Sugar is like the Boyfriend-You-Know-Is-Bad-for-You-But-You-Just-Can’t Quit
Just think that when you reach for that cookie, ice cream, piece of cake or candy…it just might help.
If you want to know all the ways sugar is killing us, check out the recent NY Times Magazine feature, “Is Sugar Toxic?” that makes the case that sweeteners are directly linked obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and is the most evil ingredient in the food supply. I stopped counting the number of times toxic and poison were used to describe sweeteners.
It’s not like we haven’t tried to tell people that they need to cut back on the amount of added sugars—natural or not—in their diets. It’s just really hard because people are literally “hooked” on sweets.
“Sugar lights up the pleasure centers of the brain just like a drug like heroin. When you eat sugar, (especially on an empty stomach) you’ll fee the high from the rise in blood sugar levels and then you’ll come down and want more of the “fix” to feel good again,” explains Erin Macdonald, RD., a nutrition, fitness and wellness coach in Aliso Viejo, CA.
We are eating more sugars and sweeteners than ever before. In fact, statistics vary, but we’re getting about 79 grams a day (22 or so teaspoons) which comes to 300- 350 calories from just simple carbohydrates with no nutritional value other than calories. Half of all the added sugars in the US diet come from liquid sources like sodas and other sweetened beverages. For reference, a 12-oz can of cola has 33 grams of added sweeteners or about 8 teaspoons. (4 grams of carbohydrate=1 tsp=16 calories)
Distractions over whether high fructose corn syrup is worse than sugar has taken the focus off the main fact that Americans eat at least three times as much added sugars as they should and none are healthy.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories a day for women and 150 calories for men. That’s equal to 6 or 9 tsp of sugars. (This is only for added sweeteners so 100% fruit juice, dried fruit and other natural sugars found naturally in real (read: unprocessed) foods don’t need to be limited.)
How to Get Off The Sweet Stuff
There are two general approaches to un-sweetening your diet: cold turkey and a gradual approach. I’m an advocate of the cold turkey method as I feel it’s more successful in the short-term but critics argue that it’s harder to live with. I agree which is why I have to do it every six months or so.
Going Cold Turkey
Eliminate all sugar substitutes and obvious sources of sweeteners (table sugar, honey, agave, molasses, etc) from your diet. This should re-calibrate your taste buds in a matter of about 3 to 6 weeks so that you’ll find naturally sweet foods (dried fruit, fresh fruit, roasted veggies) well, um, sweet again.
For more inspiration on how to go cold turkey and lose your attachment (read: addiction) to sugars, check out the great post from our colleague, Ryan Andrews, MS, MA, RD, of Precision Nutrition, who chronicled his sugarless diet in “Sugar Daddy: A Year Without Desserts.” He discusses how it makes a healthier diet easier and resulted in natural weight loss—without trying to lose weight.
Smaller Steps to Slash Sugar
Another good approach that can be more lifelong pattern forming is to start by finding out where you’re getting sugar in your diet and then tackling one source at a time. “Track what you eat so you can note the sugar content and sources of sugar in your diet. Then, decide where you can make changes to replace high-sugar foods with those lower in sugar,” says Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE a dietitian, personal trainer and writer based in Manchester, VT.
And when you do enjoy sweets, try to always eat them with other foods that contain protein, fiber or unsaturated fats as that will help diminish their metabolic impact. A dessert at the end of the meal isn’t nearly as bad as the same dessert eaten as a snack on its own. It’s what experts say explain as a food being isocaloric (meaning the same calories) but not isometabolic (meaning it has a different way of being metabolized).
Either approach you want to take (cold turkey vs gradual) are good but both have high failure rates so there’s no way to slack off when it comes to sugars in your diet. Remember…bad boyfriend.
…and a Word About Sugar Substitutes
Sugar substitutes (including natural options like stevia-based sweeteners) should be eliminated on the cold turkey approach when recalibrating your taste buds. There may also be other metabolic consequences with appetite control that make sugar subs problematic. If you absolutely cannot give them up, try to cut back how much you’re using.