“Busy Woman’s Guide”

The Shocking Truth About Sugar


If I offered you a million dollars, could you hold your breath underwater for 15 minutes?

Unless you’re an amphibian or a superhero (Fish Woman, anybody?), the answer will be “No.” The brain’s innate drive for oxygen would override any “willpower” to win the prize.

Unnervingly, if you’re currently living on a steady diet of sugar-enhanced foods, your brain is similarly re-wired, demanding that next “hit.” Your willpower has as much of a chance at resistance as the ability to keep your body underwater.

We know sugar is not a healthy substance — but it was this stunning example by my colleague Dr. Mark Hyman about its impact on our brain that really drove home the message. You see, I’m a reformed sugar addict. During residency, a long ER shift was the cue for a few bags of Skittles. A studying session led to Swedish Fish. But I realized that these sugar hits always led to a crash — and then a craving for even more — which made it clear to me that it was time to make a change.

Your Brain on Sugar

Sugar acts within the brain’s “Reward Center” mechanism (it’s like the brain’s equivalent of the elementary school Gold Star chart, or if you’re like me and in a home with a toddler right now, the “Potty Chart”). Upon eating sugar, your brain releases Dopamine, our favorite “feel good” hormone, the same one that’s triggered by other pleasure mechanisms like sex, exercise, and, on the bad side of the spectrum, drugs like cocaine or meth.

Through the same mechanisms as drug addiction, frequent sugar intake means that the brain eventually gets accustomed to that high and become less sensitive to sugar. So to get the same rush, your brain requires more and more sugar over time.

Here’s how it works: You eat a sugary food, your blood sugar levels spike, and your body releases Dopamine (yay!) and insulin (which triggers your body to store the sugar as fat). Then comes the “crash”: your sugar level plummets and you feel tired, hungry, and reach for the next sugary treat. It’s purely chemistry, my dear, and these physical urges completely override your willpower and desire to eat healthfully.

Break the Sugar Cycle

So are you doomed to be a victim to brain chemistry? Hardly. Just as excess sugar rewired your brain in the first place, cutting back can reverse the dependence, just as I did. But this is harder than it sounds, largely because:

(1) It’s everywhere: Added sugar is included — sometimes as the second or third ingredient — in over 70% of packaged foods. Think everything from breakfast cereals to BBQ sauce to salad dressings and so-called “healthy snacks” like granola bars or even those “heart approved” refined-carb breakfast cereals. The FDA just acknowledged the confusion behind these labels this week and is looking at redefining them, but until then, it’s fair game for sugar-ladened snacks to boast the “healthy” designation.

(2) It’s sneaky: Sugar exists in many forms, making it easy for the food industry to hide it in ingredient lists, listed with other names in foods you might not even think of as “sugary.”

The Let’s-Be-Realistic Bottom Line

Look, we all know the white stuff is going to sneak in somewhere, sometime, into our own and our kids’ diets. You don’t need to become a biochemist to cut back, and you can still even have a sugary treat once in a while. But if you’re tired of this sugary chemistry experiment going on in your brain, follow these 3 steps to at least minimize the majority of added sugar.

Learn its disguises:

As tricky as this seems, sugar is almost never called just “sugar” on ingredient lists, so you have to be smart about spotting where it hides.

There are at least 61 different names for sugar on food labels. I may be a science nerd at times, but even I don’t expect you to memorize them. Here are a few tricks: avoid anything ending in “-ose” like sucrose or maltrose. Look out for the buzzwords of “syrup,” “nectar,” “cane” and “sweetener.” And be mindful that even natural sugars, like agave or honey, still contribute to your daily sugar limit. If sugar (or any of these terms) is in the top 5 ingredients, it’s a treat, and not a nutritious food.

Cut Out Liquid Sugar:

Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages? News flash — your brain doesn’t even recognize these calories as food, leading to a high and crash that will end with you eating even more. Public enemy #1 is soda — with up to 46 grams in a single 12-oz can, one drinks can put you over the sugar limit for the entire day (24 grams per day for women and 36 for men, per the AHA). Multiple studies have suggested the link between increased soda consumption and obesity in the U.S.

But it’s not just soda — watch the “healthy juice” too: many juices and seemingly healthy drinks contain added sugar. For the most part, unless you’re talking a fresh-pressed, unsweetened juice, you’re better off eating a whole piece of fruit. And to settle the whole fruit-is-sugar debate, while fruit does have sugar in the form of fructose, it’s nothing in comparison to added sugars and doesn’t cause the same blood-spiking mechanisms. There’s no need to limit fruit if you’re focusing on cutting back added sugar.


You don’t have to completely cut out everything sweet; I don’t like my coffee black or my yogurt plain. But it’s a lot easier to control the amount of sugar you’re adding if you do it yourself. Add a half-packet to coffee instead of letting the barista talk you into a fancy sweetened frappe. Buy plain Greek yogurt and add berries and honey; I guarantee it will have less sugar than the fruit-flavored, sugar-laden packaged kind. As it often does, it comes down to a simple truth: it’s a lot easier to know what’s going on in your body if you control what you put into it.

Want to learn more about the effects of sugar and why it drives you to be hungry? Listen to my podcast interview with Dr. Mark Hyman here, and subscribe to Sharecare Radio here.

What are your tricks to cut out sugar? Or your biggest pitfalls? Tweet me @DrDarria and let me know!

The Shocking Truth About Sugar

Source: Huffington Post

Three Indulgences That May Be Healthy… or Not

I first enjoyed wine in Paris on a summer abroad, under the guidance of a new friend from Portugal. Our only shared language was French – and the glass of Pouilly Fuisse we’d pour while people-watching on a lazy evening. Today, my evenings are a little more hectic: whipping up a quick dinner for my husband and toddler, scouring the house for my daughter’s missing pink sippy cup, fitting in some playtime/dancing after dinner, potty and bedtime (for my toddler, not my husband), and cleaning up from that day just in time to get ready for the next.

But that moment of pouring myself a small glass of wine (post-toddler bedtime, pre-mommy bedtime)? It’s like a portal to quieter times – my own small indulgence in the middle of a time in my life that is amazingly wonderful, but just a tad more chaotic.

So let’s be clear: this article is NOT going to tell you to ban coffee, wine, and chocolate from your daily life. Because, while I’m a doctor, which means I want you to be your healthiest, I’m also a human being, and sometimes, we just Need. A. Moment.

Luckily, research shows that some of the indulgences we let ourselves enjoy may actually have health benefits. However, the information in the media can be confusing – and downright contradictory at times. So here’s what the science really says.


“I can’t function without coffee”- said almost every business executive, parent, student, and human being ever. (As a long-time coffee drinker, I have to disclose that I question the normalcy-and the fortitude-of people who don’t need it).

The good: But what is our coffee habit doing for our health? As you’ve no doubt observed as you reach for a cup, caffeine can have brain-boosting powers: it’s not only a stimulant, but it also blocks receptors for a chemical called adenosine, which allows brain-sparking chemicals to flow more freely. In fact, not only does caffeine temporarily improve energy and mental performance, it may slow age-related mental decline and reduce the risk of Parkinson’s Disease.

So coffee is brain-approved; but what about physical health? Long-term moderate coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of diabetes, and possibly with heart disease and stroke. It may even reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer.

The bad: Certain groups need to be more cautious when it comes to coffee- including women who are pregnant, or anyone with difficulty controlling their blood pressure or blood sugar. Coffee has been linked to lower birth weight, and may raise the risk of miscarriage. It can also cause blood pressure increases, and, immediately after drinking, lower your sensitivity to insulin.

Watch what you’re adding to your mug too-stick to a small amount of sugar and a little milk. Avoid flavor shots, whipped cream, and other add-ins that will negate all of the benefits of your cuppa.

The bottom line: I’ve basically just given you permission for that 5-times-a-day Keurig habit, right? Not so fast. The key word is “moderate”. Most experts agree that around one to three cups a day is the sweet spot. Remember, that’s three 8-ounce cups – not three Venti cups. Drink more than that (especially beyond five cups a day) and the benefits start to decline.

Have you been hearing about the Bulletproof Coffee trend? Check out my interview with creator Dave Asprey on the Sharecare Radio podcast.


You’ve probably heard that chocolate may have health benefits, but does this justify your sneaking-into-the-Halloween-leftovers habit?

The good: The good stuff is cocoa powder, a derivative of the cocoa bean. Cocoa powder contains flavanols: antioxidants with anti-inflammatory benefits that improve blood flow to the brain and heart. Flavanols have been associated with a lower risk of dementia and heart disease, although more research is needed before we can pinpoint them as the actual cause of the reduction (Sign me up for that study, right?)

The bad: Antioxidant-rich cocoa powder isn’t the only ingredient in almost any commercial chocolate product. Even the darker, bitter chocolate bars usually contains some amount of cocoa butter and sugar, which are – you guessed it – loaded with calories and often with trans fat, and typically have less flavanols than used in those studies I mentioned. So in order to get enough flavanols to reap the antioxidant benefits, you’re also going to have to consume a pretty hefty amount of calories, saturated fat, and sugar.

The bottom line: It’s okay (and maybe even therapeutic!) to have a square or two of dark chocolate as a treat or with a snack. It’s probably a healthier alternative than many other desserts. But you still can’t justify sneaking your kids’ Halloween candy for “health benefits”.


Sensing a pattern? For each of these indulgences, a moderate amount is beneficial, but too much of a good thing becomes…well, a bad thing. That’s especially the case when we look at wine.

The good: I’m sure by now that you’ve heard that “To Your Health!” has a ring of truth. Research shows that people who drink light to moderate amounts of wine tend to live longer and have lower rates of heart disease and stroke .

The bad: However, if you cross the threshold from “moderate” to “heavy” drinking, you reverse all of the benefits and can cause some serious harm. Excessive alcohol consumption is the 3rd leading cause of death in the US . I’m sure I don’t need to repeat the dangers of driving while intoxicated – but one of the most dangerous aspects is one’s inability to gage their impairment. In one study that simulated driving after giving participants alcohol, the higher the blood alcohol level, the better the participants thought they were driving. Other consequences of heavy alcohol ingestion include higher rates of drowning, lower quality of life overall, worse perceptions of one’s own health, and higher rates of death from heart disease, liver disease, pancreatitis, and even some cancers, including breast.

The bottom line: When it comes to alcohol, it’s all about walking on the safe side of a very thin line. In research looking at the benefits of safe, healthy drinking, “moderate drinking” for women is defined as less than 2 drinks per day, with heavy defined as 3 drinks in a single sitting, and binge drinking as 4 or more drinks. (For men, that’s < 3 drinks per day for moderate, 4 drinks for heavy, and 5 drinks or more for binge). For most women, that “moderate” amount is a lot less than they previously thought.

And the language is even more confusing when considering the poor standardization for alcoholic drink sizes – in the U.S. a single drink is defined as 14-15 grams of alcohol, or the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. In other words, measure it out, and on this one, I say better safe than sorry – if you think your next drink might take you over the “safe” line, don’t push it.

So what’s the bottom (bottom) line for all of these? None of the science behind these things are so convincing that if you don’t already “indulge” in them, your doing poorly by your health by not starting. But if you do enjoy any of these, rest easy, knowing that doing so in moderation is not only good for the soul, it’s good for the body.

Dr. Darria is the SVP of Clinical Strategy at Sharecare, a health and wellness engagement platform that provides people with personalized resources to help them live their healthiest lives. Follow her on Twitter and listen to the Sharecare Radio podcast for more health and wellness information.


Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
Three Indulgences That May Be Healthy… or Not

Source: Huffington Post

The 3 Ingredients That Are Bad for You — and Even Worse for Your Kids


My toddler likes “Blue Cookies” (they’re fluorescent blue and likely have nothing remotely natural in them). And she prefers them over my homemade peanut butter cookies. (Seriously. Does she realize I used the blender for the first time, like, ever?)

Sometimes getting your kids to eat healthy food seems like an epic battle, especially when you’re bombarded daily with new lists of 1,000 “harmful” ingredients to children. Listen — letting your child eat Blue Cookies (or their equivalent) here and there won’t cause her to grow an extra ear or make you #World’sWorstMom. Plus, you can literally drive yourself crazy trying to avoid EVERYTHING that you read is harmful. However, some ingredients are worse than others. So, here are three that I as a mom and doctor think it’s worth minimizing in your child’s diet — as well as your own.

1. Trans Fats and Partially Hydrogenated Oils
According to the FDA, trans fats are “no longer generally recognized as safe.” (Yes, that creeped me out too.) Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs) are the main source of trans fats and increase the likelihood of diabetes, obesity and even plaque in arteries as early as the teenage years. There’s even some suggestion that trans fats may affect immunity, increasing the risk of allergies and asthma. With that, the FDA decided that PHOs should be removed from foods altogether — but not until 2018, and with a labeling loophole. You may THINK that you’re avoiding this additive by only buying foods that say “Trans Fat Free” — but the loophole means products can still bear that label if they have up to 0.5g of trans fats per serving.

What to do: The FDA ban on trans fats isn’t effective until 2018. Until then, check the labels. If it says trans fats or “partially hydrogenated oils” don’t bite (and don’t let your kids). Look for trans fats in baked goods, snack foods, stick margarine, coffee creamer and frostings.

2. Added Sugar — in any form. (High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), corn sugar, anything ending in “-ose”)
Even though HFCS gets all the attention, our bodies metabolize all sugars similarly, causing blood sugar swings, obesity, diabetes and even fatty liver disease. Unfortunately, sugar is all over processed foods — from breakfast cereals (some of which have three types of sugar in the top five ingredients and can be as high as 50 percent sugar by weight), to applesauce and yogurt, so you can inadvertently serve a whopping serving of sugar when you think you’re providing a nourishing snack.

What to do: If HFCS, corn sugar, corn extract or anything ending in -ose (such as fructose or sucrose) are in the top five ingredients, then the food is a dessert/treat, rather than a healthy meal.

3. BPA
While BPA isn’t actually a food ingredient, it’s used in many food containers, meaning it leaches into the food inside. The FDA’s National Toxicology Program expressed “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.” (Yes. Their actual words.) In addition, BPA exposure in children may be linked to cancer, as well as obesity and metabolic diseases through a phenomenon known as “metabolic programming.” BPA exposure in utero has been linked to possible increased risks of asthma and behavioral problems. These health concerns have been ongoing — but this chemical compound continues to be used in a wide variety of food storage containers.

What to do:
• Don’t microwave food in plastic food containers — stick to glass when possible. You can purchase BPA-free containers, but research suggests that these plastics may have similar effects to BPA.
• Don’t store food in “to-go” or takeout containers. Transfer leftovers to glass, porcelain or stainless steel.
• Opt for fresh or frozen foods over canned goods when possible, since BPA is still present in the lining of cans.

(Extra note — keep receipts out of your child’s hands, and wash your own before handling food — receipts have 1000x more BPA than even BPA-lined cans, which you transfer to your food after touching them).

Being a mom is tough — so much to track when you just want to keep your family safe. If you can minimize these three items, you’ll be doing just that.

But no matter what, your child will probably still want that blue cookie (which is totally cool every once in a while. As long as she shares with Mommy).

How do you keep your child’s diet healthy? Tweet me @DrDarria or Facebook Dr. Darria Long Gillespie.

This content originally appeared on Sharecare.com.

Check out more articles by Dr. Darria Long Gillespie:
3 Hidden Lead Sources Lurking in Your Home
How 10 Minutes Can Change Your Life

The 3 Ingredients That Are Bad for You — and Even Worse for Your Kids

Source: Huffington Post