"I Need a Little Sweetness in my Life"
Do you ever think to yourself, "I need a little sweetness in my life?" You may be thinking of love, romance, or sweet-tasting food. But you might not focus on what you put in your mouth and how you feel about it. It might be wise to think about that if you want to lose weight or to be healthier, both physically and mentally.
Of course you can't separate physical and mental wellness anymore. You know way too much about the mind-body connection to buy that old Cartesian split between mind and body. Just as body and mind are connected, so, too are you connected to the environment. What we put in us (nutrition) and surround ourselves with has an impact on us and we have an impact on our surroundings.
How do you get a little sweetness in your life, in a healthy way?
It seems that not many physicians see the link between nutrition and mental health. However, I think it is vital to become more aware of this connection. Following are some highlights of what I have learned, along with some ideas of how to enjoy what Joshua Rosenthal calls “primary foods” in his book, Integrative Nutrition. He defines primary foods as “lifestyle factors… that create optimal health,” such as physical activities, career, relationships, and spirituality (p. 16). Many of us crave a little reward when we’ve done something good, and for some that comes in the form of a food treat. Often, it’s either salty and fatty or sweet and fatty. But what other treats can we give ourselves? How can we reward ourselves without linking it to food and drink?
Ideas for Rewards:
Massage (self or giving or receiving to someone else)
Long bath or shower
Sweet smells (like aromatherapy oils, e.g., lavender, ylang ylang, tangerine, etc.)
Water or herbal tea
Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi Gong
Meditation / prayer
Calling a friend
Playing with children or babies
Reading a good book
Time with a loved one
Doing a hobby
Looking at great artwork
Listening to music
Watching a good movie or video
Doing something creative (drawing, cooking, painting, writing)
Sharing a joke or funny story with someone
Going somewhere beautiful in nature; drinking in the view
You might want to ask yourself, “What do I do to treat myself?”
Rethinking sweeteners to increase the sweetness in your life
According to William Matteson, PhD in his course “From Mouth to Madness,” what we use for sweeteners on our food can have a profound effect on our health. It’s dizzying to keep up on whether table sugar, or sucrose, is considered “good” or “bad” for us, but it does predispose us to having a more acid pH in our bodies, which can lead to a host of negative health problems. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, sugar can damage the liver, trick the body into gaining weight, lead to metabolic syndrome (a risk factor that can lead to diabetes and heart disease), increase uric acid levels which can contribute to kidney and heart disease, and cause inflammation in the body.
Furthermore, consumption of added sugar can lead to over-eating, memory formation impairment, depression, difficulties with learning, and type-2 diabetes. Some research points to fructose (fruit sugar) as a risk factor for various forms of cancer, and as an exacerbating agent for people who already have pancreatic tumors.
Artificial sweeteners vs. the "real deal"
So added sugar does not seem tempting in terms of health effects; this leads some people to turn to artificial sweeteners to make their drinks and food tastier. But not so fast, says Dr. Matteson. He reports that aspartame (aka NutraSweet) is a problem because it leads to “excitotoxicity” which is a pathological process that damages and kills nerve cells. This process allows high levels of calcium to enter the cell. About 10% of aspartame is broken down into methanol in the small intestine, which is absorbed and quickly converted into formaldehyde, which depletes glutathione. This leads to, in some people, anxiety, feeling bad, confusion, and hallucinations. That does not sound too appetizing either, does it?
Joshua Rosenthal suggests that sugar cravings are often more a craving for energy, and finding more complex carbohydrates can keep the blood sugar regulated better throughout the day. When you don’t eat simple sugars (e.g., table sugar and fruit sugar), your taste buds are more sensitive and you can taste the sugar in more complex carbohydrates. Rosenthal suggests getting our sweet cravings satisfied by “squash, tubers, roots, grains and fruit” which also provide “nutrients, energy and fiber – everything we need to maintain our health” (p. 146).
Role of taste deficits in your need for sweetness
A person’s deficits in taste and smell can be related to lower preference for sour, bitter or pungent foods, as well as higher intake of sugary foods. Such deficits can also be linked to lower intake of low-fat milk products and a nutrient intake profile that increases risk for cardiovascular disease. In addition, you get habituated to sugar, sweeteners and salt as well, requiring more to get the same effect. It doesn't have to be that way, though! More sensitive taste buds can taste the sugar in potatoes, wheat, and even broccoli!
What does this mean for our desire to experience the sweet tastes in life? This is a personal decision that each of us must make for ourselves, but hopefully we make informed decisions about what we eat to satisfy this, how often, and what the consequences of indulging that taste are. The evidence against simple sugars and some artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet are pretty damning; maybe it’s time to find your sweetness in limited amounts of fruit and grains, or from other naturally sweet (but unrefined) sources.
Can you get sweetness in your life from unprocessed foods?
This falls in line with what Greg Anderson refers to as the “Law of Nutritional Frugality” which is comprised of eating “a variety of unprocessed foods, in moderate amounts, during at least three meals, including breakfast, combined with a smart afternoon snack, while drinking eight glasses of pure water and taking a broad-spectrum vitamin-and-mineral supplement each day” (p. 46, The 22 Non-Negotiable Laws of Wellness). Another way to approach cravings like this is to first drink a glass of water, then eat a piece of fruit (maybe one that’s lower on the glycemic index like an apple), and then, if you still crave that piece of candy, give yourself that treat. The general spirit is to be informed, moderate, mindful, and careful about your indulgence of your sweet tooth.
One exercise that I found helpful from Integrative Nutrition is to write a letter to your body stating your intention to listen to its signals, messages, and to treat it lovingly. What are you willing to do to keep it in good working order and to show your loving respect for it? Think about the different areas of your life that influence how your body feels: work; play; relationships; environment; food; drink; habits (drugs? Cigarettes?); spiritual practice; and renew your commitment to “honor” your body as the “temple of your soul” (p. 165). As Deepak Chopra has said, “my body is the garden of my soul,” so tend yours carefully and it will bloom in your favor for years to come. If you need a little sweetness in your life, but you don't want it to negatively impact your wellbeing, give me a call at 661-575-7135.