That’s the main question on our minds these days – how to stop eating sugar. It’s as addictive as cocaine, and is, believe it or not, in a lot of foods – including savory snacks and salad dressings. Sugar is like caffeine – we crave it, and too much can only be a bad thing, but how can we stop eating it when it tastes so good?
We eat sugar and foods containing sugar because it’s delectable to our taste buds. When we eat a candy bar or bag of sweets, our tongues do a little dance because we’re feeding our body exactly what it craves – energy. Sugar boosts our energy when we need it, like right after a hard gym session, or when we’re feeling fatigued. But like caffeine, sugar intake causes a high boost of energy and then a sudden crash, often making us feel worse than we did before.
So how do we stop our sugar intake? First, let’s look at which foods and drinks we may be getting our sugar from, without even realizing it.
What contains sugar?
- Hot drinks, like teas and coffees. That half a spoon of sugar is enough. The average person has approximately two sugars in their tea per day – that’s about 3kg of sugar per year!
- Cold drinks, like sodas and juice. “Low calorie” drinks may also contain a trace of sugar, and fresh juice like orange and apple juice can contain a lot of fructose – look for 100% fruit juice drinks for better alternatives.
- Candy, cookies, and baked goods. We all know this one. Candies – especially sweets – are almost entirely sugar, with some gelatin and flavoring mixed in. Most baked treats contain a high amount of sugar and fat – especially white bread (it’s part of what preserves it, so it still tastes good after you buy it from the store).
- Condiments – like ketchup and mayonnaise. Sugar gives ketchup its sweet taste, and you’d be surprised how much sugar sauces contain.
- Cereals – not just in “kids” sugary cereals, many oatmeal cereals have added sugar to give you that boost in the morning.
- Savory snacks like chips can contain some amounts of sugar in the flavorings added to them.
- Dairy products, like yogurt – low fat yogurts also don’t mean low sugar.
- Salad dressings
- Granola bars – cereal bars contain quite a high amount of sugar – it’s part of what keeps the grains and oats in its bar-like shape.
- Gum and mints – popping one or two into your mouth every few hours might seem harmless, but that’s still sugar going into your body.
That’s quite a lot, right? No wonder we can’t stop eating sugar!
How to stop sugar cravings
The most important first question of cutting out sugar from our diet is “how to get rid of sugar cravings?” Like any other craving, you have to starve it out. Take a food diary and note down everything you eat and drink for about a week (or longer if you vary your diet a lot).
Note down what you’re eating and when. Also note down times when you find yourself reaching for the candy cupboard or that pack of cookies you’ve got saved somewhere. Is it during the afternoon, after a large meal, when you get tired? Identify the times you get that craving, then take steps to eliminate it.
You can also swap your sugar cravings for something sweet, but healthy. Citrus fruits and berries are great for keeping that sugar monster at bay. You can eat yogurt low in sugar (check the nutritional facts on the back of the products), and raisins and nuts as snacks to stop you from craving fatty, sugary foods less.
Admit you’re addicted
No-one likes to admit they’re a slave to sugar, but the truth is, whenever we get a sugar craving, it’s our body’s way of telling us we an energy boost – usually in the form of something that’s sweet and very, very bad for us.
Admitting you can’t stop craving sugar is the very first step to approaching your plan to quit carefully and ensuring your new sugar-free diet is manageable and long-lasting.
Don’t go cold turkey and throw away all your food that contains sugar. Chances are, you’ll crave it at some point and it’s better to keep a few sugary items to begin with to help you ease the transition. Dark chocolate and fruit such as strawberries are good alternatives to cakes, candies, and cookies – just don’t overdo it on the chocolate!
Meal swapping is harder than it looks because it’s not only about eliminating sugar, it’s about changes your snack habits to something that you will enjoy instead. Experiment – pick up a few items at the store and check their sugar content. If it’s low, buy it – it might just be your new favorite snack.
Be kind to yourself
Quitting sugar is a journey, and you can’t do it overnight. If you ate a cookie and felt bad, don’t worry about it – just mark it down as something you can learn and grow from and look forward to the next meal, when you won’t need to reach for the sugar.
Don’t use alternative sugar as a replacement
This is not to say that some alternative sugars aren’t good replacements – more on that later. But substituting one or two spoonfuls of sugar in your coffee with two teaspoons of Splenda will just make you run for the hills. Artificial sweetener is actually a lot sweeter-tasting than granular sugar, and doing a straight swap won’t do you – or your taste buds – any favors. It’s kind of like swapping real chocolate for diabetic ones – it’s edible, but it’s not the same.
Instead, try cutting back your sugar intake in your drinks by half a spoon every few days until you have just a smidgen of sugar in your tea or coffee. You can also try different tea blends to get a sweet taste out of your brew. Earl Grey tea and smoother coffee granules are good for a sweeter-tasting beverage.
5 Easy steps to quitting sugar
1: Measure, count, diarize – The one true way for you to realize how much sugar you’re ingesting and what it’s actually doing to your body is by measuring everything that you eat. Don’t skip anything out – include sauces, gum, and dressings, if you can. If you’re not sure about sugar content at a restaurant, ask the waiter or select foods where you can easily find the ingredient list on the internet.
2: How much sugar are you actually eating? – Once you count how many calories you’re eating, take away all the sugar that contributes to it. More than 10% of your daily calorie intake as sugar alone is bad. But fear not! It’s also your first step to being in tune with your diet, and you’re well on your way to eliminating sugar altogether.
3: Meal swapping – As we explained earlier, meal swapping is not just about throwing away your sugary foods and replacing them with celery sticks. Find things that you enjoy eating that don’t contain lots of sugar and you’ll soon prefer that over sweets and biscuits any day.
4: Eat better – Most of us crave sugar because we don’t actually eat right during the day. Avoid meals that have high calorie and carbohydrate content, as this can leave you feeling tired and lacking energy – both precursors to wanting that sweet treat pick-me-up.
Eating smaller meals throughout the day that are high in protein and good fats will keep your appetite in check and stop you reaching for that sugary snack.
5: Drink more, do more – We often snack when we’re bored, when we are thirsty, or when we have a particular habit (like always wanting a snack as we settle down to watch something on Netflix). If you think you might be hungry, especially if it’s not long since you last ate, try drinking a glass of cold water and wait half an hour. If you’re bored or tend to eat while watching TV, try doing something else with your hands like knitting (it’s quite therapeutic!) or painting your nails.
While we said earlier that swapping real sugar for sweetener isn’t a good idea, trying alternative sugars can be a beneficial way to stop eating sugar altogether.
Ones to avoid
Aspartame and saccharin – While these sweeteners are in practically every “no added sugar” drink, it actually makes drinks taste sweeter than they are, and too much of it can be bad for you. Artificial sweeteners actually trick your body and mind into thinking you’re eating real sugar – which makes you crave high fat and sugary foods more, and can leave you feeling hungrier.
Fructose – In fact, anything ending is “ose” is just another way to say “sugar.” Fructose is an added sugar, and though healthier than sugar cane sugar, too much can also be bad. A small glass of orange juice per day is a good recommendation of how much fructose you should have – anything more than that every day can cause tooth decay and other health disadvantages.
Ones to look for
Stevia leaf extract – Stevia is a plant that is being used in more and more products lately. Tropicana use Stevia in one of their products (Tropicana 50/50) – using 50% fructose and 50% Stevia leaf extract. Not only does it taste better than no added sugar drinks, it’s better for you as it has less sugar content.
Honey – Look for organic honey, best bought in a bottle or jar rather than in foods that simply contain it. Honey releases energy slowly, and doesn’t cause a high spike in your blood sugar. It still has a fair amount of calories though, so eat it sparingly as you would any other sweet treat.
Cinnamon – Adding cinnamon to your coffee or in baking can add a real sweetness that you just can’t get from sugar. Plus it contains no calories – bonus!
Xylitol – Xylitol is a sugar alcohol (not the drunk kind!) that is found in small amounts in fruits and vegetables. It contains absolutely no fructose and has half the calories of that of table sugar.
While xylitol has no real nutritional value, it actually helps fight tooth decay by starving the bacteria that normally feeds on glucose. Many types of gum and mints contain xylitol, and you can buy it in its powder form to add to drinks and baking.
Quitting sugar is no easy feat – but you can do it! Like any other addictive substance, it will take you a while to get it out of your system – and off your shopping list.
Get yourself out of the habit of buying cookies, candy, and sweets, and into the habit of buying healthier alternatives that not only keep you going all day and make you a happier, healthier person, but products that actually taste good too!