We are constantly being bombarded by the food industry with ways to eat less sugar and ways to avoid it daily, but it can be tough to truly avoid it. Sugar is in practically everything, and it hides under a lot of different guises too: high fructose corn syrup, cane juice, glucose, sucrose, molasses, honey, and malt syrup, to name just a few. Even unsweetened foods contain an artificial or synthetic sweetener (saccharin, aspartame, sucralose and so on), which to date have received a lot of controversy over their long-term health effects. Sugar cravings however, can keep you stuck in a vicious cycle, as sugar gets absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, causing your blood sugar levels to spike, then they crash, leaving you craving more. As a result, I have put together a list of ways to eat less sugar and keep those cravings at bay!
1. Know Your Sugars
How often do you reach for one of the many ways to eat less sugar and discover there’s a hidden sugar listed on the nutrition label? Sugar as we know it is naturally derived from sugar cane, sugar beet, corn or fruit. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose, fructose and galactose. Table or granulated sugar is commonly known as sucrose, and sucrose along with maltose and lactose are all considered disaccharides. Artificial sweeteners like saccharin, sucralose, aspartame, are man-made and are currently undergoing research studies for their long-term health effects. Sugar is added to all sorts of products and the American Heart Association recommends women consume 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day (that’s 100 calories-worth)! In reality, the majority of us probably consume closer to double that amount.
2. Avoid Iced Coffees and Teas
Speaking of only consuming 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day, it’s often the drinks we consume that bump that number up. For instance, energy drinks can contain approximately 7 teaspoons of sugar per can, enhanced waters up to 8 teaspoons of sugar per bottle, while iced teas can contain more than 9 teaspoons per serving! Avoiding soda altogether is usually the best way to go, since one can of coca-cola contains about 12 teaspoons of sugar, and that's not the only sugar-packed soda out there. The majority of canned sodas also contain high amounts of fructose corn syrup, which triggers about the same intermediate insulin release as table sugar, because it contains equal amounts of glucose and fructose.
3. Add Protein and Fats
Reach for some protein, ‘healthy fats,’ and add more fiber to your diet, for they'll all help to slow down the release of blood sugar into your bloodstream and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Proteins like tofu, eggs, dairy, fish, poultry and beans all help to stabilize your blood sugar levels. Fats are a key player because, although they are rich in calories, they help you feel fuller for longer, thus decreasing your desire for sugar and sugary-like substances. Try consuming ‘healthy’ fats like avocados, olive oil, or reach for a handful of peanuts or almonds or even some pumpkin seeds if in need of a snack, for they're all rich in ‘healthy fats’ like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
4. Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
Resist the diet sodas, sugar-free chocolates, and packets of artificial sweeteners in your lattes and iced teas. They 'mess up' your taste for ‘sweet’ as your brain and body expects nutrients and calories when you consume something sweet, and artificial sweeteners don’t give you those things. This may be partially why artificial sweeteners are associated with weight gain—not weight loss, according to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.
5. Cook with Herbs and Spices
There are natural herbs and spices out there that can add a natural sweet flavor to your dishes, like vanilla bean, vanilla extract, cinnamon, cardamom, and citrus zests. They're all zero calories too. If you order an unsweetened latte, add flavor by using cocoa powder or a touch of vanilla. Skip the flavored oatmeal and add some cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger to it. According to a meta-analysis in the Journal of Medicinal Food, cinnamon has been shown to naturally regulate blood sugar, which helps control your appetite. An added bonus in my opinion!
6. Don’t Go Cold Turkey
Going cold turkey and completely eliminating sugar from your diet is not realistic. Instead cut back gradually. Remember that there's a lot of sugar in alcoholic beverages too, so If you normally consume two glasses of wine per evening, try cutting back to one glass to finally half a glass. If you regularly enjoy sweetened yoghurts, try mixing them with half of a plain yoghurt instead; then try plain yoghurt with fresh fruit (to give it that added natural sweetness).
7. Don’t Give up
At first, cutting down on sugar will feel like an impossible task. Eventually, your taste buds will adjust and you will start to notice the sweetness levels when you consume it. Super-sweet foods like ice cream, fudge and candies will start to taste too sweet to you. If you would normally reach for a whole chocolate bar, you’ll find that a couple of squares will be sufficient.
Sugar and its sweet substitutes can be challenging to cut out of your diet but with all of the negative press linking sugar with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cavities, certain cancers, acne as well as other forms of accelerated aging, I say it’s enough to start cutting back slowly and surely. Do you have any tips you can share with others to help us all consume less of the sweet stuff? What do you do that helps keep the sweet cravings at bay?