[caption id="attachment_367" align="alignright" width="300"] Do you have a sweet tooth? Most of us love sugar in our breakfast cereal, morning coffee or favorite snack.[/caption] Do you have a sweet tooth? Most of us love sugar, whether it’s in our breakfast cereal, our morning coffee, or our beloved chocolate, candy bars, cakes, pastries or cookies. Craving sugary or starchy foods has been programmed into our DNA, because it once allowed our ancestors to survive. Our brains and entire nervous systems are soothed when we indulge in sweets, because our taste buds stimulate the production of feel good hormones. However, eating too much sugar on a daily basis can lead to serious health consequences, including contributing to arthritis and joint pain. Read on to find out why you may crave sugar, its effects on your body, and how to kick the high-sugar habit. How Sweet It Is [caption id="attachment_368" align="alignright" width="300"] Thousands of years ago, wild honey was a rare, sweet treat .[/caption] Imagine living thousands of years ago. You would have gathered foods such as greens and berries, and hunted or caught animals such as wild game or fish. You may have gone for days without much food. When you or a tribe member had the skill and luck to kill a buffalo, you would all have gorged yourselves, because eating such a substantial meal was not a daily occurrence. Finding wild honey provided a rare treat and extra energy, and because these sweets were so infrequent, your body evolved to cope with the occasional indulgence in sugar. It’s estimated that our Homo Sapien bodies evolved in this way for about 200,000 years. Fast forward to about 10,000 years ago, when we began to farm staple crops such as roots and grains. We learned to preserve and store our crops, and later to refrigerate them. Relatively suddenly, we had an endless supply of grains, sugar, corn and potatoes. The problem is that our physiology has not evolved fast enough to keep up. Genetically, we are still very similar to our ancestors before agriculture began. Our bodies still crave sugar because it was once so rare. For our ancestors, occasional foods high in sugar and fat guaranteed their survival by giving them the extra energy needed for the hunt, and allowing them to store calories for when food was not readily available. They used up thousands of calories hunting and gathering, and later in farming and working the land. Today, most of us expend a few calories driving to work where we’ll then sit in front of a computer all day. Or perhaps we’ll drive to a grocery store to pick up some sweet treats and crusty buns to accompany our fatty portion of ground beef. What’s the problem with sugar today? [caption id="attachment_369" align="alignright" width="300"] Today, the average person eats about 180 pounds of sugar a year.[/caption] Most of us have been addicted to sugar since we were infants. The current epidemic of sugar cravings began after World War II, when the rations for sugar and sweetened products were lifted. Suddenly, highly sweetened cereals, soda pop, and packaged foods began hitting the supermarket shelves. Our diets shifted from mainly fresh, farm-grown foods to highly processed, fatty and sugar-rich convenience foods. Today, the average person eats about 180 pounds of sugar a year, or about a half-pound of sugar a day. According to Sayer Ji, author, educator and founder of GreenMedInfo, the most widely referenced health resource of its kind, “Sugar and artificial sweeteners are so accessible, affordable and socially sanctioned, that few consider their habitual consumption to be a problem on the scale of say, addiction to cocaine. But if recent research is correct their addictive potential could be even worse.” Donna Gates, author of “The Body Ecology Guide to Growing Younger”, says: Sugar hardens, weakens and poisons every system in the body. It is devoid of vitamins, minerals and fiber, and it creates an acidic body, which is linked to cancers and autoimmune diseases. Sugar and joint pain [caption id="attachment_370" align="alignright" width="300"] Women who drink one or more sugar-sweetened sodas a day might raise their risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis.[/caption] In WebMD Health News, Kathleen Doheny writes about recent study findings that link women who drink sodas regularly with rheumatoid arthritis: “Women who drink one or more sugar-sweetened sodas a day might raise their risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis, according to a new study that links RA risk to the sugary habit. Yang Hu, a researcher at Harvard School of Public Health, presented his study findings at the American College of Rheumatology annual meeting. Hu and his colleagues looked at the diet and other health information from about 173,000 women during two different time periods. Every 4 years, the women reported how many sugary beverages they drank. During the time periods studied, 883 women were diagnosed with RA. Hu found those who drank one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day, compared to those who drank either none or less than one a month, had a higher risk of getting a form of RA known as seropositive. It is often a more severe form of the disease.” Dr. Catherine Shanahan, MD, Author of Deep Nutrition, Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food explains the process further: “Collagens are a family of proteins that form strips in the ligaments and tendons surrounding your joints to hold your skeleton together. Without it, we would fall apart at the joints. How good you feel depends on your diet. People who eat inflammatory foods experience more joint damage on a daily basis because sugar acts as an abrasive in the joints. At night, the small frays and tiny breaks in the collagen that formed during the day must be repaired. But inflammation interferes with healing. Instead of waking up feeling recovered, people on bad diets wake up with stiff joints.” 10 Tips to kick the sugar habit Sugar addiction can be powerful. Donna Gates says: “As powerful as any drug, sugar lifts us up, only to knock us right back down. It has long been know that sugar’s addictive properties and withdrawal symptoms are similar to narcotics.” The recommendation is to consume no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day. Here are 10 tips to help you reduce your sugar load: [caption id="attachment_371" align="alignright" width="300"] Read labels, and toss all the sugar-laden junk food out of your pantry.[/caption] 1. Makeover your pantry. Sugar is mainly found in packaged, processed, and canned foods. You have to become a detective and read labels to get rid of sugar. Read labels, and toss all the sugar-laden junk food out of your pantry. 2. Avoid triggers. If walking past your favorite fast food joint is impossible without going in, take a different route. If you are lured by the dish of candies on a colleague’s desk, try to meet in the conference room or your office to avoid the triggers that lower your resistance. 3. Drink more water. Dehydration can manifest as mild hunger, so when you get a craving, drink a full glass of water. Wait 20 minutes and see if you are really hungry, or were just thirsty. 4. Eat more nutrients. If you don’t get all the nutrients you need from food, you may have cravings for sugar, salt, caffeine, or foods that give you a quick boost of energy. Eat a healthy snack or meal when you feel the urge to reach for sugar. 5. Eat regularly. Waiting too long between meals can set you up to choose sugary, fatty foods. Instead, eat every three to five hours to keep your blood sugar stable so you don’t succumb to the first sugary treat calling your name. Focus on high quality proteins, and fiber-rich organic fruits and vegetables. 6. Enjoy a fruit. Fruits have natural sugars, and they also have fiber and other nutrients. An apple, a pear or a handful of berries can quell your cravings and provide healthy antioxidants at the same time. 7. Eat one cup of fermented foods a day. Fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut, or kimchi help balance the yeast and pH in your gut, leading to fewer sugar cravings throughout the day. 8. Ask yourself what you are really hungry for. Eating can be a substitute for entertainment or to fill the void of dissatisfaction in other areas of your life, from your relationships to your job. Being bored, stressed or uninspired in any area of your life may lead to emotional eating. 9. Get up and go. When a sugar craving hits, take action! Go for a walk, exercise, or change the scenery to take your mind off the food you’re craving. 10. Choose better quality treats. If you need a sugar splurge, instead of a king-sized candy bar, melt a perfect square of dark chocolate in your mouth, or enjoy one decadent chocolate truffle. Don’t deny yourself, but find better quality treats and savor every bite so you eat less.