We know it’s not healthy in large amounts, so why do we eat it?
The more sugar you eat, the more you will likely crave it. Our brains are wired to want and need sugar in the form of glucose, as the brain uses over half of all the sugar energy in the body. So, it’s more a chemical demand than just our taste buds enjoying it - it can even be considered an addiction.
Scientists at Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, assessed all existing research about sugar and addiction. They concluded that refined sugar and opioid drugs trigger a similar response from the brain's reward system, both releasing dopamine and other pleasure-inducing chemicals. But as we get used to this feeling we need more to get the same response, leading to addiction.
How do we consume less sugar?
This is not about avoiding all sugar – as we do need small amounts of sugar/glucose/fructose, as that is the preferred fuel for the brain. What we need to look at is the quality and quantity of the sugar/glucose/fructose containing foods that we consume. They are not all created equal, and our bodies and cells do not handle them all the same.
Know your foods
First, reading labels is key. How much sugar is in a food and what is its source? This touches on the area of quality and quantity. First we need to understand what are we looking for, in order to know what needs to change. We should be aware of the many (some sites show 57!) different names that sugar can be called. A small list here is - sugar, dextrose, HFCS, sucrose, caramel, corn syrup, lactose, and the list goes on. So, read the ingredients to see the types and source of the sugar(s) and read the nutrition label to see the count of the sugar content. Be sure to confirm the serving size on the nutrition label, as a small serving size of 20 grams of sugar goes off the scale when we consume a whole package of something for which the serving size is only one quarter of that item.
How to kick it?
There are a number of ways to approach this but I like to propose 2 options to those wanting to make this change. Always consult with your doctor before making any dietary changes.
#1 - Cold Turkey This still requires planning and preparation, but it is like jumping all in and dropping everything all at one time. I suggest finding an already well supported group or book to help - one of my favourites is WHOLE 30. Basically, it explains how to take a break from all processed sugars and foods and reduce intake of foods that have high naturally high sugars as well. This has a great support and information and is pretty easy to understand and follow.
#2 - Start Slowly, One Sugary Food at a Time. By logging and reviewing your daily food consumption list, find just 1 food to target to remove, reduce, or replace the quality. For example, if you eat a kitkat as a “ treat” during some afternoons, replace and upgrade that to a dark chocolate bar. Look for one that has 6 or less ingredients, all of which you can pronounce. Anther example - If you consume pop on the weekend, look to switch that to another beverage like a ginger kombucha (similar to a ginger ale and fizzy like a pop), or a cold tea. Work on that one change until it is a new habit. Then find the next food to tackle.
Good targets are higher sugar processed foods such as: Pop, chocolate bars, cereal, granola bars, juices, specialty coffees, muffins/cakes/doughnuts, etc. These are all great places to start if, those are in your weekly diet, as those are some of the worst offenders. See if you can find one item that may be a big win for you in working to reduce or remove or replace.
HELPER: One big clue to help you with cravings is: When you make breakfast truly balanced where the focus is on protein, fibre, and fat, and very little processed/refined foods or sugars to cause a blood sugar increase, you should notice that cravings for sweets during that day and evening may be less than normal, and your balanced blood sugar can keep the mood and cravings in a better state. Try this for a few days, you could notice a simple change here.
ONE MORE HELPER: If you do indulge, don’t fall off the wagon - keep on track with your plan right away. Don’t use it as an excuse to make more errors in sugar consumption. One mistake is just one. Get back to the plan and move on.
Lastly keep in mind the benefits as you go and having a goal and a WHY is key. Write the WHY somewhere that you can see it a few times a day as your cheerleader. Maybe you want to eat more healthy, loos weight, reduce depressed feelings, stop feeling guilty about snacking habits, and any number of other reasons.
You really can stop being a slave to sweet cravings. Once your taste buds are less interested in sweet, everything else will taste much more flavourful. You will likely also feel much more balanced (mood and body) and in control. And that is motivating to continue to beat the sugar cravings.