I have long had a love affair with sugar in all its forms. Chocolate chip cookies rarely make it to the oven and generally stay in a pile of cookie dough with a spoon diving in and out of the delightful mass. Nothing starts a morning quite like a flavored latte from Starbucks, and then there is my latest obsession…salted caramel in any and all executions. After all, we grow up knowing that if we can force down a few vegetables at dinner, we get to have ice cream after, right? Sugar is the gold medal, the trophy – the prize!

My parents in their infinite wisdom tried to limit how much sugar we had as children, but their good intentions were no match for a child’s sugar craving. I still remember sneaking into my brother’s room in the morning and stealing change from his nightstand to take down to the vending machine at the pool. My best friend and I would then sit on the floor of the bathroom stuffing our faces with Skittles, Now and Laters, and Starburst. We cleverly flushed the wrapper evidence down the toilet, with only our sugar highs to reveal our misbehavior.

Unfortunately, as I grew older I realized that my parents weren’t just playing hard to get with ice cream and chocolate, sugar was actually not good for me. New studies are showing that sugar is even more dangerous than we first suspected. It’s connected to obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and even cancer – just to name a few. Me = devastated.

Twenty years ago, the average American consumed about 26 pounds of sugar every year, but today we’re up to about 150 pounds each year. In my unresearched opinion, I blame a lot on the American lifestyle and clever food executives. We’re constantly on the go, and thanks to fast food and pre-packaged products, we have something to help us accomplish it all. Unfortunately, hidden in hamburger buns, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, and salad dressings is… you guessed it, sugar.

I first started realizing all the little places where sugar is hidden when my doctor advised me to cut out this heavenly white substance to help treat my Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (see my previous blog if you want to know more about SIBO). I started reading labels and would inevitably leave frustrated from my local health food store because I couldn’t find anything. Why does Whole Foods have to add corn syrup to their apple chips anyways? Apples are already sweet, right?

A lot of doctors say sugar is sugar in any form, but I think high fructose corn syrup really is much, much worse. In a recent study performed by researchers at Princeton University, they compared rats who they gave regular table sugar to rats they gave high fructose corn syrup (but keeping the total calories equal). The rats that had high fructose corn syrup gained half of their body weight and with higher concentrations of body fat. No, thank you.

Fake sugars are a dangerous alternative to sugar as well. Despite their zero calorie labels, they still increase your craving for sugar. Forget the chemicals (some with traces of arsenic!), they solidify your sweet dependence even more than table sugar.

And now for the vanity reasons, dermatologist Dr. Fredric Brandt writes in his book 10 Minutes/10 Years: Your Definitive Guide To A Beautiful And Youthful Appearance, about the dangerous affects sugar has on aging. “In a nutshell, sugar hastens the degradation of elastin and collagen, both key skin proteins. In other words, it actively ages you.”

Since I was forced to limit my sugar intake, not only have I been feeling better, but that uncontrollable craving that usually hit me in the afternoon and after supper is much more manageable. I don’t need my sweet fix. Not to mention that my skin is looking better and it’s easier to maintain weight. Weaning yourself off sugar isn’t for the faint of heart though; it’s definitely more challenging than you might anticipate. Neurologist have even shown how the brain responds to sugar in the same way it responds to cocaine, and you were always joking when you referred to ice cream as your “crack.”

Keep at it though, it may take some time and some very challenging moments, but you’ll win the sugar battle. My self-control has its weak points though. Last night, I may have enjoyed a chocolate soufflé with a vanilla bean gelato, but when I have sugar, it’s worth it.

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