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06-03 Avoiding sugar strengthens recovery

Avoiding sugar strengthens recovery

Why do people in early recovery crave sugar?

The surge in blood sugar caused by sweets or by foods high in simple carbohydrates stimulates the neurological pathways, chemicals and receptors of addiction. The instant reward is short-lived, and subsequent insulin release leads to further cravings for more and more sugar. For those in recovery, the sugar cravings can easily lead to drug or alcohol cravings. Relapse risk can be greatly reduced by avoiding major fluctuations in blood sugar.

Simple carbohydrates cause a fast rise in blood sugar, and any unused calories are stored as fat. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates contain fiber, vitamins and minerals. These take longer to break down and cause a slower and steadier rise in blood glucose. However, the most accurate way to avoid substantial fluctuations in blood sugar is to follow a low-glycemic index diet.

The nuts and bolts of a low-glycemic diet

A low-glycemic index diet generally consists of a lot of vegetables and a healthy balance of protein, fats, legumes, whole grains, seeds, fruit, nuts, dairy, herbs and spices. Nicotine and caffeine cause the liver to release sugar into the blood in the form of glycogen, so these are usually discouraged. Stress also causes the liver to release glycogen, so things like exercise, adequate sleep and stress reduction are also important.

Here are some general tips for avoiding the sugar and craving rollercoaster:

  • Avoid bakery items such as cake, muffins, cookies, bread, bagels, brownies and crackers.
  • Avoid candy of any kind; even sugar-free candy can be high in carbohydrates.
  • Avoid sugary drinks and replace with lemon water or fruit-infused seltzer.
  • Eat at regular mealtimes to prevent feelings of hunger and very low blood sugar.
  • Eat foods sequentially from low-glycemic index to higher, so the majority of food consumed is on the low side.
  • Never cheat by indulging in occasional sugary treats; it’s an all-or-none lifestyle like recovery.

Other benefits of staying on a low-glycemic diet include weight control, less fatigue and lower risk of cancer. Good nutrition also promotes the restoration of natural brain chemicals associated with pleasure, joy and positive emotions. For those in recovery, avoiding sugar prevents cross-addiction from drugs or alcohol to sugar and food, which could result in obesity and dental problems. Most importantly, avoiding sugar helps prevent cravings that can lead to relapse.

About us

Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego is a leader in the treatment of adolescent mental illness, substance use and co-occurring disorders. Our programs integrate state-of-the-art neurocognitive treatments with alternative approaches like experiential therapies, while promoting healthy lifestyle habits and lasting recovery. To find out more about specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please call us at our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at news@sovhealth.com.

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