We are just about mid-way through the Spring/Summer challenge and many of you have commented on how consuming 15g of added sugar/day as a goal requires you to eat more foods in their natural form. Way to go! This is exactly what you want to be doing. I have to say that I am so impressed by your determination and dedication. You all have the tools and know so much already! We have discussed ways to try and cut down on sugar here. Give that article a quick review and note what you are doing well. Can you make another change? Can you enlist your partner for support?
While you are working hard to cut-back on added sugar in your diet, here are some things you want to try to avoid:
Products that contain sugar as one of the first three ingredients or multiple listings of different types of sugar. A product may contain mostly sugar but savvy corporations simply use many different forms of sugar to avoid having sugar listed as one of the main ingredients. Remember that there are over 50 different names for sugar, so get your detective gear ready!
Drinking your calories. Drinks are one of the biggest culprits of added sugars in our diet. We all know to avoid the empty calories in soda, but do you know that your sports drink or vanilla latte may have up to 40 grams of sugar and calories upwards of 250, each? Sports drinks often contain multiple servings in one container! Alcohol can also be a major culprit. Enjoy that special drink on occasion, but continue to be mindful of what you are drinking and how often.
Artificial sweeteners. In addition to being linked to many side effects, weight gain and possibly cancer, artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than ‘natural’ sugars and have been shown to increase sugar cravings by ‘resetting’ our taste buds. Studies have shown that consuming the artificial sweetener without the calories causes our bodies to crave the missing calories leading to greater caloric intake and possibly weight gain.
Sugar-free foods. Sugar-free doesn’t mean calorie-free. Often these products are loaded with multiple artificial sweeteners. Fat-free or low-fat packaged foods. These foods contain high quantities of sugar to make-up for lack of flavor and fat.
Processed foods. These often contain high levels of sugar or sugar substitutes and generally don’t offer the same health benefits of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
Several of you have also mentioned sugar cravings. There are many reasons why we crave sugar. One of which is due to serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you feel content and happy. Eating sugar may increase the production of serotonin, making you feel ‘happier’ as a result. Unfortunately, added sugars offer no nutritional benefit (whereas the sugar naturally found in an apple also contains the benefits of the fiber, nutrients and phytochemicals found in that apple). Like salt, once you begin eliminating excess sugar from your diet, you will find that your taste buds adjust and your cravings diminish. Here are some ways to reduce cravings:
Exercise! Moderate to intense physical activity helps balance your blood sugar levels, stimulates brain chemicals that improve mood, boosts energy and reduces stress.
Reduce caffeine. Too much caffeine can lead to dehydration, irritability and blood sugar swings, causing more frequent cravings.
Get some shut-eye. When you are tired or stressed your body will crave energy—usually in some form of sugar. The amount of sleep we get (or lack thereof) regulates the hormones leptin and grehlin. Leptin is the hormone that sends the ‘full’ signal to your brain and grehlin is the hormone that stimulates hunger. When you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels decrease. This means you don’t feel as satisfied after you eat. Lack of sleep also causes the level of ghrelin to rise. This means your appetite is stimulated, so you want more food. This double-whammy can set the stage for sugar cravings, overeating and, potentially, weight gain. So make it a goal to get to bed a bit earlier tonight!
Drink more water. Sometimes sweet cravings are a sign of dehydration. Try drinking a glass of water before you automatically reach for the sweets.
Eat regular meals and healthy snacks. Skipping meals causes dips in blood sugar levels which can make cravings worse.
Eat mindfully and enjoy your sweet treat when you choose to have one! Trying to be ‘good’ by depriving yourself often leads to overeating and feelings of guilt and shame; a vicious cycle we want to avoid! A square of dark chocolate with 70% cacao contains 2g of sugar and can be very satisfying. Here are some other snacks that may help to satisfy a sweet craving. When I have a craving it tends to be toward ‘chewy’, sweet things. Sometimes I find that eating something chewy and sweet like a serving of prunes or apricots helps to satisfy that urge. Sometimes, only black licorice will do (I know, I know, either you love it or you hate it, right?). During those times, I allow myself a serving and enjoy! Remember 80/20!
Finally, slow down and find “sweetness” in non-food ways; time with friends, time outside, time with your spouse/significant other, hugs from your kids, doing that crossword puzzle instead of folding laundry. Are you truly hungry? Is it food that you are craving or something more? When you reach for something sweet to deal with your emotions, you are leaving the emotional issue unresolved and potentially creating a new issue (weight gain). We all crave connection to one another. Whether you find that connection by volunteering for a special cause, going to book club or on a brisk walk with somebody special; seek out the people and places that make you feel alive and a part of this very special world. This is just as important as keeping your nutritional and exercise commitments to yourself! What are some strategies you use to curb your sweet cravings?