The sugar issue. Most of us have heard about the problem and know that sugar is not the best for us, but we still eat and drink it, probably in large quantities. Well, here is another attempt to create awareness and convince us that we really should limit, if not cut out, refined sugar in our diets.
Humans prefer sweet tastes from birth. Not only do we have a predisposition for sweet things, but now sugar is in most of the foods that we grow up eating- pasta sauce, mayonnaise, peanut butter, and of course all of our sugary sodas and fruit juices. Not only are we surrounded by it, but sugar is very addictive and creates strong cravings which causes most Americans to overconsume, completely. Americans consume about 120 to 150 pounds of sugar each year. That equals about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day- when the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men. We are overloading our bodies with sugar.
So what’s the problem- sugar makes me feel good? Sugar, a type of carbohydrate, stimulates the release of serotonin, or a feel-good brain chemical. The taste of sugar also makes us feel calm, relaxed, and gives us a high from released endorphins. But these are all very short term effects. Soon we crash, feel tired, and even sick from the sugar, which can result in consuming more and more, creating a terrible cycle. Not only are the short term effects not very inspiring, but sugar is also linked to obesity, heart disease, cancer, severe PMS, dementia, and diabetes.
Fructose, a main component in sugar and high fructose corn syrup, is one of the main causes of all of these diseases. It is primarily metabolized by the liver. The high quantity of sugar in things like cookies, soda and candy puts the liver into overdrive. High quantities of sugar in short time periods cause the liver to convert the fructose to fat, causing the weight gain witnessed in the U.S.
So, let’s just avoid it right? Yes, but it is not as easy to go sugar free as we thought. Almost every processed food is packed with sugars that are fueling our addiction. They are in your breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soups, salad dressings and so much more. Not only that, but many sugars are hidden behind the various names that they are labeled with, such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, molasses, hydrolyzed starch, invert sugar, corn syrup, cane or beet juice, and honey. Many labels may say that they are low in sugar but the product could include various sugar ingredients listed under different names that if added together would make sugar one of the top ingredients. Cutting all simple sugars from our diet cold turkey would be the best, but it is challenging, and the first 48-72 hours can be really tough. People do find that cravings diminish after the first few days and over time can train their taste buds to be satisfied without sugar. However, we recognize this may not be an option for everyone. So here are some tips to reduce your sugar intake.
- Identify Your Sources of Sugar– The first step is identifying your sugars and seeing where they are coming from. Are you adding teaspoons to your coffee, drinking that mid-day soda, and eating dessert every day?
- Read Labels– This is also a way to identify sources of sugar that you may not have realized before. Remember to look at the ingredients list for those sneaky names above along with the amount of sugar listed on the nutritional facts.
- Skip Dessert– This does not mean you never have dessert, but make it a treat like it was meant to be. Use fruit as the sweet to end your meal. While fruit has plenty of sugar, it is in a more natural form and comes with many vitamins and minerals unlike many of the products with added sugars. Sweet vegetables are also great replacements for refined sugar- beets and sweet potatoes are great options.
- Eliminate Sugary Drinks– Almost a quarter of the added sugar in our diets comes from drinks such as soda and juices. A 500 milliliter bottle of cola equals 17 cubes of sugar! However, soda is not the only problem. Even unsweetened fruit juice is full of sugar. It takes a lot of fruit to make one glass of juice, so try to limit yourself to one a day, or better yet, eat the whole fruit instead. Another idea is to reduce the amount of sugar that you add to your coffee and tea, or switch from sugary coffee drinks like cappuccinos and lattes to black coffee with a little milk. These switches may not be easy at first, but by slowly reducing the amount of sugar used, your taste buds will adjust and you will become used to the less sugary drinks. Try to substitute water for your sugary beverages. If water is too bland, spice it up with lemon, lime, melon, mint, or cucumber.
- Cut Sugar when Baking or Cooking– The American Heart Association recommends cutting the sugar in your recipes by one-third to one-half. Your recipes will still be plenty sweet, but will have significantly less sugar.
- Cut Processed Foods– One of the easiest ways to reduce your sugar intake is to go back to basics and eat as freshly as possible. More than two-thirds of sugar used in the U.S. is in processed foods. One tip is to shop along the perimeter of the grocery store where the fresher ingredients are stocked.
- Eat Less Salt– When you eat something salty, your body naturally craves sugar to balance the flavors. Cutting sugar will be easier if you avoid overly salty foods and then gradually reintroduce salt when your sugar cravings have reduced.
- Skip Artificial Sweeteners– Substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar is not a good long-term plan. You are just feeding your cravings with a fake substitute, which does not show any promising health affects either.
- Get More Exercise– Exercise and sweating helps balance your body and brings it back to a more alkaline state. Sweating helps rid your body of salt, which in turn can reduce your sugar cravings.
Reducing your sugar may be tough for the first couple of days or even weeks. But remember, it is addictive and creates strong cravings that you can beat. You will even notice how your taste preferences will change and sugary things that you once ate without a second thought are now too sugary and could even make you feel sick.
Sugar is a big issue. It is being compared to tobacco- something that was once everywhere and affecting everyone’s health before it was recognized as a leading cause of death. Be on top of the curve, reduce or eliminate refined sugar from your diet today and feel the difference.