Sugar is a sneaky substance. It’s in almost everything, from bread and cereal to ketchup and salad dressing. A single teaspoon of sugar contains about 4 grams of the sweet stuff — and a 12-ounce can of soda, for example, contains 10 teaspoons of sugar or about 40 grams. Imagine how much sugar you take in if you consume 3 cans of cola per day. Even though most Americans eat way too much sugar, many have no idea how much they’re taking in each day. Isn’t it time to cut back?
If you’re looking for ways to cut back on sugar, the good news is it’s possible to do so, but it requires serious dedication and effort. Decreasing your sugar intake isn’t easy. Sugar stimulates dopamine release in your brain, which helps control pleasure and reward-motivated behavior.
When you eat something sweet, your brain releases dopamine, which makes you feel good. The more dopamine your brain releases, the more likely you are to continue eating sweets to get those pleasant feelings.
One downside of consuming too much sugar is your body will release insulin to process the excess sugar in your bloodstream. This can leave you feeling tired or hungry again soon after eating sugary foods or drinks. Over time, the excess insulin release can lead to weight gain and other health problems like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
But if you follow these tips and tricks for tricking your brain into consuming less sugar than normal, you’ll be well on your way to making this change happen! Let’s look at some ways to trick your brain into consuming less sugar.
Planning will help you avoid temptation. For example, if a coworker brings in doughnuts on Fridays, consider bringing something from home instead. Bring your own low-sugar snacks to work, so you won’t be tempted by the sugary snacks that surround you. These small steps will help simplify your life and make it easier to stick with healthy eating habits. Knowing what’s on the horizon will help you plan and make smart and healthy decisions.
Limit your exposure to sugar – Literally!
Don’t keep sweets in your house. If you don’t have chocolate or cookies lying around, you’re less likely to munch on them. Easy access will thwart your plans to nix sugar. If you don’t have a healthy snack available when hunger strikes—and it will—you’ll be more likely to give into temptation and indulge in something sugary. Hunger can be a strong motivator!
Fill your refrigerator with healthier options that contain little or no added sugar. Low-sugar yogurt is an option since it has a pudding-like texture but still has nutritional value, including protein. Look for unflavored versions and add your own fruit.
Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry and/or low on energy. When we’re tired, cranky, or otherwise not feeling our best, we’re more susceptible to grabbing something sugary because it’s easy and fast — even though it isn’t healthy. It can also make you feel more fatigued by spiking your blood glucose level and then dropping it.
Also, stay away from the grocery store when you are sad, upset, or angry (don’t go alone). It is easy to make decisions that aren’t in alignment with our goals when we are experiencing strong emotions like these!
Consume All Foods Mindfully
When you eat any food, slow the pace and consume it mindfully. When you tune in to the tastes and textures of the food you eat, there’s a stronger brain and taste bud connection and you learn to be satisfied with less and with the taste of natural, unsweetened foods. Your mind is a powerful entity! One study found that envisioning eating a particular food can reduce the amount you ultimately consumed. Let your mind help you control your sugar intake in a constructive way.
Consume more protein
Choose more protein and fewer carbohydrates when you’re hungry. Protein is slow-digesting and won’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels — two things that contribute to cravings for sweets. Protein has a higher satiety index than any other macronutrient — meaning it takes longer for your body to break down and absorb. It’s gentler on your blood sugar and will keep you feeling full longer. Try adding nuts or seeds to salads instead of croutons and snack on nuts instead of chips.
Be careful what you drink
If you’re drinking sugary drinks like soda pop or fruit juice every day (or even several times per week), switch to healthier options like water or unsweetened tea instead. Sugar is everywhere. It’s in drinks you wouldn’t expect and foods you think are healthy. And it doesn’t take much to get your daily dose of sugar. Think about the 10 teaspoons of empty calories in that sweet, fizzy beverage and substitute unsweetened green tea or water instead.
Take small steps
Take small steps. One reason people fail at cutting back on sugar is they try to do too much too quickly. If you cut out all sweetened beverages from your diet all at once, there’s a good chance you’ll fail within a few days or weeks. Try making one small change at a time and give yourself time to adjust to the new routine before attempting another change in behavior. It may take several weeks or even several months to reduce your desire to eat sugar but if you take small steps and are consistent, it will happen.
By changing your habits and planning ahead, you can trick your brain into consuming less sugar. It really is a matter of preparation, being more aware, and taking small steps. Keep your cabinet and refrigerator stocked with healthy fare, including whole fruit for times when you need a dessert. Be aware of what you’re drinking too. People don’t always consider the sugar they sip, and it adds up. If you need more insight, keep a food journal and document everything you eat or drink. You’ll be surprised by the insights you gain!
- Veldhorst M, Smeets A, Soenen S, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, Hursel R, Diepvens K, Lejeune M, Luscombe-Marsh N, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein-induced satiety: effects and mechanisms of different proteins. Physiol Behav. 2008 May 23;94(2):300-7. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.01.003. Epub 2008 Jan 12. PMID: 18282589.
- “Coca-Cola Nutrition Facts | New Health Advisor.” 19 Jul. 2022, newhealthadvisor.org/Coca-Cola-Nutrition-Facts.html.
- Train Your Brain to Eat Less Sugar. Drexel.edu. Published May 7, 2019. Accessed August 1, 2022. https://drexel.edu/news/archive/2019/may/brain-train-diet-game
- Thinking About Eating May Mean Eating Less. NPR.org. Published December 10, 2010. Accessed August 1, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2010/12/10/131967496/Thinking-About-Eating-May-Mean-Eating-Less