When it comes to sugar addiction, believe me, I feel your pain. I’ve battled the stuff myself and know first-hand how challenging it can be to kick sugar to the curb. As I’ve often said, sugar is basically an addictive, if legal, drug, that offers up short-term pleasure at the cost of dire long-term health consequences. But when you cut out sugar – whether by going cold turkey or by tapering off – all sorts of wonderful health changes begin to kick in almost immediately. You’ll start feeling the difference within a matter of days. So, if you want to feel better, look better, age better – and keep your immune defenses high – here’s what you need to know to make your sugar break-up as easy as metaphorical pie:
Cutting sugar turns the health tide in a matter of days.
By now, everyone knows that a sugar-heavy diet helps rapidly age all your organs – including your skin – while putting you on the fast-track to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, neurological decline, autoimmune disorders and a litany of other avoidable, life-altering diseases. In short, you get old fast. But, quit the sweet stuff and your disease risk, along with many common health complaints, aches and pains, will quickly shrink as well. And as a bonus, eliminating sugar will discourage the development of wrinkles, so no more of the dreaded, dried-out, lackluster ‘sugar face!’ Quitting sugar will also help:
- drop blood pressure, triglycerides (by as much as a third) and small dense LDL particles (the atherogenic “cholesterol”).
- de-escalate frequency and severity of headaches, migraines and menstrual cramps. Sugar is a highly inflammatory substance that can makes these pains worse – so less of it equals less misery all around.
- sleep come easier. Sugar’s subtle but stimulating effect makes falling asleep more of a challenge, and interrupts sleep by triggering late night visits to the loo as the body works to clear the excess sugar.
- de-fog your brain. High sugar intake has a negative impact on memory and learning, so ditch your morning glass of orange juice, donuts, bagels, etc., to avoid impairing your ability to think straight.
- tame mood imbalances. Too much sugar in the diet, and the blood-sugar boom-and-bust that accompanies it, tends to make mood issues like anxiety and depression worse, and can increase risk for depression. That’s according to one British study which also found high-sugar intake correlated with an increased risk of developing a mental disorder.
Learn the art of sugar self-defense.
To take on the sugar monster, you’ll need to practice the art of sugar self-defense, because even if you’re not chowing down on sweets every day, sugar is everywhere, tucked away in most processed foods. The easiest way to keep sugar out of your system is to not eat it in the first place. Eating whole, naturally sugar-free foods will cover that base nicely. The more fresh, organic, unprocessed, non-genetically-modified foods you pack into your diet, the less sugar can sneak in, and the healthier your body will be.
On occasion, when it becomes it necessary to purchase processed items – and hopefully that’s not often – remember that virtually anything with a “nutrition” label on it is likely long on hidden sugars and short on nutrients. So, you’ll need to look closely at the sugar grams per serving listed on the label. If the label lists more than 4 or 5 grams of sugar per serving, consider skipping it altogether (or making your own sugarless versions).
Remember that sugar hides in both conventional and organic packaged foods including such seemingly innocuous items such as breakfast cereals – even the healthy ones like oatmeal; dried fruits like cranberries, apricots and raisins; fruit flavored yoghurts; baked breads (be it white or whole wheat!); condiments like ketchup, sandwich spreads, salad dressings and even spaghetti sauce…so buyer beware!
Sugar is a master of disguise – so unmask it!
Sugar isn’t just the obvious white crystal stuff you add to coffee. It takes many, many forms. While most of us know to steer clear of the obvious ones – like cane sugar, brown sugar, beet sugar, date sugar, corn sugar, grape sugar – some are a bit harder to spot. So, be on the look-out for sugar-in-disguise ingredients such as:
- those that end in ‘-ose,’ for example, dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose and sucrose
- those that end in ‘trin’ or ‘tran,’ such as maltodextrin and dextran
- those that include ‘syrup’ in their name, such as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, fructose syrup, carob syrup, and sorghum syrup
- those that include fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, sorbitol, barley malt and/or caramel
- most of the classic, highly refined “complex” carbohydrates like bread, bagels and pasta, which unfortunately act just like sugars in the body – so put them on your once-in-a-blue-moon list (if at all)
Pass on the alternatives – even the ones you may think of as ‘healthy.’
When un-sweetening your life, be careful about alternative sugars. They may sound healthy, but they’re not a hall-pass by any stretch. For example, coconut sugar— a favorite with the health world and home bakers — is still sugar, albeit with traces of more minerals. Raw honey, which has healing properties in small amounts, is also sugar, so tread very lightly.
If you need a touch of sweet, look for raw, organic, non-GMO, minimally processed varieties of stevia, monk fruit, or xylitol, which are safer non-sugar options— but use a light touch here too as some can make you feel gassy. Ultimately, cutting sugar is also about reacquainting your tastebuds with the less sweet, real taste of food – and loving it!
But what about artificial sweeteners – you know, the ones in the pink, blue or yellow packets? In a (long) word, fuhgeddaboudit. Artificial sweeteners are the worst of all worlds, as they disrupt your microbiome, have neurotoxic properties, and trigger cravings, setting off a vicious cycle for those trying to avoid sweets.
Combat sugar everyday – and soon, it won’t be a fight anymore.
Another great thing about divesting yourself of sugar is that, in time, cravings will fall away and you’ll ‘need’ less and less of it. You may even find that desserts you used to gobble down are now way too sweet for your newly recalibrated palate – and that’s a good thing! While some will have no problem having a bite of something sweet every now and then, for others that bite will send them running right back into the arms of the sugar monster, so be real with yourself about what you can and can’t tolerate. Are you a total abstinence type or a moderation person? No matter which side of the fence you’re on, the less sugar you consume, the better! To help get yourself across the (naturally) sugar-free finish line, you can lop a lot of sugar out of your day by trying these tricks-of the-trade:
Face the not-so-sweet facts – start your journey by educating and motivating yourself by watching the Netflix documentary ‘Sugar Coated,’ an eye-opening look at the sugar industry and how it destroys the health of millions of people around the globe. It’s startling food for thought.
Skip the breakfast carb bombs – we’re looking at you, doughnuts, bagels, muffins! Instead, put filling, fiber-rich greens, a little protein and healthy fats on your plate at breakfast and beyond to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel throughout the day.
Ditch the drinkable carb-bombs – as in fruit juices. Just throw them out. Like sugary sodas, they’re just one more variation on the liquefied sugar theme and have no business being poured into your body. Be it apple, orange, pomegranate, grape, prune, whatever, fruit juices (and sodas) are metabolic disasters to be avoided all costs!
Drink up – as thirst can sometimes masquerade as food craving, so stay hydrated with plenty of water, straight up or with citrus slices, herbal teas or seltzer water.
Swap sugar for spices – add depth of flavor and natural sweetness with help from vanilla beans (paste and/or extract), cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, cloves and cardamom, which will also help keep sweet cravings in check.
Snack on low-sugar fruits and sugar-free nuts – fresh – never dried. Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries are delicious portable snacks, as are raw, unroasted walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts and hazelnuts. Always carry a stash with you.
Fight cravings with supplements – as nutrient deficiencies can make cravings worse. Supplement with a high-quality multivitamin, which includes zinc and chromium; magnesium; omega 3 fatty acids; vitamin D3. Add to that, the supplement L-glutamine, which essentially tricks the brain into thinking it’s getting glucose (aka, sugar), and is particularly helpful as you begin to taper off the sweet stuff. A dose of 1,000 – 2,000 mg of L-glutamine every few hours often does the trick.
Distract yourself from cravings – which typically pass in 10 – 20 minutes. When it comes up, shift the craving energy with a few simple deep breathing exercises, a quick, stress-busting walk around the neighborhood, or a few yoga stretches to get the blood flowing.
One final, yet very important tip? Forgive yourself. If you backslide a little, just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, get back on the no-sugar path as quickly as possible. And keep moving forward.