As food addicts, most of us find we have to pay a great deal of attention to what is in the content of the food we eat. Unlike alcoholics and drug addicts, we cannot just “stop eating.” However, we do have to surrender our binge foods and addictive eating habits as part of our recovery.
After making a list of our binge foods, we can identify the substances that we are addicted to in order to surrender them to our Higher Power so that we don’t have to eat them anymore.
“Surrender,” in this context, means doing something we don’t want to do in order to recover. Many of us are not able to surrender our binge foods without the structure and support of other abstinent food addicts.
Despite what we are doing to our bodies because of our food addiction, many of us are unable to remember what the addiction is actually doing to us. We can only remember how “good” it tastes. This is called “euphoric recall,” and is a classic symptom of addiction.
How do you know if you are addicted to flour or sugar? The simplest way is to use the test provided by the book Alcoholics Anonymous, written eighty years ago. We can just change the text from using “alcohol” to using “food:”
Try some controlled eating. Step into a bakery and have one piece of candy, one donut, one piece of binge food, and then stop. Stick to a diet and maintain your weight loss.
Try it more than once. If you are like us, you will no more be able to do this than an alcoholic can step into a bar and have one beer.
If you think you might be a food addict, then you need to know a lot more about what foods are the most likely to be addictive, even though you may not want to give them up. Most food addicts don’t want to give up their binge foods; they just want to avoid the consequences of eating.
For the purposes of this article, we will address sugar and flour, the two most common substances that food addicts become addicted to. Although some food addicts report addictions to fatty, salty and volumes of food we will address those substances in a later article.
Sugar is a carbohydrate, and we often think of it only as the white or brown stuff, but sugar is also a natural part of many other foodstuffs such as lactose in milk, maltose in grain, fructose in fruit, sucrose (refined sugar), and more.
The simple refined carbohydrate, crystalline table sugar, is first extracted from sugar cane with the bulk and fiber being left behind. It is then purified, filtered, concentrated, and boiled down to sugar crystals produced out of the syrup. Substances such as sulfur dioxide, milk of lime, carbon dioxide, charcoal from charred beef bones, and calcium carbonate are used in this industrial refining process as purifying agents.
Flour is also a refined carbohydrate, and for many of us who are addicted to sugar, we find that flour acts in our bodies the same way sugar does: it gives us a “high.” Often flour and sugar come together in a food package – equivalent to high-quality crack cocaine to a food addict.
Brown sugar is simple white sugar with a bit of molasses added back in, or colored with caramel.
The food industry has developed enormous sidelines of “diet” food, usually labeled “Sugar-Free” and “Fat-Free.” Given the many different varieties of sugar, derivations of sugar such as Splenda, sugars formed from alcohol (not surprisingly, these can be very addictive), chemical sweeteners, (the “polys”) artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharine, etc., the label “Sugar-Free” usually means the food industry is simply using a different kind of sugar. For some food addicts, these non-sugars can have the same impact as refined sugar: the inability to eat reasonable amounts.
Conversely, it is worth noting that many of the foods labeled “Fat-Free” are loaded with sugar. And “Fat-Free” certainly doesn’t mean calorie-free.
Sugar is rapidly converted in the blood to fat (triglycerides), which increases obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. It is devoid of vitamins, minerals, or fiber; it is an empty food. Its main purpose in the food industry is a stabilizer, flavor enhancer and appetite stimulant.
In 1973, the per capita consumption of sugar and other highly refined sweeteners (such as high-fructose corn syrup) was 126 pounds a year. Today, it’s 158 pounds – an increase of 26 percent. During the same time period, the percent of overweight Americans increased by nearly 20 percent.
Here is a list of types of sugar that are commonly found in foods we find in most grocery stores. Many labels list more than one kind of sugar; only the total grams of sugar give a true idea of how much is actually in the package. Although some artificial sweeteners have no caloric value, their impact on our bodies can be just as deadly as those with calories, if we cannot stop eating it.
- apple sugar
- Barbados sugar
- bark sugar
- barley malt
- beet sugar
- brown sugar
- brown rice sugar
- buttered syrup
- evaporated cane juice, or cane-juice crystals (non-FDA approved terms for sugar)
- cane sugar
- carob syrup
- chicory syrup (non-FDA approved terms (non GRAS and non-CFR compliant) for high fructose syrup)
- corn sweetener
- corn syrup
- corn syrup solids
- date sugar
- dextrose (refined corn sugar)
- diastatic malt
- ethyl maltol
- Florida crystals
- Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
- fruit juice
- fruit juice concentrate
- glucose solids
- Glucose polymers
- Glucose syrup
- golden sugar
- golden syrup
- grape sugar
- high-fructose corn syrup
- inulin syrup (non-FDA approved terms (non GRAS and non-CFR compliant) for high fructose syrup)
- invert sugar
- invert sugar
- karo syrup
- lactitol ++
- malt syrup
- malted barley
- maltodextrin (derived from the corn “wet refining” process)
- maltose ++
- malitol ++
- mannitol ++
- maple syrup
- microcrystalline cellulose
- Powdered sugar
- Raisin juice
- Raisin syrup
- raw sugar
- refiner’s syrup
- rice malt
- rice syrup
- sorbitol ++
- Sorghum syrup
- sucrose (from cane or beet)
- sugar cane
- turbinado sugar
- xylitol ++
- yellow sugar
++ Sugar alcohols aren’t sugars or artificial sweeteners. The name “sugar alcohols” comes from the fact that their structure resembles sugar, and they’re chemically similar to alcohol. They’re typically genetically modified from corn or wheat.
Those food addicts who are also addicted to or have an allergy to wheat receive a double impact from sugar alcohols.
Experts say that sugar alcohols can cause stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and anal leakage, because our bodies poorly absorb them. In large quantities, they’re non-GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) and some research shows that they can cause cancer.
Foods with average added sugars
- Applesauce contains 11 g
- Peanut Butter contains 18g
- Flavored Yogurt contains 23g
- Fruit drinks contain 40g
A single can of soda contains 12 teaspoons of added sugar. That’s 120 percent of the USDA’s recommended daily intake of sugar.
In 2005, researchers examined the impact of sugar on the immune system. A published study at the National Institute of Health documented the impact of sugar intake on the immune system: Sugar steals the ability of white blood cells to destroy bacteria. White blood cells are known as “phagocytes” and phagocytic tests show that a couple of teaspoons of sugar can sap their strength by 25 percent. A large helping of pie and ice cream renders your white cells 100 percent helpless. This effect lasts from 4 to 5 hours. Consider a 900 ml serving of processed and packaged orange juice or one 683 ml of cola—either of these will depress the immune system by 50 percent, 30 minutes after ingestion and this will last for hours! Consider if you have sugar at every meal, which many do by eating processed foods alone, that the immune system is constantly ineffectual.
For food addicts, who binge on enormous amounts of sugar, eat meals consisting of large amounts of processed food, or diets consisting almost totally of binge foods, the impact could be exponential. For us, to eat this way is to die.
Now About Flour
Many food addicts are willing to give up sugar, but not flour. Paradoxically, because we believe it makes us appear “different,” and because flour has been embedded in so many foods, we may have more difficulty surrendering flour than the more obvious issue of sugar.
We fear appearing “different” when we already appear very ill with food addiction. Normal people think we are “just fat.”
Unfortunately, the food industry is willing to cater to “flour-free” advertising. It is considered a niche market in many health food stores that cater to people with celiac disease (a wheat allergy) and gluten allergies. Some food addicts have these medical issues, but specific to food addiction is the issue of bioavailability.
Bioavailability defines the ease with which something is absorbed from the digestive tract. The higher the bioavailability of a food, the greater the total absorption and rate of absorption. The faster a food is absorbed, the more quickly it turns to glucose in the body.
Whole grains have been in the human diet for thousands of years. Milling and grinding grains is a relatively recent. Whole grains take much longer to be digested that refined flours. The more refined a flour is, the more bioavailable it becomes. And the more quickly it turns into a spike of blood sugar followed by a drop in blood sugar.
The perfect recipe for triggering a binge.
We may initially be persuaded by “faux foods,” i.e. “whole-grain bread,” “flour-free bread,” etc. The fact is that such breads are all made from refined grains. It is a matter of definition on a nutritional label. Reading the glycemic index of such foods tells us the truth about their composition.
Many food addicts find that flours made from other grains are just as bioavailable. Rice flour is likely to trigger the same reaction in a food addict as rice syrup: both are highly refined.
The Food Addiction Institute has an extensive research bibliography (172 pages) on the latest research on food and the impact to the human body. You can examine the research here.
Again, to keep it simple, you can apply the “test” from Alcoholics Anonymous to diagnose yourself. If, despite your best efforts, you are not able to control your intake of flour products, you are not alone.
© 2009 A.E. Heald, M.Div.