Sugar tastes so sweet, but it it’s effects on the body are anything but. If you’re like me and think about reducing sugar and just can’t seem to do it you may have a sugar addiction. The Addiction Resource website states that sugar can be just as addictive as drugs and alcohol. Consuming sugar, or even thinking about it, can stimulate the brain to release dopamine. The problem with sugar is that it is hidden in many foods thwarting our efforts to decrease consumption.
10 Negative Effects of Sugar on the Body
- can cause weight gain & obesity
- may increase risk of heart disease
- increases risk of Type 2 Diabetes
- may increase risk of cancer
- may increase risk of depression
- accelerates the skin aging process and cellular aging
- drains your energy
- may increase risk of kidney disease
- can lead to fatty liver
- accelerates cognitive decline
Where Does Added Sugar Come From?
Natural sugars found in fruits are okay for you when the fruit is eaten whole. There are lots of vitamins and minerals and fibre in the fruit whose positive effects outweigh or counteract the negative effects of sugar. So, where is all the added sugar in our diet coming from? Here’s a short list of the worst culprits:
Sugary drinks. Almost 1/2 of added sugar in the US diet comes from fruit juices and soda. And don’t forget the coffee shop drinks that are so popular now. CBC’s Marketplace recently ran a story about the amount of sugar in popular coffee beverages.
Breakfast Cereal. Even cereals that we might think of as healthy, such as Shreddies, can have high amounts of sugar. Make it a habit to read the labels. Granola (and granola bars) are typically chock full of added sugars.
Dessert-like treats are an obvious source. Cookies, cakes, muffins and other baked goodies contain a lot of sugar. Candy is an obvious source of un-needed sugar, although it is also easier to avoid.
Processed Foods. This can be a hiding place for lots of added sugar. Many foods use sugar as a preservative to prevent it from spoiling too fast. Canned goods such as baked beans and pasta sauces, which seem healthy, can contain surprising amounts of sugar. A serving of tomato sauce has more sugar than a serving of Oreo cookies. Reading labels and cooking your own will help you cut down.
Other Names for Sugar
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”. Sugar, by any other name, is just as damaging. Here are some common names that sugar hides under.
- corn syrup
- high fructose corn syrup
- brown rice syrup
- evaporated cane juice
- maple syrup
- agave syrup
- coconut sugar
How to Break the Habit
Now that you’re ready to eat less sugar, what’s the best way to go about it? From the reading I’ve done it seems to depend on just how addicted you are. If you feel like you are definitely addicted it’s best to drop all sugar cold turkey. If you just have a sweet tooth that’s gotten a little out of hand then a gradual reduction may work.
10 Tips to Help Break Your Sugar Addiction
- Plan Ahead. In general the withdrawal symptoms from sugar last about 3 days. You want to plan your detox for a time when you can look after yourself. You don’t want to be going through withdrawal during an important work/school deadline. As part of your planning/preparation get rid of all the sugary snacks in the house. Recruit a friend or family member to be your support system.
- Eat Healthy Fats. Fats taste good and feel filling. They also help stabilize your blood sugar levels. Dips in blood sugar can trigger a desire for higher calorie foods (like sugar). Examples of healthy fats include omega rich fish, walnuts, almonds, and avocado.
- Sleep. Get plenty of sleep during this rough period. Being tired triggers a desire for quick energy which is often sugar. Poor sleep also raises levels of Ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”, making it harder to fight cravings.
- Stay Hydrated. Drink plenty of water to keep your energy levels up and stabilize hunger. Often thirst gets misinterpreted as hunger and we snack when all the body needed was a good dose of water. Sip frequent small amounts throughout the day to keep hydrated.
- Be Mindful. Each morning plan out what you intend to eat for the day. Include meals and snacks. This will help you set your intention and be prepared. Planning and having healthy snacks will keep you from reaching for high sugar options when the cravings hit. Each time you eat ask yourself if you really want it and if you really need it. Make sure you aren’t eating/snacking out of habit or boredom or to soothe negative emotions.
- Distract Yourself. Cravings don’t usually last long. Find something to do to distract yourself such as reading, tidying up, doing a hobby, petting the cat, playing fetch with Fido, etc. For me reading doesn’t work as it is a trigger to snack. Knitting helps because my hands are tied up and I can’t snack and knit at the same time. Figure out what works best for you.
- Sniff Essential Oils. Some research has shown that several scents (peppermint, jasmine, grapefruit) help tame an overactive appetite. Try diffusing scents around the home or wearing a perfume based on one of the scents. This is likely why I find brushing my teeth or drinking mint tea to help curb my sugar cravings. The tea also helps keep me hydrated.
- Exercise. Regular exercise and being active decreases appetite and carbohydrate cravings. Research showed a 15 minute walk significantly reduced the urge to eat a sugar snack. Find an activity you enjoy and make time to move every day.
- Indulge Wisely. This is for after you have finished the detox and conquered your sugar addiction. If you go cold turkey you should wait at least a week (probably more is better) before having sugar again. When you do, make it a high quality treat and savour it without guilt. Really pay attention to the texture and taste rather than mindlessly eating a low quality sugar snack.