24 Nov How to break up with sugar
“I wish I knew how to quit you, sugar”. Accredited Practising Dietitian, Arlene Normand, shows us how to shaft our sugar habit in her latest blog for Eat Right.
Sugar is in the news constantly! That white, powdery substance just makes you feel good. You can’t get it off your mind, and you keep coming back for more. The more you have it, the more you want it! But even when you try to stay away from it, it finds ways to sneak into your life almost daily. What can you do?
We’re not talking about some dangerous or illegal drug here; we’re talking about sugar. Although it’s considered harmless in comparison, sugar, in excess, can cause a host of problems for a lot of us: cravings, binge eating, weight gain and heart disease among them. The average Australian consumed 70 kg of sugar in 1999—an all time high. Since then, consumption has dropped slightly and in 2010 the average Australian consumed 60 kg. (To put that into perspective, consider that the number was just 2 kg in the year 1700.) At least half of the sugar we consume comes from soft drinks, fruit drinks, and sports drinks. The rest sneaks into our diets in the form of tomato sauce, teriyaki sauce, chocolate milk and the obvious sweets like cookies, cakes, ice cream and even breakfast cereal. Surprisingly, some “healthy foods” such as yogurt and instant oatmeal can pack in 20-30 grams (5-7 teaspoons) of unnecessary added sugar! It seems like we’re drowning in sugar, and nobody is wearing a life vest.
It is recommended that we limit our daily sugar consumption to 7% or less of our daily calorie intake—that’s about 6 teaspoons (100 calories) for women and 9 teaspoons (150 calories) for men. But that adds up fast. Just one 300 ml can of regular soda contains 8-10 teaspoons of sugar and 130-150 calories. One glazed donut contains 6 teaspoons, and a half cup ice cream (the standard serving size, although most portions are much, much larger) contains 4 grams of added sugar!
Why Should You Care? Is Sugar Actually Bad for You?
Well, aside from the increased bulge around the waistline, diets high in sugar are strongly linked to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, elevated triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and heart disease. Sugar intake has also been linked to depression, migraines, poor eyesight, autoimmune diseases (such as arthritis, and multiple sclerosis), gout and osteoporosis.
Recent research has shown that a high intake of carbohydrates, including sugar, releases a feel good chemical in the brain called serotonin. Think of how you feel after indulging in a high sugar meal or treat—almost euphoric, right? The high of a sugar rush is temporary though. After a few hours—or even a few minutes—you start to crash and you become tired, fatigued and lethargic.
Although sweet foods are tempting and delicious to most people (blame Mother Nature for that!), the more sugar you eat, the higher your tolerance becomes. So if you have a strong sweet tooth or intense cravings for sugar, chances are not that you were born that way, but that your dietary habits and food choices created the sugar monster you may have become.
Fortunately, we can reverse this tolerance in just a couple of weeks by cutting out sugar. Once you have decreased your threshold, something that tasted perfectly sweet a few weeks ago, will begin to taste too sweet to eat, and that can help you reduce your intake of the sweet stuff. The less sweet you have the less sweet you crave!
Cutting Out Sugar
While the occasional sweet treat won’t make or break your weight loss or your health, many people have trouble stopping after a sensible portion or saying no to sugar when it’s available. If you feel out of control around sugar, then a sugar “detox” is a great way to reduce your cravings, eat better, and bring sugar back to where it belongs: as an occasional treat that you consciously choose to eat in a mindful manner, not a daily treat occurrence that controls you.
Follow this month-long plan to break your sugar addiction!
Week 1: Identify Sugar and Where It’s Hiding
The first step in conquering your sugar habit is to rid your pantry and refrigerator of added sugar. Some things (think ice cream, biscuits, chocolates and lollies) are obvious, but most of us need to look closer at where the sugar in our diets is coming from. Be aware. Reading labels before you buy—or bite. How many of your favourite foods contain hidden sugars in the top of their ingredients lists?
Once you have identified the sources of sugar in your diet, clean out your kitchen. Throw out or donate all of the products that contain hidden or added sugars, including any juice, drinks, lollies, sweets and seemingly healthy snacks like granola bars, fruit and grain bars, instant oatmeal and sports drinks. This may sound drastic, but stay with me!
Remember, you don’t have to throw away everything that is sweet! Natural sugar, like the kind you find in whole fruit, contains vitamins, minerals and fibre, which are lost in the processing of juice. Milk contains naturally occurring sugars, but also provides calcium, vitamin D and protein. So unlike soda, fruit juices and other processed foods, whole fruit and dairy products provide us with essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. Be wary of certain fruit- or milk-based products that contain added sugars though: flavoured milk, many yogurts, fruits canned or jellied in added sugar or syrups, and the like. Opt for unflavoured skim or 1% milk, plain yogurt or Greek yogurt, and whole pieces of fruit. Remember, we are trying to cut out the 151 pounds a year of added sugar, not the naturally occurring sugar found in whole foods.
Week 2: Stock Your Sugar-Free Kitchen
In one week, you’ve probably found lots of sugar in your diet. Some of it may have been obvious, like those frozen waffles or lattes from the local coffee joint. But others might not have been so clear, as sugar tends to lurk in many “diet” foods and lower-fat foods, added by manufacturers to make their low-cal offerings taste better. If you really don’t know what ingredients will be bad for you then you may want to look into getting a meal kit delivered right to you. This means you know the recipe you’ve chosen will be healthy for you and you don’t need to worry about getting the right ingredients. If you aren’t sure where to go then My Food Subscriptions have recently reviewed Blue Apron so you can grab your coupon from here after reading what they have to say about the service.
But if you are confident in knowing what to look for (and avoid), it’s time to replace the products you tossed with sugar-free counterparts. For example, replace high-sugar cereals with a whole grain cereal that contains little to no added sugars. Sweeten it naturally with fresh berries or half of a diced banana. Instead of snacking on candy or cookies, reach for a handful of nuts or some raw veggies and hummus. Replace sweetened yogurt with Greek yogurt or plain yogurt. Look back at week one and the foods you used to eat that contained sugar. Can you find no-sugar oatmeal? A healthier snack than a sugar-sweetened smoothie (how about a whole piece of fruit)? A more filling afternoon treat than that sugary “protein bar” (such as peanut butter on whole-grain crackers)?
When choosing a refreshing beverage to quench your thirst, keep in mind that you want to eat your calories,not drink them. Choose ice cold water flavoured with a squeeze of fresh lemon or an orange slice. Or flavour unsweetened iced tea with fresh mint, crushed raspberries, or a squeeze of citrus.
One tip to help you avoid added sugar at the supermarket is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store as much as possible. Think about the general layout of a grocery store: The outside is home to fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy products, and whole grain breads and the inside aisles are stocked with cookies, chips, soda, fruit juice, cake mixes, and other processed foods. Spend most of your time on the outside and only go down the inner aisles for specific products, like whole-grain pasta.
Never shop on an empty stomach and always shop with a list. Shopping while hungry can lead you to adding all kinds of snacks and impulse buys to your cart. Meal planning can be a tricky task at first, but following a meal plan is an important part of breaking the sugar addiction. It will help to keep you on track and help prevent stopping for fast food when you don’t have a game plan for dinner. Spend a little time on Sunday afternoons jotting down some meal ideas for throughout the week. Make a list of the food items you will need to make the meals you wrote down and stick to it!
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