Written by Amanda Leach, MS, RD, LD, CLT
During the long, dreary winter months it is easy for your house to accumulate clutter that requires some spring cleaning. It is just as easy for your body to accumulate stuff from the poor dietary habits that often develop. Doing some spring cleaning of your diet can help your body and mind back feel great!
Cleaning excess sugar out of your diet can do a world of good. However, if you have ever tried to cut back on your intake of sugar before, then you may know how difficult it can be, especially so for some people. There are a couple of reasons for this. One reason could be due to a reactive hypoglycemia, that occurs in susceptible individuals. Eating a large amount of sugar raises your blood sugar, which is then followed by a sharp drop in people who have reactive hypoglycemia. This then triggers them to crave more sugar or other carbohydrates, keeping the vicious cycle going. Reducing intake of excess sugar and consuming meals and snacks that have more balance with protein, and fiber can help break this cycle.
A second reason giving up sugar may be so difficult for some individuals could be due to the impact sugar has on your brain. Sugar can cause a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps you feel good. It causes this release into an area of your brain called the nucleus accumbens. The nucleus accumbens is also known as the ‘reward center’ of your brain. Addictive substances, such as tobacco, heroin, and cocaine work in this same way, by the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. When this brain region is activated it wears down willpower making it exceptionally difficult to resist the craving. A study done by Dr. David Ludwig, published in the June 2013 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that highly processed carbohydrates (such as sugar) may stimulate this reward pathway more than other types of carbohydrates. The good news is there may be a way for you to lose your taste for these highly-processed carbohydrates. A study published in the 2015 summer issue of The Permanente Journal by Registered Dietitian Carole Bartolotto showed that when study participants eliminated all added sugars and artificial sweeteners from their diet for 2 weeks about 95% of them found that sweet foods and drinks tasted sweeter or even too sweet. Also, after just 6 days 87% of the participants stopped craving sugar altogether. Spring cleaning the added sugar and artificial sweeteners out of your diet may help make it easier to not crave them! Most people can identify the most obvious sources of sugar, but added sugar can also can sneak in through less obvious sources, such as yogurts, ketchup, and salad dressing. Check those ingredient labels to see where those sugars may be hiding! Words such as corn syrup, cane sugar, cane syrup, and dextrose all mean sugar. Most people do not need to completely eliminate all sugar/sweeteners from their diet, but they do add up easily and many of us end up over consuming them. Identifying where these added sugars come into your diet is important, that way you know where to cut back if necessary.
In order to give your diet a good spring cleaning it is just as important to add things into your diet as it is to take things out. Your body has natural detoxification pathways, but there are many vitamins and minerals that are required to help these pathways function optimally. Adding foods rich in these nutrients to help support these natural pathways is crucial. There are plenty of foods that support detoxification that begin to come into season in spring and summer. All of the fresh and colorful berries and vegetables, and don’t forget out the spices and herbs are great additions to your diet to support detoxification. Spring salads can include a rainbow of vegetables. Other ideas include fresh made fruit or vegetable salsas or homemade salad dressings with fresh herbs and spices. You can grow many of these things in your own gardens and if gardening is not your forte or something you enjoy then take advantage of your local farmers market! If you need help in taking steps to clean up your diet, a registered dietitian can work together with you, helping give you support and making sure you are getting the balance you need.