Kicking the Sugar Habit
Sweets are wonderful, aren’t they? Just the thought of a cupcake with sugary icing, swirled to a peak on top or the creamy, cool decadence of rich chocolate ice cream is enough to set off cravings. We all feel we deserve a little treat every now and then. While there really is no harm in the idea of an occasional reward, the problem is that what many of us view as an occasional treat is actually an everyday indulgence. To make matters worse, there is sugar hiding in so many unexpected foods. These two factors combined are the cause behind the startling statistic that the typical American diet includes up to a half pound of sugar a day. This amount of regular sugar consumption does not come without consequence. We are paying for it dearly with the health of our bodies and the appearance of our skin.
To give you a visual idea of how much sugar the typical American consumes each day, I dare you to dig out your kitchen scale and measure out one half pound of sugar. To make it even simpler, go into your kitchen and fill up an eight ounce cup with sugar. There you have it. This is what the average American consumes in just one day; over seven hundred calories of pure, inflammatory, health damaging sweetness. Maybe this isn’t how much you consume, especially if you generally make health conscious choices. However, given the fact that the average woman should only consume approximately six teaspoons, or one hundred calories worth, of added sugar each day, there is a good chance that you are suffering from the toxic effects of excess sugar in your diet.
The reason that so many health conscious people suffer from sugar overload is because it is found almost everywhere. You might be surprised to learn of some of the sneaky places that you can find added sugar. Some “healthy” choices actually have more sugar than an indulgent piece of dark chocolate. Here is a quick list of some of the sneakiest, and most common, ways that sugar gets added into the everyday diet:
- Breakfast or snack bars: That beloved granola or power breakfast bar is going to supply you with a lot more than just some nutrition to get you through your morning. Many of them contain 15-25 grams of sugar, each. This is over half of the daily suggested intake in just one bar.
- Yogurt: One way to meet your daily intake of sugar in just one shot is to reach for your favorite fruit flavored yogurt. Yogurt has natural sugars, which are fine, but the flavored varieties often contain up to 30 grams of added sugar. This equals out to six teaspoons of sugar in one little yogurt cup.
- Dried Fruit: The sugar in fresh fruit is natural and poses little or no threat of harm to your health. However, once you dehydrate a piece of fruit the entire sugar content becomes concentrated into a much smaller bite. Additionally, many dried fruit snacks that line your grocer’s shelves have additional sugar added to them during manufacturing. One serving of dried fruit can contain up to 30 grams of sugar.
- Fruit Juices: You have probably heard that it is always best to eat the fruit rather than drink it, and the added sugar is one reason why. Unless you are reaching for juice that is 100% pure and unsweetened, you are likely getting a full day’s worth of sugar in one serving.
- Sauces and Dressings: Even savory items like BBQ sauce or salad dressings contain an unbelievable amount of sugar. Our taste buds are designed to pick up on certain flavors, and sweet is one of the favorites. A little sugar added to sauces and dressings adds a flavor profile that we seem to love. You can easily add up to a half day’s worth of sugar onto your otherwise healthy salad.
With sugar sneaking into so many of our favorite foods, many of which have a reputation for being healthy choices, it is no wonder that we have such an enormous issue with sugar addiction in our society today. If you think that the term “sugar addiction” is a bit of an exaggeration, you might be surprised to know that scientists have determined that sugar is in fact an addictive substance, and a large number of our population suffers from at least some degree of addiction to it. Sugar stimulates the exact same pleasure receptors as narcotic substances such as cocaine or heroin. Additionally, the withdrawal symptoms from sugar can be severe enough to interfere with your daily activities. Some side effects of sugar withdrawal include severe headaches, flu like symptoms, random body pains, lethargy, mood swings, anxiety, depression and shakiness.
It is no secret that sugar is bad for your waistline, but the side effects of too much sugar in your diet stretch far beyond a few extra pounds. Here are just a few ways that sugar can be detrimental to your well being:
- Not all calories are created equal. The calories that are taken in from sugary sources send signals to the brain that you are not completely satiated. This means that the more sugar you consume, the more you want.
- Sugar messes with your taste buds. This is another way that sugar becomes addictive. Your taste buds build up a tolerance to sweet tastes, and soon you need more sweetness to satisfy your cravings. Most people who give up added sugars for just one to two weeks find that the sweet foods they once ate become almost too sweet to tolerate. This effect is not long lasting however for people who immediately returned to their old dietary habits.
- Sugar breaks down into glucose and fructose in the body. The human body does not actually have any need for fructose, so all of it is broken down by the liver. This can be a taxing process for the liver, especially when it is overloaded from excess sugar consumption. Over time, this process can lead to a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Excess sugar consumption contributes to the development of type II diabetes. When left uncontrolled diabetes can cause serious health issues including kidney and cardiac disease.
- Excess sugar consumption causes elevated insulin levels. High levels of insulin are believed to contribute to the uncontrolled growth of mutated cells, otherwise known as cancer. Sugar also promotes inflammation in the body, which is also a suspected cause of many cancers. There is increasing evidence that people who consume higher amounts of sugar have greatly increased odds of developing some type of cancer in their lifetime.
- Sugar damages your skin. Too much sugar causes inflammatory skin conditions, including acne and rosacea. Sugar also contributes to the breaking down of natural collagen which is what helps to keep the skin smooth, radiant and free of wrinkles. Too much sugar can make your skin dry and contribute to premature aging.
At this point you may be saying,“Ok, I get it, but what can I do about it?” Kicking the sugar habit is tough, and if you have never tried before you might be surprised at just how difficult it can be. There are a few different theories on the best way to cut sugar out of your life. Some say the best approach is to slowly wean yourself off of it, giving up a little bit of your regular sugar intake each day. Others say that going cold turkey is the only way to do it because even one taste of sugar will only make you crave more, which will make the process all the more difficult. I tend to agree with the later theory, but each person is different and when it comes to kicking the sugar habit, you have to go the route that will make the process easier and more permanent for you. However you choose to do it, here are a few tips to help you along the way:
- Don’t rely on artificial sweeteners. Foods and drinks that are sweetened with sugar free substitute might help you through some of the tougher moments, but they still signal the same pleasure and satiety responses as pure sugar does. Consuming artificial sweeteners can cause your sugar cravings to skyrocket just when you are trying the hardest to tame them.
- Do rely on natural sweetness. Satisfy your sweet cravings with whole fresh fruits. In addition enjoying the natural sweetness, you also reap the nutritional benefits. Keep in mind that some fruit is quite calorie dense, so moderation is always best.
- Kick the habit with a buddy. People tend to be more successful when they have an understanding ear and an accountability partner.
- Pick an activity to do when the cravings really hit hard. For some people, sugar cravings can also have emotional ties. Figure out your craving triggers and find something else to take the place of sugar during those times. Do you munch on candy throughout your day at work? Maybe you can listen to an inspiring song instead. Do you crave sweets when you are bored? Pick an activity you have always wanted to try and practice it when your cravings strike.
- Take control of something. During the worst parts of kicking a bad habit, it is easy to feel a little out of control. If this happens do something that gives you that control back. Finish a craft project, clean your house, organize something, etc.
- Try journaling or blogging your way through the process. For many of us, a sugar addiction can have roots in our emotional past. To really kick a bad habit, you need to understand your relationship with it. Sometimes the best way to do that is through writing out your thoughts.
- Become a label reader. Sugar is hidden in so many unexpected places. The only way to really learn where all of the extra sugar in your diet is coming from is to read each label, or better yet, choose natural foods that don’t require labels.
- Get plenty of sleep and fuel yourself with nutritional foods. The more effort you put into keeping your body and spirit healthy, the easier it is to rid your life of sugar for good.
It is safe to say that there are many people who have a love of sugar, and giving up anything that you love can be a very difficult thing to do. It might be unrealistic to think that giving up all sugar is possible. The natural sugar in fruit is not harmful to you as long as it is consumed in moderation and you don’t have a preexisting health condition that limits fresh fruit in your diet. There’s no doubt one of the main challenges to reducing sugar intake is the fact that it is added to so many foods we commonly eat. Once you become aware of those sugar sources, limiting the amount in your diet becomes significantly easier. What will you gain from it? Within a week you will begin to notice positive changes in your mood, energy and how your skin radiates in a whole new way. Long term, the benefits of reducing added sugars in your diet are countless. Start kicking the sugar habit now to get radiant skin, vibrant health and to really begin living the sweet life.