You have probably heard how important it is to limit the amount of added sugars in your diet. But just HOW do you reduce sugar cravings?
Mother Nature has provided us with foods that are designed to keep us healthy. They are packed with nutrition, the majority of which are low in sugar content. Sadly, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, only 11 percent of the calories from Standard American Diet come from whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts; i.e. whole foods. 1
By comparison, a whopping 57 percent of our calories come from processed plant foods!
Detailed research done by a group at the University of North Carolina found that 68 percent of processed foods included some form of added sugar. 68 percent! Most of these foods have sugar added as one or more ingredients.
You might not be surprised to find sugary foods such as sodas and cookies on this list, but added sugars can also be found in many sauces, soups, fruit juices, and even meat products.
It’s no wonder that as a nation we have become addicted to sugar!
Why should we care if we are consuming too much of this ingredient? After all, it tastes great, right? It is the main ingredient in many of our “comfort foods” that make us feel good. Sugar is a quick source of energy too. This is helpful for keeping up with the demands of our modern lifestyle; having energy to get things done is a good thing. Right?
Well, not always…
Turns out there can be “too much of a good thing” when it comes to added sugars.
After eating a sugary treat, sugars are quickly digested into glucose that rapidly enters the blood stream. If we need immediate energy, this glucose goes to fuel the cells of our body that need it. But, if we don’t need this energy, our body will store this sugar in the form of fat. Not only that, but once the sugar is stored away, our body senses it needs more energy and we get cravings for more sugar!
Fluctuating blood sugar levels can lead to mood swings, energy crashes, and weight gain, especially around our waistline. Studies show that over time, this constant influx and storage of sugar can take its toll on our health. Eventually the body gets tired of trying to store all this sugar that can lead to chronic inflammation of the organs. Chronic inflammation, we now know, is the leading cause of diseases such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Whew! That’s a lot to think about!
Better to avoid this downward spiral by avoiding as much added sugar as possible. This is not as easy as it sounds, because there are over 60 different names manufactures give to added sugars. Here are a few tips to help you do this, and improve how you look and feel!
5 Tips for Reducing the Amount of Sugar in Your Diet
1 Minimize the Sugar You are Drinking.
It’s not surprising that one of the biggest contributors of added sugar is in our drinks, especially sodas and energy drinks. One can of Coke, for instance, contains over 9 teaspoons of added sugar in it. That’s more than the maximum daily sugar recommendation by the USDA for men (9 tsp), and 1.5 times the amount recommended for women (6 tsp).
Be careful of energy drinks and waters as well. A 12 oz. serving of Gatorade for example contains over 5 teaspoons of sugar. BUT, if you drink the whole 32 oz. bottle, you will actually be getting 14 teaspoons!
If you think drinking fruit drinks or juices is a way to avoid extra sugar, think again. Clear fruit juices in general are highly processed foods. While they may contain some of their original vitamins, many of these nutrients have been stripped away in the manufacturing process. More importantly, they do not retain any fiber. This fiber is found in the whole fruit, and helps slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, keeping blood sugars levels normal.
In addition, even though the sugar found in these juices may be “natural,” it is much more concentrated than in the original fruit. For example, it takes approximately 3 apples to make one 8-ounce glass of apple juice, for a total of 5.5 teaspoons of sugar on average. It is pretty easy to drink more than one cup of juice! By contrast, a person would normally only eat one apple at a time and feel pretty full. As you can see, if you are drinking even a glass of juice a day, the sugar can add up.
2 Become an Ingredient Label Detective!
Learn how to read the Nutrition Facts Label on your food. Every manufacturer is required by the FDA to list nutrition values and ingredients on its labels. In 2016, the FDA updated the Nutrition Facts Label to include added sugars. Many products contain ingredients that naturally contain some sugars (such as fruits). The new label helps the consumer distinguish between these natural sugars and added sugars.
It is also helpful to look at the ingredient list to see where sugar is in the list. It is surprising how many products contain sugar. All ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight. If sugar is one of the first 3 ingredients, I keep looking for a better brand, especially if there is no need for sugar in the first place. A good example of this is found in many pasta sauces and tomato salsas. Sugar can even be found in some tomato pastes as well!
Image from www.fda.gov
3 Be Aware of Hidden Sugars.
Remember I mentioned that there are over 60 names for sugar? Get familiar with some of these names. Some less obvious names you might encounter might be barley malt, molasses, agave nectar, dextrose, maltose, evaporated cane juice, and rice syrup.
Many times there are 2 or more forms of sugar listed in a product’s ingredient list. Instead of being listed as the 2nd or 3rd ingredient, the two forms may be listed as the 7th and 9th ingredients in the list. This pushes the sugars farther down the list, making it appear that there is less overall sugar added.
4 Take Baby Steps.
The trick to reducing your sugar intake is to take it slowly. Your body AND your taste buds are accustomed to a high level of sweetness in your food. You need to give them time to adjust. While everyone is different, going cold turkey may increase your cravings even more.
One way to wean off of added sugars is to substitute your sugary processed foods such as crackers, cookies, and energy bars, with naturally sweet foods.
Fruits are naturally sweet but relatively low in sugar. They are also low in calories, and high in fiber that helps balance your blood sugar levels. Berries such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all good choices. Other lower sugar fruits include green apples, kiwis, grapefruit, and believe it or not, watermelon!
While we naturally think of fruit as sweet, don’t forget vegetables can also satisfy your sugar cravings. Try adding more of these vegetables into your daily diet: sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, peas, bell peppers, and butternut squash. Some less obvious choices might be rutabagas, onions, turnips, parsnips, and fennel. Some vegetables don’t have a sweet flavor, but help satisfy sweet cravings by maintaining blood sugar levels. These include red and daikon radishes, and cabbage.
In addition to reducing cravings, adding these foods to your diet will help you feel fuller and satisfied. You will “crowd out” your sweet cravings. If you are not hungry, you won’t feel the urge to eat as strongly. And, if your brain isn’t screaming for sugar, you will be more likely to make healthier food choices when you do eat
Once you create a new habit of a low sugar diet and your cravings have subsided, you may be surprised to find your sweet tooth has all but disappeared. Your taste buds begin to taste and savor the real flavor of food again. Berries that used to taste tart are now sweet and flavorful. Those super-sweet snacks you used to eat are no longer appealing; they just taste TOO SWEET.
5 Take Time to Ask “Why.”
Much of our sugar is consumed when we are snacking; we have a craving that needs to be satisfied. Next time this happens, stop a moment to ask yourself, “Am I eating this because I am hungry, or is there another reason?”
Many times we eat foods to satisfy cravings other than hunger. Maybe we are stressed, or bored, or frustrated. Sometimes we just reach for a sweet snack out of habit. Whatever the reason, understanding your motivation will help you make better food decisions.
Try this experiment for yourself sometime:
If I find myself staring into the refrigerator looking for just “a bite,” I ask myself, “Would I be happy with a salad right now?” If the answer is “yes,” than I know I am truly hungry. I know this because salad sounds appealing when I am hungry. If I am just looking to appease another craving, I am not truly hungry, and am looking for a “comfort food.”
When you try this, substitute the salad for a food that has meaning for you. It should be one that you don’t associate with a snack or comfort food. Note your reaction. Did it help you avoid an unnecessary snack? Take note of how you’re feeling in this moment. Maybe you really need to calm yourself or distract yourself from a difficult task. Are you upset about a conversation you just had? If so, you might be trying to soothe yourself by eating a sweet.
If you have determined that you are not hungry, but just need a distraction or something to calm your brain, you might be better off taking a walk and enjoying nature. Or you might enjoy taking time out by reading a book or “treating” yourself in some other way. Call a friend. Take a warm, soothing bath with essential oils. Whatever works for YOU.
It’s not always easy to do this, but when you do, you understand yourself and your motivations a bit better. With this awareness, next time will be easier.
So, there you have it. Five steps to reducing your sugar intake that will jumpstart your path to losing weight and feeling better!
Need more advice on how to do this, or just have a question? Feel free to contact me, or consider signing up for my Metamorphosis 5-Day Spring Detox starting on May 14, 2018!
You will be joined by other like-minded participants who are looking to jumpstart their metabolism and break from the sugar craving cycle. Click here for more information on this whole-food menu plan and step-by-step program.