It’s shocking to think about how much sugar the average American consumes per day. According to the American Heart Association, that amount is 77 grams of sugar daily, about 3 times the amount that experts recommend.
Why are sugary items so popular? Sugar is in most packaged foods, often in copious amounts. If you eat these foods all the time, you crave the added sweetness they offer. There’s even some evidence that sugar is addictive in much the same way cigarettes and alcohol are.
Sugar has several things going against it. It’s devoid of nutrients and a top source of empty calories. Plus, sugar causes blood sugar spikes that can lead to weight gain and poor metabolic health.
You may already know that sugar isn’t good for you and sense that you’re consuming too much, but it’s not always easy to remove it from your diet. If you’re having trouble kicking the sugar habit, here are five tips for making cutting back on sugar less painful.
Do a Purge
As mentioned, sugar is hiding in most packaged products. As long as these items hang out in your pantry and fridge, the temptation to eat them will be there. Don’t make it so easy on yourself! Do a clean sweep and remove these items from your pantry. You don’t have to toss them; donate the items to a homeless shelter instead.
In addition, purge refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods too since your body breaks them down into simple sugars. White flour, white rice, pasta, and foods made with white flour spike your blood sugar too, and the way manufacturers flavor packaged foods makes them ultra-enticing to the palate.
Once you’ve made a clean sweep of your cabinets and fridge, what’s the best way to restock? Now is the time to introduce more non-starchy fruits and vegetables into your diet. If you’re not sure whether you’ll eat them right away, buy frozen. Frozen produce is frozen at its peak of freshness, so they retain their nutrients, sometimes better than fresh foods that travel long distances and sit on store shelves. Since you don’t have to chop and prep them, you’re more likely to eat them too.
Always Read Labels
Most people don’t read labels when they shop for food. Instead, they’re more attracted to claims on the front of the packaging, many of which are misleading or not clearly defined. For example, there’s no designation for what manufacturers can call a superfood. It’s more marketing jargon than a nutritional term. To get the facts, look at the fine print under the nutritional information. How many grams of sugar does a product have? Is sugar listed in the first three ingredients? If a product has a long list of ingredients and has sugar in the top three, put it back on the shelf. Also, be aware that many packaged foods that don’t taste sweet, like condiments, yogurt, packaged cereals, and salad dressings, are high in sugar. You won’t know unless you read the label. It’s important to do that anyway!
Find Healthier Substitutes
It’s hard to give something up unless you have a replacement for it. If your favorite beverage is a soft drink, explore the wonderful world of black, green, and white tea. Herbal teas are another option if you don’t like the caffeine. If the carbonation appeals to you, add a little fruit juice or sliced fruit to carbonated water. You might be tempted to replace sugar with sugar substitutes, but sugar substitutes have problems of their own. Some research shows they disrupt the gut microbiome and increase appetite and sugar cravings. If you must use an added sweetener, Stevia or monk fruit are better options since they’re natural and don’t cause blood sugar spikes. There’s also no evidence that they affect appetite.
Take It Slow
Don’t try to kick the sugar habit in a few days. Eliminating all sugar from your diet is challenging if you’ve eaten it for a long time. Instead, gradually scale back on sugary fare by adding one less pinch of sugar to your coffee or tea each week. Then let your taste buds adapt. You’ll be surprised at how much your tastes will change after a few weeks. Sugary foods that you once enjoyed will now taste overly sweet. Keep scaling back and you’ll eventually find that sweet things lose their appeal. It’s easier to do things in increments than to go cold turkey.
Add More Protein to Your Diet
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient. Studies show diets higher in protein are the more effective for reducing appetite and curbing cravings than high carbohydrate fare. One study found that consuming a diet with 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is ideal for controlling appetite and managing weight. You don’t have to get all of your protein from meat and dairy. Choosing more plant-based sources of protein has added benefits since plants contain fiber, another component that suppresses appetite and cravings. Protein and fiber are an ideal combination for controlling appetite and reducing sugar cravings.
The Bottom Line
Purging sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet is one of the smartest moves you can make for your health, and it’s not that hard to do if you take it slowly. Now you have practical ways, backed by science, to do it. However, what you eat is only one aspect of curbing sugar cravings. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and managing stress to further reduce sugar cravings. Lack of sleep raises the stress hormone cortisol, and that activates sugar cravings. Moderate exercise and stress-relief practices like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing lower the stress hormone cortisol and that eases sugar cravings too.
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