Sugar consumption is one of the largest health risk to Americans. It is linked to an onslaught of symptoms including diabetes, tooth decay, obesity, cardiac issues, metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, energy crashes, mood swings, and headaches. According to the American Heart Association, “the average adult in the United States takes in 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, while teens pile in 34 teaspoons a day.” The traditional American diet makes it very difficult to stay within the guidelines of 9 teaspoons, or 37 grams, of added sugars per day. Last year, the FDA amended nutrition label requirements to raise awareness of added sugars in packaged goods. The good news is that by implementing some lifestyle changes, it is easy to improve overall health.
Here are some tips to quell your sugar cravings:
Stay Energized With Healthy Fats
In the 1960s, the sugar industry quietly paid scientists to downplay the effects sugar and switch the blame to fat. In an attempt to improve health and lose weight, the general public switched from whole food—which contain higher amounts of fat, protein, and fiber—to low-fat processed foods which are loaded with hidden sugars and low in nutrients. Today, studies show that sugar is the real culprit behind the massive rise in diabetes, obesity, mental health disorders, cardiac disease, cancer, and many other health issues.
The two main sources of fuel for your body are carbohydrates and fats. If your body is running low, sugar cravings will kick in since it is the easiest to convert into calories for immediate use. However, if you allow yourself a steady stream of healthy fats, your body will become more efficient at converting stored body fat into energy. Try snacking on nuts, adding coconut oil to your morning coffee, or eating omega-rich foods and ditch the fat-free dressing, milks and meats.
Avoid Processed Foods
There is a surprising amount of added sugars in packaged foods, which includes everything from bread to meats. Even if sugar is not listed on the ingredient list, tampering with whole foods changes the way natural sugars are processed in your body. For example, low-fat milk has been linked to higher obesity and diabetes even though it is lower in calories. You can avoid many of the health issues associated with sugar by choosing whole ingredients, making your own meals, reading ingredient labels, and overall being more conscientious of what you consume.
Carb-Load Early in the Day
Your body needs and craves carbohydrates. If you can provide it with energy early in the day, when it needs it the most, you can avoid the late-night scramble for sweets. In the morning, I love brown rice and eggs or these easy oatmeal pancakes. For lunch or a post-workout meal, there is nothing more satisfying than a baked yam with avocado slices and roasted chicken.
Build Your Sugar Fighting Muscle
This may be obvious, but just say “no.” Say it for a day, a week, a month, however long you can. The more you turn down temptations, the easier it becomes. People say sugar is as addictive as heroin; I don’t agree. There are no physical side effects to cutting it cold turkey. The key is mental strength. Big hint: do not keep tempting foods in your home; The easier they are to access, the harder it is to say no.
Include Friends and Family
It is much easier to build a new habit with friends and family to motivate you. Try a 30-day no-sugar challenge, such as the Whole30. It will allow your body to heal, reduce sugar cravings, and by the end, you won’t even miss it.
Sugar is one of the most addictive foods in our diets but you may not be to blame. The bad bacterias in our system, such as Candida and other harmful microorganisms, feed off sugar. When they overpower the good bacteria, they also take over our appetites. Cutting sugar for 30 days, while introducing probiotics such as fermented foods, will help quell the cravings, improve your digestion, increase nutrient absorption, and boost weight loss.
Get Fancy With Your Water
Hydration is essential to reducing cravings. When plain water gets a little old, I like to switch it up. At restaurants, I love my soda water with lime and fresh mint, which is basically a mojito without the sugar, alcohol and calories. At home, I make my own spa-inspired flavored waters such as cucumber, watermelon with mint, and strawberry with basil. On the go, a naturally flavored water such as hint is always a great option!
Bring on the Fruits
Instead of indulging in processed desserts, fruits will satisfy your sweet tooth and are packed with fiber, powerful phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. My go-to treats are bananas with melted almond butter, banana ice cream, or fresh berries topped with homemade coconut whipped cream (note: I use powdered erythritol for zero calories, or honey to keep it paleo). I also keep a giant box of organic Medjool dates and raw almonds on my kitchen counter which my family and I will pick at throughout the day.
Do you struggle with sugar cravings? What helps you get through them?