When you’re in recovery, a sweet tooth may not seem like a big deal. After all, enjoying a candy bar or a cookie has to be better than drinking or using, right?
Sugar & Recovery
While it’s true that there is nothing wrong with enjoying an occasional treat, it’s best to limit your total sugar consumption to help you stay on track with your recovery goals.
How Sugar Affects the Body
From a physiological perspective, sugar consumption produces a similar response in the body as taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, which is one of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. Unfortunately, when the brain is frequently exposed to the sugar-dopamine response, it can become dependent on sugar consumption to produce the desired feelings of well-being. This can lead to a desire to keep eating more and more sugary foods—potentially creating a substitute addiction.
You’re not getting a mind-altering high, but sugar consumption can destabilize blood glucose and cause extreme highs and lows in blood sugar levels. This can:
- Worsen your withdrawal symptoms
- Lead to cravings for addictive substances
- Result in mood swings that exacerbate depression and other co-occurring mental health struggles
- Create inflammation that worsens chronic pain
Of course, excess sugar consumption can also lead to problematic weight gain. This can make it more difficult to manage some of the health issues you may have as a result of your past substance abuse. For example, carrying extra weight often leads to fatigue and increases your risk of heart disease.
Keeping Sugar Consumption in Check
Cutting back on sugar can be challenging—even for people who don’t have a substance use disorder. Statistics show that the average American eats about 17 teaspoons of sugar per day. That’s double the amount recommended for men and triple the recommended amount for women.
Keeping your sugar consumption in check requires making careful food choices. Here are some tips to help:
- Cut back on processed foods. Sugar is often added to jarred pasta sauces, salad dressings, and other processed foods to prolong shelf time. These foods may not taste sweet, but they can significantly increase your sugar consumption over time. Focus on purchasing whole foods whenever possible.
- Read nutrition labels carefully. Food labels can help you determine what’s in a product, but sugar often goes by other names. Evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, brown rice syrup, barley malt, galactose, and glucose are just a few synonyms for sugar that are frequently used on nutrition labels.
- Make incremental changes to your favorite recipes. When you’re cooking and baking, try gradually adding less sugar to see if you can tell the difference. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup sugar, try adding ¾ cup. If you can’t tell the difference, use ½ cup the next time. Alternatively, unsweetened applesauce used in a one-to-one ratio makes an excellent sugar substitute in many recipes for cakes, cookies, muffins, and quick breads. Sweet-smelling spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla can also help compensate for a lower sugar content.
- Stay away from soft drinks. Popular soda flavors are loaded with added sugar, but diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners that have many of the same negative health effects. Cutting back or eliminating soft drinks from your diet is the healthiest choice. Try swapping your favorites from fruit-infused waters or tea flavored with lemon.
- Plan your snacking. A little advance prep can help you resist the urge to grab snacks that are loaded with sugar. Keep string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, fresh fruit, and air-popped popcorn readily available for healthy snacking.
- Focus on increasing your consumption of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Foods that meet these specifications are naturally lower in sugar and will fuel your body in the healthiest possible way.
Promoting a Wellness-Focused Lifestyle
At Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, we believe a wellness-focused lifestyle is the foundation for a lasting recovery. Our Pennsylvania residential addiction treatment program encourages good nutrition, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and stress-relieving hobbies to help those in recovery deal with the challenges of day-to-day life without addictive substances. If you’re interested in learning more, contact our admissions representatives to discuss how our full continuum of care can be personalized to fit your unique needs.