The bumper sticker on the truck read, “Bad Cop - No Doughnut.” In other words, “I’ve got a sweet tooth and if I don’t eat something sweet to start my day, you really don’t want me to pull you over.”
At the grocery store, a woman pulls a large bag of M&M;’s candy from her cart, informing the clerk that a “sugar fix” keeps her employees awake and happy.
An auto store clerk hands me a piece of candy when I tell him of my trouble getting the oil filter unscrewed.
A T-shirt given to me reads: “Hand over the chocolate and nobody gets hurt.”
What gives sweets their power to change moods, enhance alertness and adorn bumpers and T-shirts?
One reason sweets affect moods is their high percentage of calories from sugar - in the form of corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, fructose, maltose and honey, to name a few. Sugar rapidly raises blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels are low, we have less energy to do our work and small stresses that usually don’t affect us become bothersome. When blood sugar levels are normal, we feel satisfied, relaxed and sociable.
Only during the last century have people eaten so much sugar. In the 1850s, the average American’s sugar intake was four teaspoons per day; today it’s 43. That’s the difference between eating three pieces of licorice a day, compared to 29.
Sugar’s recent popularity is partly because of its ability to produce calming brain chemicals such as serotonin. Serotonin is a brain neurotransmitter that helps regulate food intake, pain tolerance, sleep and mood. Consuming sugary foods increases brain serotonin levels. Stress, lack of sleep and unbalanced eating deplete brain serotonin levels, which intensifies sugar cravings.
But our bodies haven’t adapted to excessive sugar consumption. Let’s follow a piece of licorice from the candy jar into the body:
The licorice is chewed and swallowed. Enzymes in the small intestine break the sugar into its basic molecular structures, glucose and fructose, which are useable fuel sources for the body. The glucose rapidly enters the bloodstream and becomes blood sugar, while the fructose is transported to the liver and transformed into glucose before being released as blood sugar.
Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, transports the blood sugar to all tissues of the body. Each tissue cell dismantles the sugar molecule to release its stored energy. When brain tissue cells have adequate blood sugar, we are more relaxed, think more clearly and have energy to work efficiently.
The employer providing the M&M;’s to keep her employees happy and alert was on the right track. High-sugar foods produce a short-term (10- to 30-minute) increase in blood sugar and serotonin, called a sugar high.
But when high-sugar foods are eaten by themselves, without more complex foods - like whole grains, fruits, lean meats, dairy, legumes or vegetables - blood sugar levels rapidly fall following the initial high, causing what is called a sugar crash. That’s when you feel driven to reach for another piece of licorice, caffeinated pop, or candy.
High-sugar foods also typically lack vitamins, minerals and fiber, and should be eaten only when less nutritious snacks aren’t available.
Here are some snacks with a mixture of carbohydrate, protein and/or fat for longer-term sustainability of blood sugar and serotonin levels (one to three hours) that also provide healthful vitamins, minerals and fiber:
Nonfat or low-fat cheese sticks with some grapes.
Orange juice with a couple slices of low-fat deli turkey.
Crackers or apple slices dipped in nonfat or low-fat cottage cheese.
A glass of nonfat or low-fat milk with popcorn or pretzels.
A teaspoon of peanut butter on a banana.
Canned pop-top fruit (in its own juice) with some nonfat or low-fat cottage cheese.
Nonfat or low-fat yogurt with one cookie (instead of two cookies).
Carrots dipped in nonfat or low-fat cream cheese.
Almonds with dried fruit make a tasty, portable snack.
The foods in this snack list are low in refined carbohydrates (sugar), balanced by more complex carbohydrates, protein and fat, and contain vitamins, minerals and fiber. Including them in your snack options will help you to better sustain blood sugars, which translates to an even amount of energy throughout the day, keeping you more alert and better able to handle stress.
The bumper sticker on your car could read, “Good Day - Good Snack.”
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Craig T. Hunt The Spokesman-Review
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