Decreasing or avoiding sugar can be a big challenge for most of us. Sugar is everywhere, and not just in our desserts and treats. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of the hidden sugar we’re ingesting. Juices, condiments, cereal, salad dressings, sauces, and even “natural” things like some dried fruit and yogurt can all contain added sugars. According to the American Heart Association, women should not consume more than 25g or 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day (men 37.5g or 9 teaspoons). To give you perspective, a can of soda contains about 33g.
Why is sugar such a bad thing? Our bodies can process naturally occurring sugar in fruits and vegetables, but when we started processing sugar (cane sugar, beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) and sneaking it into everyday foods to make them more appealing and tasty, it started to affect our health. Studies have shown again and again that ingesting too much sugar leads to diabetes, obesity and other serious health problems. Sugar may also be at the root of heart disease, which is the number one killer in America.
When you ingest sugars that naturally occur in fruits and vegetables, you are also ingesting the fiber and other nutrients in those foods, so the absorption of sugar is slow and easy for your body to process. Added sugars and “sweets” contain way more sugar than would naturally occur and often these items contain very little or no fiber or other nutrients, making the absorption rapid. When a high amount of sugar gets dumped into your system, both the liver and pancreas have to compensate by releasing hormones to balance your blood sugar, often converting the sugar to store as fat. When this is repeated all day every day, the liver and pancreas get taxed and your cells become overwhelmed with trying to use all that sugar. This is what leads to “metabolic syndrome” or “insulin resistance”, obesity, PCOS, and eventually diabetes. Some people are more genetically prone to these conditions, but even “thin” people will eventually feel the detrimental effects of too much sugar consumption.
Avoiding excess sugar can feel like deprivation when you are used to consuming it regularly. Not surprisingly, sugar is seriously addictive. A study done at Princeton showed that cocaine addicted rats, when given the choice between cocaine or sugar, chose sugar (40 out of the 43 rats repeatedly chose sugar). So if you are having a hard time cutting back or avoiding it, go easy on yourself and understand that it is very challenging, but certainly worth the effort and it is entirely possible.
Need some help? Try the tips below.
Tips for cutting back on sugar
Be honest with yourself about how much sugar you are consuming. Pay attention to food labels and ingredient lists to see if the foods you regularly consume contain naturally occurring sugar or added sugar.
Is there an emotional component to your cravings? Do you use sugary foods as comfort or reward? If so, seek to understand why you are using sugar in this way and address the underlying emotional charge. Find new ways to comfort and reward yourself.
- Try having a cup of herbal tea after meals instead of dessert. Cinnamon or ginger tea is great with unsweetened almond milk.
- Have fresh berries and nuts for a sweet healthy snack
- Sweeten coffee, hot cocao and drinks with stevia instead of sugar
- Try sparkling water with lemon, cucumber or berries instead of soda
- Have a small square of dark chocolate
- Go for a walk or distract yourself when you feel like you can’t stop thinking about a sweet treat.