Sugar: “The Sweet Lie”

I’m not sure how chocolate and candy hearts became the symbol for Valentine’s Day, but I do know that the latest research continues to show us that sugar can be significantly detrimental to our health. Here are just a few of the most noted harmful effects of sugar:

Sugar causes inflammation. This is particularly harmful to those suffering from joint pain, arthritis and migraines.

Sugar suppresses the immune system. If you are suffering from a cold, the flu, bronchitis, or cancer, avoid sugar to give your body’s immune system the best opportunity at healing.

Sugar feeds every cell in our body – including cancer cells. Several recent studies indicate that sugar may increase the growth of cancer cells; other research shows that it is the weight gain from sugar that increases our risk of cancer; especially harmful is increased fat around our heart and organs. Either way, reducing sugar may reduce our risk of cancer.

Sugar is a main culprit in the growing epidemic of obesity and adult-onset diabetes in the U.S. According to health scientists at MD Anderson, the average American eats 260 cups of sugar a year! This isn’t just from sweets, it’s also from hidden sources, such as tomato sauce, salad dressing, “healthy” cereals, and more.

Finally, sugar is addictive. When we eat sugar (and chocolate) our body releases the brain chemicals dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. These are the same chemicals that addicts crave. So while you think having one or two pieces of heart-shaped chocolates won’t be too bad, your brain is thinking “I want more!” That’s why so many of us find it hard to resist sweet temptations.

Healthy ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day

What does a candy-free February look like?
Try some of these non-food nourishing gift ideas:

The American Heart Association suggests a gift from the heart, such as a poem or love letter. Choose a favorite poem or write what you feel. Write or type it on beautiful paper (check out some options on Etsy.) In between relationships? Write yourself a loving, “non-negotiable” list – all the things you will never put up with in a relationship ever again. Or write a friend or loved one who has been an inspiration or support in your life.

Savor the moments in pictures. Do you have a ton of pictures on your phone but rarely print them out? Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to remember your loved ones with the thoughtful gift of photos. I love the app Groovebook – for $2.99 a month you can upload up to 100 pictures and Groovebook automatically sends you a photo album each month! Or go for a year of love with a photo calendar – apps like Shutterfly make it easy!

Spend a night with no electronics or digital distractions! Make a fire, bundle up and go for a walk, or have a few friends over and serve the heart-healthy treats below with sparkling water and raspberries.

Instead of reaching for something sweet, chocolaty or gooey this Valentine’s Day, try some of these ideas for indulging the ones you love. (And that includes YOU!)

Diet Drinks Are NOT Your Dieting Friend

A lot of people think that diet soda is a healthy choice, but unfortunately, that’s just not true. Studies show that diet soda does not help with weight loss; instead, the intense sweetness of artificial sweeteners actually triggers the body’s craving for sugar and fools the brain into thinking you are about to eat something sweet. This can actually promote weight gain!

According to Dr. Mark Hyman, drinking diet soda with artificial sweeteners causes your body to produce insulin (the fat storage hormone), which increases your belly fat. He cites a study, saying, “The rats that consumed artificial sweeteners ate more, their metabolism slowed, and they put on 14 percent more body fat in just two weeks (even while eating fewer calories).”*

And that’s not all. Long-term studies have shown that diet sodas can cause migraines, stomach distress and dizziness; contribute to obesity and type 2 diabetes; and weaken bones and deplete calcium, among other side effects. Also alarming, artificial sweeteners make diet soda addictive.

And if all that doesn’t persuade you to give up diet soda, check out this testimonial from my clients – previous diet soda addicts:

“I used to have a Diet Coke every morning on my way to work. And almost every day I would have some sort of stomach distress – I thought I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome. But one summer, after I had a glass of Diet Coke and immediately got sick, my health coach pointed out the correlation to me. I quit that day – three years ago this summer – and my stomach symptoms improved probably 90 percent that same week! I can’t even believe I used to drink it!” — Lucy R.

Although I considered myself fit (triathlete) and healthy (vegetarian), I was suffering with a number of ailments: I had been doctor-diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and on more than one occasion landed in an ER with debilitating stomach pains. I also had allergies, migraines and had difficulty falling and staying asleep. During our initial session, my health coach was able to quickly focus in on the sources of my issues. One of the sources was the amount of Diet Coke I drank – which was basically three or four a day! Arlene helped me wean off of diet drinks, replacing them with lots of water and a morning cup of green tea, and after about three weeks I was FREE! We made several other changes but I know giving up Diet Coke has helped me eliminate a lot of symptoms. I am thrilled to report that my stomach pains, migraines and allergies are all gone, and without medication! And I now fall asleep on time and sleep solidly through the night. – Mike D.

* Source: and A role for sweet taste: calorie predictive relations in energy regulation by rats.

* Source: Dr. Furhman, citing Carbonated soft drink consumption and bone mineral density in adolescence: the Northern Ireland Young Hearts project; and Colas … are associated with low bone mineral density in older women: The Framingham Osteoporosis Study; and Diet Soft Drinks Deplete Urinary Calcium, MedPage Today.