Five on Friday: 5 Ways to Kick Your Sugar Cravings
Is sweetened coffee part of your morning routine? Are you raiding the chocolate dish at 3 pm? Searching for something sweet after dinner? You're not alone! But...why do we want sugar all the time?
When you eat sugar, your blood sugar rises. This sugar rush provides energy. However, soon after, you will have a sugar crash. This drop in your blood sugar makes you crave more sugar, so you eat more sugar....and the cycle continues.
We are addicted to sugar because it stimulates the release of dopamine (which provides pleasure) in the brain, similar to that of alcohol or drugs. With continued use we develop dependency and tolerance to its effects and crave it more.
The best way to kick a sugar habit is to break the sugar cycle and cut it out cold turkey. You will lower your threshold and recalibrate your taste buds. Here are 5 ways to kick your sweets habit:
1. Start your day with breakfast. A balanced breakfast creates a healthy foundation for the rest of the day and sets you up for success. Aim to eat within an hour of waking up. Read labels and avoid breakfast foods with sugar such as: sugar in your coffee, sugary cold cereals, brown sugar in your oatmeal, waffles or pancakes with syrup, flavored creamers, flavored milk, or honey. Good choices include steel cut oats with raisins and almonds, sprouted bread with almond butter, scrambled eggs and fruit or berries and plain Greek yogurt.
2. Eat regularly. Blood sugar imbalance is the foundation for most cravings. This is typically caused by a lack of food. When you go too long without eating so your blood sugar drops. Don't go longer than 3-4 hours without eating a healthy, balanced meal or snack.
3. Don't use artificial sweeteners as a substitute. Artificial sweeteners are 100's of times sweeter than table sugar. Those who use them routinely may have a fundamental change in their preference for sweets. Healthy foods that are less sweet (such as fruits and vegetables) may become unappetizing. New research shows that artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body's ability to regulate blood sugar. If that's not enough, there is some research that shows it may cause weight gain and stimulate the development of new fat cells.
4. Pick protein. Make sure you have some sort of protein every time you eat a meal or snack. Protein can come from meat, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, soy, milk, cheese, yogurt, quinoa, nut butter, nuts or seeds. Protein stabilizes your blood sugar and slows your digestion so you'll feel full longer.
5. Replace sweets with fruit. Fruit does contain natural sugar, but you'll get fiber and nutrients along with it. The fiber slows the absorption of the sugars so you won't get a huge sugar rush. Fresh fruit like mango, pineapple, berries, grapes, apples and citrus fruits are delicious options. Unsweetened dried fruit, such as figs, dates, apricots, mango, strawberries and gogi berries are great candy substitutes.
The average American consumes 350 calories of added sugar each day. To put it in perspective, 1 teaspoon of sugar is equivalent to ~4 grams of sugar and contains 16 calories. The government has no specific recommendations for added sugars. However, the American Heart Association recommends women consume <6 teaspoons (24 grams) of added sugar and men consume <9 teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar daily.
These recommendations do not include naturally occurring sugars found in fruit (fructose) and dairy products (lactose). However, food manufacturers don’t distinguish between added and natural sugars on labels. Added sugars provide no additional nutrient value and are often referred to as empty calories. Natural sugars provide other health benefits. It can be quite confusing to determine exactly how many grams of added sugar you are consuming.
The FDA has proposed several changes to the current nutrition facts label, one being to declare “added sugars” underneath “sugars” to help you understand how much sugar is naturally occurring and how much has been added to the product. This change has not been approved yet. Until this would occur, the easiest way to figure it out is to read the food label closely.
Sugar on a food label can be referred to by many names including: sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, dextrin, dextrose, honey, invert sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, corn sweeteners, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, malt, molasses, turbinado sugar, agave nectar, cane crystals, crystalline fructose, maltose, raw sugar, syrup, sucrose, granulated sugar
Why is sugar so bad? Sugar is instrumental in many disease processes including obesity, heart disease, inflammation, gout, diabetes and autoimmune disorders. It is also addictive. Sugar stimulates the release of neurotransmitters in the brain (similar to alcohol or drugs) and with continued use we develop dependency and tolerance to its effects.
We all know soda, sports drinks, cake and candy are loaded with sugar and should be limited. But what about the foods that contain hidden sugars? Here are 5 (of many) foods that you may not know contain added sugars:
2 Tablespoons of KC Masterpiece Original Barbecue Sauce contains 12 grams of sugar. (And who only uses 2 Tablespoons?!) A tiny amount of this is from the tomatoes, but the majority is from high fructose corn syrup and molasses. There are several brands, including Annie’s, that contain much less sugar or you can make your own.
Granola Bars or Protein Bars
A lot of protein bars are glorified candy bars. Clif’s Chocolate Chip Bar is just one example of this. Don’t let the "organic” line fool you; it’s still sugar. One bar contains 22 grams of sugar with ingredients such as organic brown rice syrup, chocolate chips and organic cane syrup. Opt for bars that contain natural sugars from fruit, such as Larabars.
1 container of Strawberry Banana Yoplait Yogurt contains 26 grams of sugar. While some of that is natural (from the milk), most of it comes from sugar and modified corn starch. Opt for plain yogurt and add your own fresh fruit to sweeten it.
Starting your day with sugar is not ideal; you will have a sugar crash mid-morning and crave sugar the rest of the day. Cinnamon Burst Cheerios is just one example of a high sugar breakfast cereal. 1 cup contains 9 grams of sugar; including plain sugar and brown sugar syrup. Compare this to plain Cheerios which only has 1 gram of sugar per 1 cup.
Fat free and light salad dressings are notorious for adding sugar; after they remove the fat they need something to make them taste good. One example is Ken’s Light Honey Mustard Salad Dressing which has 8 grams of sugar in 2 Tablespoons. The first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup and it also contains sugar and honey. Opt to make your own healthy salad dressing with vinegar and oil.