How to Get Sugar and Fat in Healthy Way
Whether it is nutrition bars or pastries, ice cream or raw vegan pies, we love things that are both sugary and fatty. From young children to the elderly, we are drawn to the delightful feelings that come from sweet creamy foods. But this addiction to the sugar-fat combo can be dangerous for us in variety of ways, if it gets out of control. Here is a bit more about why this combination is so popular, and what we can do to enjoy these types of treats in ways that are less detrimental to our health.
Before the advent of modern industrial food production and processing methods, sugar and fat were rare and precious parts of the human diet. Most foods that are naturally sweet in nature are also high in fiber, phyto-nutrients, and other elements that made them prized foods. They also tended to only be available for a few weeks or months each year, depending on the local climate. So early humans were wired to eat as much of the berries or other fruit they found, filling up on those particular nutrients while they were available.
Most fat would have also been prized, coming from hunted animals or nuts or seeds that were hard to open by hand and would have required some sort of leaching or cleaning process.
Ancient people would sometimes make what we would consider nutrition bars, mixing some berries or another fruit with fat from seeds or an animal to preserve the fruit. These combinations of sugar and fat were particularly useful to a people that ate only what they could hunt or forage, or cultivate with minimal stewardship.
This wiring to eat as much sweet and fat possible was useful when it was rare, but with the wide availability of fiber-less processed sugar and inflammatory seed oils, we are overwhelming our bodies with too much of a good thing. And while we may know that logically, actually breaking the habit is very challenging.
Our Hungry Brains
The main reason it is so easy to get addicted to sugar, fat, and especially the combo of the two is their affect on brain chemistry. Eating sugar and fat causes the release of dopamine in the pleasure center of the brain, the nucleus accumbens. This center is also connected to reward, novelty, and motivation.
These foods, along with chemical drugs, chocolate, sexual activity and accomplishing our goals, cause a rush of pleasure through the brain. Because the food-related pleasure is temporary, we feel compelled to eat more to feel the pleasure again. And each time we do, it takes more of the food to release the same amount of dopamine. This is how a person can eat an entire chocolate bar and still want more.
Healthy Sugar-Fat Combos
The key to maintaining our health, while still occasionally giving in to this ancient hunger, is making conscious choices. Processed sugar, white flour, syrup, and other sweeteners devoid of fiber increase the dopamine and blood sugar level spiking. Adding fat can actually slow down the digestion of sugar, but it can contribute to raising triglyceride levels in the blood and obesity. We need the fiber of whole fruit to help balance its sugar content, and ensure proper digestion and a healthier metabolism.
Avoid foods made with cane sugar, chemical sugar substitutes, syrup, seed oils such as sunflower, canola, and safflower oil, and flour.
Look for foods that combine whole fruit with nuts, flax or chia seeds, or coconut. A small handful of soaked almonds with a date is a great way to get a little protein and some minerals and fiber while enjoying that yummy sugar-fat combo. Coconut milk with sliced fresh strawberries or figs also satisfies the sweet-and-creamy tooth. More complex raw desserts are based on this formula of nuts with fruit, but be careful as many of those desserts are sweetened with agave or some other type of syrup.
Everything in Moderation
Even treats made with whole fruits and healthy fats need to be enjoyed in moderation. It is still possible to overwhelm the pancreas and spike our blood sugar levels with too much of a good thing, or develop a dependency. Enjoy your whole foods treats as just that, a treat, not the foundation for every meal.
We are genetically wired to love the combination of sugar and fat, and it easily spins us into compulsive eating behaviors. But it is possible to enjoy this type of treat, if we make conscious choices based on whole foods. To enjoy eating the way our ancestors did, we need to more closely match the type and amount of food our ancestors would have had. You can create your own whole food sweet and creamy treats, and enjoy the pleasure of this type of food from time to time, without causing damage to your health.