The sweet and seductive sugar season is upon us. Halloween candy has flooded grocery store shelves since Labor Day. And this glut will continue through New Year’s Day. While treats are okay in moderation, most of us eat far too much added sugar every day and it’s a key factor in obesity and chronic disease. What many of us don’t understand is that sugar causes a biochemical reaction in our bodies that makes us crave more of it. From birth, we are programmed to associate sweet foods with comfort and nurturing. Although most of us know consuming too much sugar can lead to health problems, we are surrounded with highly processed, sweetened foods, so it is no wonder we have a hard time setting limits or saying no.
Here are some quick reasons it’s worth decreasing your sugar intake:
Chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease are caused by chronic inflammation, which is primarily caused by sugar. The primary reason we have a reduced quality of life is these chronic illnesses. Sugar is now considered to be the single most toxic ingredient in the modern diet.
Sugar has the characteristics of an addictive substance. Consuming sugar activates the same brain circuitry involved in addiction to drugs like cocaine. Sugar induces reward and pleasure, alters mood, produces cravings and may elicit biochemical signs of withdrawal in the brain.
Sugar dampens the stress response, which leads to our bodies producing less of the stress hormone, cortisol, but it increases inflammation. You’re trading one bad situation for another!
Regular sugar consumption deadens our ability to taste sweetness, which means you need to consume more to get the same taste. The good news is you can retrain your taste buds to be more sensitive by reducing your sugar intake.
How Much Sugar Should You Have Each Day?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends consuming no more than 24 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for women and children and 36 grams (9 teaspoons) per day for men. The average American consumes three to four times that amount. Most Americans have exceeded their daily recommended amount of sugar by the time they finish breakfast.
Break the Sugar Habit
These simple steps allow you to break your sugar habit so you can enjoy sweets in moderation without cravings or guilt.
Train your taste buds – Reduce the amount of sugar in your food. After several weeks of eating less sugar, you will become more sensitive to sweetness – and can eat less without noticing a difference in taste.
Replace the sugar in your food with natural sweeteners. Fruits and certain spices, like cinnamon and vanilla, lend natural sweetness to foods, helping you cut back on sugar without giving up on taste.
Exercise regularly – Recent research suggests cardiovascular exercise increases self-control and helps you resist cravings, leading to smarter food choices.
Outlast your cravings – Cravings only last about 15 minutes, so distract yourself with a quick walk or a glass of water to avoid giving in.
Eat foods rich in fiber and healthy fats – Foods like olive oil, nuts and avocados help keep your blood sugar steady and stop cravings in their tracks.
Get enough sleep – You are more likely to crave sugar and cave to cravings when you are sleep deprived.
Avoid artificial sweeteners – Artificial sweeteners cause intestinal distress and may alter the way your body metabolizes sugar, causing confusion between the gut and the brain. And since you are still eating sweet foods, you will continue to have sweet cravings.
Reduce Consumption of These Foods to Minimize Sugar
Soda, juices, coffee drinks, sports drinks
Chips, cookies, pastries, most bars
Most breakfast cereals
Dry cereals and flavored oatmeal
Flavored yogurt, coffer creamer, flavored milk
Bread, donuts, cake, muffins and other baked goods
Condiments and sauces
Ketchup, barbeque sauces, tomato sauce and salad dressings
Anything food labeled no-fat or low-fat
When you understand the biochemical effects of eating sugar and where you are getting most of your sugar, you can stop beating yourself up over a lack of willpower and start taking steps to enjoy treats on your own terms.
Train your taste buds and use natural sweeteners to reduce the sugar in your food without compromising flavor. Eat a diet rich in healthy fats and fiber and get regular exercise and adequate sleep to stop cravings in their tracks. These simple steps help you reduce your sugar intake without giving up the pleasure of enjoying sweets in moderation. This may be one of the most important health decisions you will ever make.
If you’d like to take a deeper dive on the hidden dangers of sugar, check out the self-study on this topic for the cost of just a few cups of coffee.