Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sugar Highs & Sugar Lows: Understanding the Body's Response to Sugar

I recently picked up a great little book that a friend lent me a few months back. It's called The All-Natural Sugar-Free Dessert Cookbook and it was published in 1992, even though the cover art is very 70's vintage-esque. It is written by Linda Romanelli Leahy. It's full of sugarless recipes sweetened with some form of fruit. No artificial sweeteners in this book! I knew I had come into a real winner of a recipe book when I found a recipe for Baklava, sugar-free, that made my mouth water.

I want to re-print an important section which happens to be in the Intro of the book. The science is solid and doesn't seem to have changed much over the years, regarding sugar highs. If anything, modern science further validates the information below.

Sugar Consumption Can Give You a "High"--and Low

The term sugar high generally refers to the quick burst of energy you experience when you eat a concentrated simple sugar--a candy bar or other snack made primarily of table sugar--on an empty stomach. What you're really feeling is a rapid, dramatic rise in blood glucose (the digested form of sugar). Your pancreas responds (in the nondiabetic person) to this rise in glucose with a similar outpouring of insulin that brings your glucose level back to the normal range.

This rapid rise and subsequent fall of glucose in the blood has consequences. The energy "high" you experienced in the minutes following ingestion of simple sugar is followed by an energy "low" (this effect can be very pronounced in children, who react quickly and dramatically to biochemical changes in the body).

For some people, the low is accompanied by feelings of irritability, sluggishness, and overall malaise. To counteract these effects, you may decide to help yourself to yet another serving of sugar--which can lock you into a vicious cycle characterized by mood swings and alternating energy peaks and valleys.

A better strategy for maintaining energy is to eat complex carbohydrate foods, which include fruits, [whole] grain products, and vegetables. It takes time for the body to digest these foods and break them down into simpler sugars that can be absorbed into the bloodstream (a simple sugar food is
already broken down, so its sugar rushes into the bloodstream almost instantaneously) and from there, into the cells for use as fuel. This relatively slow process permits a steady, more measured flow of sugar into the blood; you avoid energy highs and lows, keep your blood glucose level steady, and generally feel better.

page xvi Introduction, written by Elliot J. Rayfield, M.D., The All-Natural Sugar-Free Dessert Cookbook

This pretty much confirms my own past with sugar. No wonder it's a volatile relationship--it begins in the body! It seems like the only way to stay high is to not begin eating sugar at all and instead, get high on life. I'm finding in my own exercise routine that I feel exhilarated afterward but I don't "crash" like with sugar. I naturally slow down to a normal pace but my endorphins accompany me throughout the day. I prefer this kind of a high to a closed-loop sugar high. It's easy for me to say, though, since it's been one year and 5 months since I've experienced a sugar high!


beckiwithani said...

I'm pretty sure that refined sugar is a big migraine trigger for me. And it's the crash that does it! I recently had a couple of days of sugar binge - cake, cupcakes, white chocolate. The more I eat, the more I want. I usually eat refined sugar very rarely. It's amazing how fast I feel addictive symptoms when I give in just a couple of times in a row! I'm detoxing now...

Angie said...

Thank you so much for the recipe for Mounds Candy Bars. I have a birthday party to go to this weekend and I was dreading it because I'm allergic to cake and it's so hard to find desserts that are free of wheat, eggs, dairy, and sugar. So I'm very excited about making the candy.

Michelle said...

That sounds like a great book, I'll have to check it out.

Mary said...

I just finished reading your entire blog (only took me a week!) Now I'm reading David Kessler's book. I am one week free of my sugar addiction and feeling better than ever. I gave up all sugar. Just wondering if you still crave sugar. I mean, sugar of any kind. Like when you eat fruit, do you then crave other sugars? I'm thinking about eating foods with natural sugar but am afraid that once I start, I will overeat that too. Those sugar free recipes you posted look too good to pass up!
I also noticed, when I gave up sugar, I started craving more salt. Did you have a similar experience?

The Raggedy Girl said...

Thank you for stopping by. What an interesting blog. I will stop back to read somemore later.

The Raggedy Girl

My Year Without said...

beckiwithani-It's great for you to share this. I often wonder what it would be like to go back to sugar. Sometimes I think I could eat just one donut and then go another year without touching sugar, but I just fear that there is a monster alive and waiting for that one bite of sugar and then I'll be addicted all over again. I hope your detox goes well.

Also, if you know you'll be in a tempting situation, drink a lot of water beforehand--which I'm sure you know!

Angie-I hope you and others at the party enjoyed the Mounds bars!

Michelle-It really is a great little paperback.

Mary-Thanks for reading! And what do you think of Kessler's book so far?

To answer your question, yes I still have sweet cravings, but not necessarily for white sugar. Mostly just for something sweet. I go days, though, without any cravings. I highly recommend eating fruits and vegetables, though. They do NOT make me have cravings. If anything, they help temper any cravings I have. I don't think you'll overeat apples or bananas or carrots...Go ahead and enjoy!

I do crave salt, too. Strange. I will have to look into this. I can't seem to get enough salt. Hmmm.

Raggedy Girl-Thanks for coming by! Hope you enjoy!

Sweta said...

I can very easily get addicted to sugary stuff-if it's in the house I can't help eating it. So,I tend not to bring it home and even if I do-never in bulk(though it's much cheaper).
Very interesting blog :)