While there is no physiological need for any of us to eat refined sugars, we’re hardwired to desire sweet food, with our sweet taste buds located right on the tip of our tongues (likely due to the fact that sweet foods were safer for ancient humans while bitter foods were often toxic).
In a recent article in the British Medical Journal, sugar was described “as dangerous as tobacco”, with a proposal that it be re-classified as a hard drug; in fact, sugar on the tongue produces morphine-like chemicals in the brain that produce a natural high, making it very hard for us to resist.
Eating less sugar is about preserving your health. Too much sugar is implicated in a range of disease from dental cavities to diabetes and causes energy slumps, hyperactive behavior in some and a source of empty calories, which we convert into unneeded spare tires around our bellies (stomachs are where our fat storage happens first, thanks to cortisol from stress). Reducing its role in your life can only benefit you and your loved ones. Read on to learn how to cut down on sugar in your diet.
Make a decision to stop eating too much sugar. Your motivation might be to lose weight, feel fitter, to reduce a yeast infection or simply to set a better example for your children. There are many good reasons to minimize the sugar you’re eating each day. Health is definitely a top reason, as too much sugar ingestion is implicated in a range of poor health conditions and diseases, including dental problems, acne, infertility, certain cancers and heart disease. Sugar may also have a role in inducing depression, mood swings, fatigue, memory loss, osteoporosis, vision loss and kidney disease. It is hard to fathom a need for any more good reasons to reduce how much you’re consuming.
- The World Health Organization recommends that the daily human intake of sugar in the average diet be no more than 10 percent, with a preference for only 6 percent. That amounts to about 7 1/2 teaspoons of sugar a day for a 2000 calorie diet.
Take it one day at a time. If you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. Just correct the mistake right away. Don’t wait till the next day. The worst thing you can do for yourself after a slip up is decide to “get back on track” tomorrow. Do it today, right now. If you open up a Twix candy bar, instead of eating both halves, give the other away. If you just opened a soda and realize what you’re doing, dump it out. If you forgot yourself and delve into a slice of cake, take a breath, put down the fork, drink some water, brush your teeth and distance yourself from the sweets.
Recognize the “sugar aliases”. Sugar isn’t just white death in a package called “sugar”. It has other guises more cunning. Some of the aliases are digested more slowly than sugar but do your research before assuming any are worth keeping in your diet because they’re all still sugar. When checking the food labels of your pantry, look for these sugar aliases:
- Brown sugar, fructose and crystalline fructose; high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, rice/corn/maple/malt/golden/palm syrup, corn sweetener, maltose, sucrose, glucose, molasses, syrup, dextrose, honey, raw sugar.
Identify the sources of sugar in your diet, and decide what to cut out completely and what to cut down on. There are many potential contributors but here are some top ones:
- Fast and processed food: Fast and processed food manufacturers add sugar to encourage you to want more.
- Cereals: They may have wholesome sounding names but if they contain sugar, they’ll contain a lot of sugar.
- Bread and baked products.
- Juice and canned fruits.
- Canned products.
- Flavored dairy products, such as yogurts.
- Sodas and other manufactured beverages.
- Ready meals and convenience foods.
Go into your kitchen and throw out anything you have decided not to eat or drink anymore. This is the tough love stage but you have to go through it in order to change to healthier options.
- If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, telling him/her might be a good idea so they don’t buy you chocolates or are offended when you don’t eat the cake they order.
- Tell your friends and family what you are doing and why. Chances are, they will be really into it and help you.
- If you’ve stashed sugary treats anywhere else, be sure to toss them out too.
Lessen the sugar intake by skipping any product that contains sugar in the first three ingredients. Absolutely avoid it if sugar gets mentioned more than once in the ingredients list. Be wary of anything claiming to be a “natural” or “organic” substitute for sugar; such sweeteners still contain calories and don’t bring nutrients to your diet that are needed.
- If a product claims to be “reduced-sugar”, avoid it. Even half of what was once added is still too much and the items that go to make up its removal won’t be healthy for you either.
Don’t skip breakfast and make sure it’s a healthy feast. Eat a good breakfast of toast or wholegrain cereals or oatmeal/porridge to keep you going through the day. These release energy slowly, so you will be less likely to crave sugar.
Quit snacking on sugar. Sugary snacks have a habit of sneaking into your daily diet in all sorts of seemingly harmless ways. The morning muffin, the afternoon candy bar and the evening candies. All of these soon add up, and mindless munching is not good for your health. Healthier treats to snack on include carrot and celery sticks, hummus, a few nuts, an apple, etc. Be careful of dried fruit; it’s full of calories and fructose.
Ban sugary beverages in your eating regime. Begin at the place that you can control best, and that is sugary beverages. You don’t need sugary beverages, period. This includes flavored soda, fruit juice and energy drinks. Replace fruit juice with the real piece of fruit and get the benefits of the fiber interacting with the fructose to reduce its impact on your digestive system.
- If you feel resentful about giving up fruit juice, think about how much fruit is in a glass of juice. One standard glass of apple juice can contain up to four apples. Could you eat four apples in a row as easily as you can drink them? No, and that is why juice is unhealthy because it is too easy to consume and it lacks fiber and other nutrients present in fruit.
- Drink your coffee or tea without sugar. You can add cream to either (not advisable if you want to lose weight), and/or honey to your tea. If you’re used to adding a lot of sugar, then wean yourself off gradually by the teaspoon or packet. Eventually you’ll get used to it and you may discover the more subtle flavors of coffee or tea that were overpowered by sweetness before.
Reduce the amount of sugar used in home cooking and baking. Unlike yeast, flour and fat proportions, the reduction of sugar often doesn’t have a detrimental effect in cooking, apart from getting used to the less sweet taste. And most cooking of main courses, breakfast dishes and snacks can benefit from less or no sugar. Experiment a little and purposefully prefer recipes that don’t use sugar.
- Use more spices to improve flavor. Sweeter spices can improve your tasting experience. Try such spices as vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, mint and angelica to add interesting flavors.
- Toast or bagels with slices of fruit or a thin layer of sugar-reduced jam can be a hearty substitute for candy cravings.
- For dessert, use fruit’s natural sweetness without added sugar. Poached fruit is always delicious, sprinkled with a spice or served with vanilla custard.
Keep your sugar-reduced life in moderation. There will be times to enjoy party foods. And that is at a party. Look forward to those occasions where a little indulgence can go a long way. Naturally, don’t indulge like this every weekend –– as with alcohol, moderation is totally the key (and remember, many types of alcohol contain much sugar). And never bring party foods into your home as “daily snacks.”
Get rid of your addictions. Treat sugar like an addiction. Find out what triggers your desires for sugar and eliminate it. It could be stress, boredom, or mourning. Instead, try something else during those triggers. Take up a new hobby like running. Do it in the morning, when you’re stressed or when you’re bored. Despite what you may think, over time it will give you energy, help eliminate stress, and give you something to do. Or take up reading. It can help you take your mind off stress, relieve boredom, and if you only have a short time to read in the morning it will give you something to be excited to come home to. Find a new habit to replace sugar cravings.
Remind yourself that you deserve a sugar-reduced life, rather than focusing on feeling deprived. The benefits of less sugar in your life far outweigh the initial dislike of going without sugar and the longer you stick with less sugar in your daily eating, the more it will feel absolutely right and you’ll feel healthier. You are in charge of your eating as well as your destiny and goals.