Sugar… I have a problem with it. I don’t know how to deal with it:
It’s not good for me but it tastes really nice.
You know? Do you have a problem with it too?
I’m currently doing Whole30 and thus avoiding sugar. And I’ve done really well – surprisingly well: this is my 26th day on Whole30, with no sugar. So it can be done. Not that I’d be able to keep this up my whole life but if I can do it for 26 days in a row, why is it so difficult to do it for… say 6 days in a row so that I’d have sugar on just one day a week?
The answer to that question is:
Because sugar is everywhere! Literally everywhere.
In the past few weeks I’ve tried to find pasta sauces, ketchup and spice mixes with no sugar, to little or no avail.
So should we all stop eating processed food and sugary drinks? I think very few of us are really ready and willing to do that for the rest of our lives. But what we can do is take baby steps by slowly but surely reducing our sugar intake.
So take the first step and learn why sugar is so bad for us, what is it that makes it so addictive and what we can do to have at least a little less of sugar in our diet.
Why do we need to cut back on sugar?
#1 It’s toxic
Ok now that’s a light start for this conversation, huh? But it’s true, sugar is toxic.
Sugar can be really addictive and I mean properly addictive, like drugs. The process of making it is quite similar to refining plants to drugs. Sugar also has an affect both in our brains and our bodies. There have been animal studies that have shown that animals experience sugar the same way they experience drugs and also get addicted to sugar. People too get drug-like symptoms from sugar, for example cravings, withdrawal symptoms and reward. The food industry feeds this addiction, constantly.
#2 Sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes
It’s all about insulin resistance. Here’s how it works:
When we eat sugar it drives our body to produce insulin in order to regulate the effects sugar has on our blood. The more sugar we eat, the more insulin our bodies produce.
Eventually, our body doesn’t react to the insulin as effectively as before so our body keeps making even more insulin. This is called insulin resistance and it can eventually lead to diabetes.
Insulin also effectively hinders our chances to lose body fat. So when it comes to weight loss it is much better to eat more sugar once a week than a little less every day of the week.
#3 You might get other health problems
When it comes to our heart we might think that it’s salt we should avoid. But sugar could be even worse when it comes to cardiovascular disease. If we eat excessive amounts of added sugar we might end up with a heart attack or stroke.
Obesity is often claimed to be the biggest reason for all sorts of disease, but it isn’t that simple. It is suggested that the metabolic syndrome is actually the biggest reason and this can affect both people that are obese and those that have normal BMI. People get metabolic syndrome when they become insulin resistant and insulin resistance is a result of eating too much added sugar.
If we enjoy our sugar a bit too much we might end up with high cholesterol. And the bacteria in our mouth will have a field day when lots of sugar arrive. The bacteria can therefore reproduce quickly and cause plaque. This could lead to cavities and gum problems.
There is even some research that suggests that sugar could also be linked to some forms of cancer and that it helps cancer cells grow. What we do know is that sugar lowers our immune system and can even lead to depression.
Eating a lot of sugar will also show in our skin! That’s because it produces products in our body that damage collagen and elastin in our skin. This means wrinkles and saggy skin. Sugar can also cause inflammation and hormonal fluctuations that could lead to acne or psoriasis.
Even our asthma could improve by reducing sugar.
#4 Sugar will wear us out
Ever felt like taking a nap after a bag of sweets? I become SO sluggish after lots of sugar. I might try to read a book, stare at my computer screen or watch a movie but my eye lids become so heavy and I have no other choice but to drag myself to bedroom and sleep for an hour or two.
This is because there are orexin cells in our body that keep us awake and active and those cells become less active when we eat a lot of sugar.
#5 Sugar could cause other food cravings
It is suggested that if we cut down on sugar, we’ll have less food cravings in general.
#6 We’ll gain weight
If we want to lose weight (body fat), we simply have to reduce sugar in our diet.
As the sugar drives our insulin levels up and messes with our metabolism, those calories turn straight into fat in our bodies.
How to cut back on sugar?
#1 Let’s not buy it
A simple advice but it works. If we don’t have sugar (cookies, cakes, chocolate, candy etc.) in our cupboard we are less likely to snack on it. Buy lots of fruit and berries instead (fresh sweet pineapple for example tastes amazing).
#2 Read the labels
Sounds easy doesn’t it? But wait, it’s not just sugar that you should scan the labels for. Here are just a few names that basically mean the same thing in the label list:
sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, maltose, dextrose, fructose, glucose, syrup, cane sugar, raw sugar and corn syrup.
#3 Count it for a while
If you want to really focus on reducing, you can count the amount of sugar you get in your diet for a week or two. WebMD has a really good calculator that will tell you the grams of sugar in different ingredients and chain meals.
#4 Try Glycemic index approach
Instead of counting grams of sugar you can also learn more about Glycemic index. By paying attention to how high the glycemic load of your meal is you can control how much it affects your blood sugar and ultimately your weight loss.
#5 Reduce the amount of soda you drink
I think it’s safe to say that soda is the biggest problem we have when it comes to drinking sugar. If you drink a lot of soda you might want to read about soda addiction and how to beat it.
Pay attention to other drinks too such as juices, sports drinks, energy drinks, coffee drinks etc. When it comes to sugar these are just as bad as sodas.
#6 Sweeten your own yogurt
Buy Greek yogurt and add fresh fruit and berries to it in order to avoid added sugar.
#7 Make your own salad dressing
Make your own salad dressing by mixing olive oil and vinegar. The store-bought varieties often contain a lot of sugar.
#8 Make your own smoothies
Store-bought smoothies have often added sugar too. Make your own and sweeten it by using bananas.
#9 Have a candy day
If you have a sweet tooth have candy, sweets and chocolate just once a week. I hate the word cheat day, candy day sounds a lot better.
#10 Make your own granola
Store-bought granola has often a lot of sugar. Try making your own granola.
#11 Eat enough real food
When we are hungry we make bad food choices. Eat three good-sized meals a day and have some fruit, nuts or other snacks with you in case you need some.
#12 Try dark chocolate
I really really like dark chocolate, but I understand not everyone loves it. Try it though! And if you don’t like the brand you’ve tried, try another one. I like to have a couple of bites with my tea. You don’t need much to feel satisfied.
#13 Be vary of foods that are marketed as low fat
They are often very high in sugar instead.
#14 Sleep more
There are actually studies that suggest sleeping has a lot to do with how much you crave processed food and sugar. Try to sleep 7 – 9 hours at night to fight these cravings.
#15 Try to reduce stress
Easier said than done but we all know that when we are stressed out, we’ll eat anything that will give us that “everything will be OK”-like feeling. For me, that’s usually chocolate.
Instead of buying that chocolate bar, stop and think about what it is that you really need. It could be just relaxation like having a good long bath, reading a wonderful book, going for a nice walk or something fun like going to movies or seeing friends. Or having a lovely steak with a big helping of roast vegetables!
#16 Avoid processed food
Ok, this is a bigger step now. You could try to cut most of the processed food you eat. I know this requires more planning and preparation but it can be done. Processed food includes for example ready meals and frozen dinners, canned stuff, processed meat products and snacks such as chips/crisps.
In the end it’s all about eating real food: The best way to reduce sugar is to focus on whole, natural ingredients in our diets.
You don’t have to jump right in – just start cooking a little bit more by yourself.
#17 Try a diet program that cuts all sugar for a while
Why the sugar in fruits is not as bad?
Fruits have fructose which is sugar – why are we allowed apples but not cake?
Most of our sugar intake consists of added sugar so that is our biggest problem. There are people who want to really reduce sugar so they avoid fruit as well. Usually that’s not necessary because the sugar in fruits is buffered by water, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other micro nutrients that make it less harmful.
It the US the average man consumes about 21 teaspoons of added sugar (335 calories) and an average woman 15 teaspoons (239 calories) a day.
Remember when you do eat sugar
Savor it, make it special.
If you really want to have that amazing peace of cake and you haven’t had any for a while, go ahead. Don’t settle for a less sugary or otherwise healthier option if it won’t satisfy you. You’ll eat the healthy option and still crave for the one you really wanted. You’ll end up either feeling miserable because you couldn’t have the cake you wanted – or worse, you’ll end up eating them both!
Leave a comment if you have a tip on how to reduce sugar intake!