How Sweet It Is
Ten Tips for a Healthier Approach to Sugar
No doubt about it – we love sugar. Since the first sugar refinery opened in New York City in 1689, the U.S. has become the world’s largest consumer of sweets. Estimates of sugar consumption in this country range from a staggering 140 to 175 pounds per person annually.
Recent studies report sugar’s toxic effects and links to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and more. There is strong evidence that we need to decrease the amount of sugar in our diets. How do we accomplish this, especially now, when the seasonal tsunami of holiday goodies is upon us?
The key is a more mindful approach to eating, maintained over the long term. Follow the ten tips below to effectively reduce those sugar cravings without feeling deprived:
1. Eat adequate protein and drink plenty of water. Protein will keep your blood sugar levels stable when eaten in combination with carbohydrates. And, a craving for sugar can actually be a sign of dehydration. So reach for a glass of water when your thoughts turn to sweets.
2. Eat regularly, focusing on complex carbohydrates found in vegetables and whole grains, instead of the simple carbs found in refined foods such as pasta and bagels. Simple carbohydrates provide a quick burst of energy followed by a hypoglycemic slump. Complex carbs are broken down more slowly, keeping blood sugar levels stable and resulting in sustained energy between meals.
3. Eat and drink plenty of greens. Sugar is acid-producing, which leads to inflammation. The alkaline nature of greens counters this and boosts the immune system. You’ll get a host of beneficial micronutrients and quickly lose your taste for sugar when you increase your portions of green vegetables and drink green juice regularly.
4. Have healthy snacks on hand, such as raw nuts, carrot sticks, celery. Pack small portions of these to carry with you. This will help you avoid the temptation of grabbing the “junk food” that’s always so accessible.
5. Skip the sodas, fruit-flavored drinks, and even fruit juice – they’re loaded with concentrated sugar. Eat whole fruit instead of just drinking the juice – you’ll get the fiber along with the nutrients.
6. Read labels! Look for ingredients and sugar grams. Beware of packages that promote themselves as “fat-free” or “gluten-free” – they are often loaded with sugar calories. Even savory products like tomato sauce and peanut butter can be laced with additives such as high fructose corn syrup.
7. Skip the artificial sweeteners – studies show that they’re unhealthy and they won’t lessen your cravings. Experiment with natural sweeteners, such as honey, brown rice syrup, and agave; they’re less processed than white sugar. However, use them in moderation – sugar is still sugar.
8. When you feel you deserve a treat, make it really special. This is about quality, not quantity. Turn the experience into a sensory pleasure – note the appearance, smell, texture, taste. Maximize the enjoyment by taking small bites and savoring each one. You should come away guilt-free and unlikely to binge on more soon after.
9. Get up and go! A change in your scenery or activities will take your mind off cravings. Plus, exercise will raise your endorphins and make you feel good and less likely to grab a sugary snack.
10. Focus on the non-food nourishment in your life – relationships, career, activities, spirituality. Is loneliness behind that refrigerator raid? Call a friend. Don’t like your job? Work on making some changes. Spirituality can take the form of yoga, meditation, or a walk in nature. Feed your soul in ways that make you happy, and get support if you need it.
Make a point of incorporating these recommendations into your routine. You’ll feel the health benefits and find that life is sweeter without the sweets!
Sue Smith is a Certified Health Counselor and owner of Prime Health Style in Westport. She received her training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and is a member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Sue creates completely personalized, sustainable programs for her clients to help them achieve their wellness goals and lead happier and healthier lives. She leads workshops on nutrition and offers health counseling to individuals, families, and groups.
Photo by Cheryl Pollack