As the saying goes—everyone is talking about sugar, but what are they doing about it? It’s my fervent wish that they are working on quitting the stuff.
The short answer is that sugar is an extraordinarily destructive substance that most people eat far too much of. The longer answer is that virtually every day, more studies are proving what we in the optimal health community have always believed: that sugar plays a pivotal role in the development of many of the devastating illnesses we fear most, namely heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, to name a few. Granted, the body does need trace amounts of sugar to function, but the average American is eating sugar by the pound, not the molecule.
Some estimates put the average adult intake at close to 130 pounds of sugar per year—an astonishing amount of any substance, much less one which has such disastrous health implications. So what do we do now? In a nutshell: kick sugar to the curb—your life absolutely depends on it.
Tips to Kick the Sugar Habit
Here are a few thoughts on how to break free from sugar so you can live the sweet life for years to come.
1. Eat regularly. Eat three meals and two snacks or five small meals a day. For many people, if they don’t eat regularly, their blood sugar levels drop, they feel hungry, and are more likely to crave sweet sugary snacks.
2. Choose whole foods. The closer a food is to its original form, the less processed sugar it will contain. Food in its natural form, including fruits and vegetables, usually presents no metabolic problems for a normal body, especially when consumed in variety.
3. Have a breakfast of protein, fat, and phytonutrients to start your day off right. Breakfast smoothies are ideal for this. The typical breakfast is full of carbs and sugary or starchy foods. This is the worst option, since you’ll trigger sugar cravings for the rest of the day. Eating a good breakfast is essential to prevent sugar cravings.
4. Try to incorporate protein and/or fat with each meal. This helps control blood sugar levels. Make sure they are healthy sources of each.
5. Add spices. Coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom will naturally sweeten your foods and reduce cravings.
6. Take a good-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin D3. Nutrient deficiencies can make cravings worse, and the fewer nutrient deficiencies, the fewer cravings. Certain nutrients seem to improve blood sugar control, including chromium, vitamin B3, and magnesium.
7. Move your body. Exercise, dance, do some yoga, or rake some leaves. Whatever movement you enjoy will help reduce tension, boost your energy, and decrease your need for a sugar lift.
8. Get enough sleep. When we are tired, we often use sugar for energy to counteract the exhaustion.
9. Do a detox. My experience has been that when people do a detox, not only does it reset their appetites, but it often decreases their sugar cravings. After the initial sugar cravings pass, our bodies adjust and we won’t even want the sugar anymore.
10. Be open to explore the emotional issues around your sugar addiction. Many times our craving for sugar is more for an emotional need that isn’t being met.
11. Keep sugary snacks out of your house and office.
It’s difficult to snack on things that aren’t there. You’ll reduce impromptu indulgences if they require a trip to the store.
12. Don’t substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar. This will do little to alter your desire for sweets. If you do need a sweetener, try Stevia, it’s the healthiest.
13. Learn to read labels. Educate yourself about what you’re putting into your body—though I would encourage you to eat as few foods as possible that have labels. The longer the list of ingredients, the more likely sugar is going to be included on that list.
Check the grams of sugar, and choose products with the least sugar per serving (1 teaspoon of sugar is roughly equivalent to 4 grams). Become familiar with sugar terminology and recognize that all of these are sweeteners: agave, corn syrup, corn sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, honey, cane sugar, cane crystals, fruit juice concentrates, molasses, lactose, dextrin, and many more.
14. Avoid sugar in disguise. Remember that most of the “complex” carbohydrates we consume like bread (including whole wheat), bagels, and pasta aren’t really complex at all. They are usually highly refined or act just like sugars in the body and are to be avoided.
15. Scare yourself straight. Our national love affair with sugar isn’t all in the mind, since there is a strong physical component to sugar addiction. That said, one way to kick off your sugar-free journey is to reframe the way you think about sugar. Treat it like an illicit drug, a kind of legal form of heroin, a dark force to be avoided, and a substance whose use leads to physical ruin. Next, take a look at CBS’s 60 Minutes “Is Sugar Toxic?” story—it’s a potentially life-changing report for anyone who needs just a bit more inspiration to help them kick sugar.
For Acute Cravings, Try One of These
16. Take L-Glutamine, 1000-2000 mg every couple of hours as necessary. This amino acid is found naturally in the body. It often relieves sugar cravings as the brain uses it for fuel.
17. Take a “breathing break.” Find a quiet spot, get comfortable, and sit for a few minutes and focus on your breath. After a few minutes of this, the craving will pass.
18. Distract yourself. Go for a walk, if possible, in nature. Cravings usually last for 10 to 20 minutes maximum. If you can distract yourself with something else, it often passes. The more you do this, the easier it gets and the cravings get easier to deal with.
19. Drink lots of water. Sometimes drinking water or seltzer water can help with sugar cravings. Also, sometimes what we perceive as a food craving is really thirst.
20. Have a piece of fruit. If you give in to your cravings, have a piece of fruit; it should satisfy a sweet craving and is much healthier.