Sugar. It’s lurking everywhere: in your pantry, in the grocery store aisles, even in your ketchup (a cube of sugar in just one tablespoon). It may not seem like a big deal–it’s just a little sugar, right? True, but a little sugar adds up quickly, especially when you don’t even realize how much you’re consuming.
The standard American diet is filled with sugar, especially when it involves processed foods. I won’t go into the details of high fructose corn syrup, but suffice to say that it is as bad as (if not worse) than sugar and is responsible for helping sugar hide in many different kinds of foods.
There have been numerous studies on sugar and the negative effects it has on one’s health. Sugar depresses the immune system, causes imbalances in blood sugar and metabolic diseases like diabetes and liver problems, contributes to skin problems and mood swings, causes the body to store fat more densely, and is incredibly addictive. There are many other reasons to avoid sugar, and along with all those negatives, the benefits are zilch. Yes, it tastes good, and can give you a buzz, but there is no tangible benefit to your body. Sugar has no nutritional value.
All that being said, it can be difficult to completely cut sugar out of your diet. I’m have no problem admitting it: the stuff tastes good! However, I try to limit it as much as possible and use it for what it is: a treat. Something to enjoy and savor in small doses. Even in aiming to do that, I could still stand to cut back.
Below are a few ways to help kick sugar to the curb, and I’ll be right there with you in employing these measures. No matter how hard you try to keep away from it, it’s easy for sugar to creep back in to your diet. When it does, hit the restart button and cut it out of your diet.
The best way to fight something is to know it (and where it hides). Start reading the labels of the foods you consume (especially things like condiments, dried mixes and other processed foods). You’ll find that no matter what the product, there’s a good chance sugar is hiding inside. The grams in the ingredients listing may not mean much to you, but start paying attention to the amount of sugar you see listed in a serving. Just 4 grams of sugar equals a whole sugar cube. To get better visuals on how much sugar lurks inside many foods and beverages, check out SugarStacks.com. Pretty scary stuff.
Soda is one of the sneakiest culprits hiding large amounts of sugar. By cutting out soda from your diet, you’ll immediately make a huge dent in your sweet intake. Start off by limiting how much you drink. If you can go cold turkey, definitely do it–replace soda with water and not only will you feel better, your restaurant bills will be cheaper!
Once you begin to recognize how many things you eat and drink contain sugar, it’s time to start avoiding it. If there’s a lower-sugar or sugar-free option, chose it instead (but stay away from chemical sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame–they can damage your health as well, and give a false sense of security that you can consume more of it). As I mentioned above, avoiding soda is a great start. Look for no or low-sugar alternatives to things like ketchup, dressings, bread, etc.
Be aware: if you’ve been consuming lots of sugar, you may notice withdrawal symptoms as you cut it from your diet. Headaches, cravings, and irritability can all hit you in the first few days that you’re cutting back. Stay strong! These symptoms will abate as your body gets used to a lower sugar intake. I know as I’ve cut back before, the first day or so was rough, but then I start feeling SO much better: more energy, less headaches and better sleep than I’d had in quite a long time.
You may not choose to get rid of sugar completely. I admit, that’s a goal even I have yet to hit. But as you do continue to use sugar in your diet, replace the refined, bleached white sugar with more natural sugars like rapadura, palm sugar, real maple syrup, raw honey and stevia. Yes, these sugars are still, well, sugar. However, they contain some added nutrients (such as protein, zinc, magnesium, etc.) that you won’t find in the white stuff. If you’re going to sweeten, at least use something more natural that isn’t completely refined.
It also helps to replace sweet treats and desserts with fruit. Grilled peaches, baked apples, fresh strawberries and watermelon are all delicious (and healthier) options when you want something sweet. Instead of a fruit roll-up, pack actual fruit in your lunch. Try adding orange segments to a salad with a homemade dressing. If you crave chocolate, eat a piece of dark, high cocoa content chocolate.
Finally, stick with more whole, real foods (ie, stay in the perimeter at the grocery store and avoid the aisles). When you’re making meals out of whole foods that haven’t been processed, you know exactly what’s on your plate and have control over every ingredient.
Even the smallest step towards reducing your sweet tooth helps your body function better, decreases mood swings and offers all kinds of other benefits.
Do you have any tips for kicking the sugar habit?