppressants and a medical weight loss clinic, you have a place to ask questions, get tips and discover creative weight management programs that allow you to get long-lasting results. It’s the best way to truly change your lifestyle and create a healthier you.

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