No doubt about it, the last few months have been tough. With so many of life’s pleasurable activities restricted, or gone altogether, small wonder so many folks have had some dietary slip-ups, with too much sugar topping the list.
Our culture frames sugar as something benign – a celebratory indulgence or maybe just a little reward for getting through the day — but it’s actually more like a punishment for your body. Think of it as a terrible, life-altering substance that’s nothing but trouble. So, whether you’re led astray by the banana bread craze sweeping social media a few months ago or just an all-purpose sweets-cravings-gone-wild, it’s time to start planning your sugar exit strategy.
Why is sugar so hard to break up with? Because it’s a drug, an addictive substance that stimulates the same areas in the brain as cocaine and heroin. If you, like millions of Americans, are hooked and quitting cold turkey isn’t your style, then start tapering off in phases. The sooner you do it, however you do it, the faster you can start turning back the clock on aging and amp up your immunity. That got your attention? While most people know that sugar helps drive weight gain, they don’t necessarily appreciate the big picture, that sugar is the quickest way to age and damage your organs, your skin, your brain and numerous other parts of you — making you old long before your time.
Here is some food for thought on how to get started on your sugar-slashing journey:
Sugar ages your face – and the rest of you – fast.
Like smoking and alcohol use, sugar accelerates aging, by weakening the immune system and promoting the development of diseases we all fear: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, to name a few. In combination with certain proteins, sugar creates deposits that get into the bloodstream. They become lodged in various places, sitting like rust on your organs and aging you from the inside. On the skin, your largest organ, this phenomenon manifests visibly as wrinkles. On the inside of your body, these sugar compounds scar the blood vessels that feed your heart and your brain, contributing to heart disease and dementia. If you make only one change in 2021, it should be cutting sugar from your diet, along with honey and agave, which essentially are all the same to your system.
Free your day from the Sugar Monster, one meal at a time.
When downshifting your intake, the immediate goal is to step off (and stay off) the sugar rush-and-crash rollercoaster by maintaining stable blood sugar levels. Here are seven easy-to-incorporate tips to keep you on track throughout the day:
START ON THE SAVORY SIDE: To begin a sugar purge, start by jettisoning it from your breakfast repertoire. Whether you break your fast at 7 a.m. or noon, your first meal of the day should be rich in good fats, leafy greens, some protein and utterly devoid of sugar. In practice, that means ditching morning sugar-bombs like fruit juice, jam/jelly, breakfast ‘breads’ (sweet or otherwise) and sugary coffee drinks from the local barista. One meal down, one or two more to go
OUTSMART THE SLUMP: If you’re like many folks, you may combat mid-morning or mid-afternoon slumps with a blast of caffeine and a jolt from a blood-sugar-spiking sweet. Sure, they’ll jack you up quickly but then slap you down, sending energy levels and blood sugar careening up and down several times a day. To stay on an even keel, when feeling peckish and a snack is in order, switch out the coffee and sweet stuff combo and boost energy with actual fuel – like organic nut butters, raw veggies, hummus, berries, hard-boiled eggs, etc. You won’t “crash” (and be hungry!) an hour later.
SWIG ON REAL FLAVOR: If you sip on drinks throughout the workday, remember to hydrate with health-supportive, naturally un-sugared drinks like organic teas, sparkling water, lemon/cucumber water, green drinks. Skip fruit juices, sodas and diet sodas, which flood your body with sugar and/or a spate of potentially toxic chemicals that no one needs.
TO SWEETEN OR NOT TO SWEETEN: When it comes to sweeteners, the less the better. As soon as possible, start tapering off all chemical and so-called ‘natural’ sweeteners — including “health-washed” ones like agave and ‘raw’ sugar – as they tend to fuel cravings rather than satisfy. If, at first, you feel you can’t live without sweetening your beverages, then add the smallest amount possible of raw, organic, plant-based stevia or monk fruit sweetener (which don’t spike blood sugar). The goal here is to eventually phase them out as well, to tamp down your sweet tooth over time and side-step any possible long-term metabolic effects (which have not yet been well-studied). Some folks opt for sugar alcohols such as erythritol and xylitol, but they can give you gas and upset your digestion, so they’re not ideal for all.
LUNCH LIKE A PRO: For a lot of busy people, the mid-day meal usually defaults to the eat-with-one-hand, grab-n-go’s like a quick deli sandwich, a smoothie from Jamba Juice, a yoghurt or protein bar. The result – anywhere from too much to off-the-charts amounts of sugar both hidden and obvious. What to do instead? Your best bet is home-meal prep, so you control the ingredients and keep the sugar out. Or, budget and time-permitting, join a meal delivery kit service that caters to your dietary preferences and keeps sugar off the menu.
MASTER THE EVENING MEAL: So, what’s the secret to keeping sugar from invading your dinner plate? Switch to a bowl instead, and think soups and light stews, which are easier to digest and will help keep blood sugar from jacking you up at the end of the day. Also, make sure to have your final meal of the day at least 3 – 4 hours before bed to make it easier for your body prepare itself for sleep.
HAVE AN AFTER DINNER CUPPA: For something warm and cozy to linger over, say, after dinner, try a cup of caffeine-free mint, chai or ginger tea, or hot lemon water. A decaf cappuccino with a sprinkle of cinnamon or cocoa powder is another low-sugar way to wrap up the day in a way that feels indulgent but won’t mess with your sleep or blood sugar.
In my next post, I will share many more do-right-now tips and craving-crushing supplements to help you win the sugar war once and for all!