Sugar has been getting a lot of bad press recently.
We’ve known for a long time that high sugar intake contributes to obesity and a slew of chronic diseases. We also know that it can hinder our cognitive function, sully our sleep quality and throw our moods off track.
As if that’s not enough, a growing body of research suggests that sugar could be addictive – so if you’re having trouble eliminating it from your diet, you’re not alone.
Here are some ways to overcome your sugar habit:
Find the Hidden Sources of Sugar
The best way to overcome your sugar habit is to avoid it all together, and learning where to look for sugar can go a long way in helping you reduce your consumption.
Just because something tastes savory doesn’t mean it’s sugar-free.
Ketchup, barbeque sauce, trail mix, and many salad dressings all have a tendency to contain plenty of processed sugar.
Be Aware of the Alternatives
Although sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar are less processed than your standard serving of table sugar, they’re still comprised of the same monosaccharides (fructose and glucose).
As such, they provoke the same chemical reaction – a sugar “rush” and subsequent “crash” – and deleterious effects.
Some studies have shown them to be marginally more nutritious than granulated sugar, but not enough to counterbalance the negative effects, so it’s best to eat less of these as well.
Go to Bed
The relationship is simple: the more sleep-deprived your body, the more you crave quick, calorically-dense sources of energy like sugar, and the less likely you are to avoid it.
Sugar is processed quickly, so it can immediately improve your function and productivity in the short term.
This means that even if you know logically that something more nutrient-rich will serve your body better in the long-run (or at least through the afternoon), you’ll be more susceptible to those sugar cravings when you’re groggy.
And it’s cyclical: the resulting sugar rush can also make it harder to get to sleep, especially if you’re eating sugar right before bed.
Getting enough sleep on a regular basis means making it a priority, even if the tablet or the book or the television still beckons, so make a schedule and skip dessert at dinnertime.
Slip up? Stay the Course
Holidays, office parties and birthdays are dangerous for those of us trying to cut down on sugar.
A slip up isn’t the end of the world, but it’s also not license to go crazy. Don’t call the day a wash just because you had a slice of cake, and then have a bowl of ice cream at home.
The more sugar you eat, the more you want it – and the harder it is to get back on track the next day. As in all things, moderation is key.
The whole reason people seek out substitutions for sugar is to recreate the feeling that sugar engenders – and when they can’t, they feel even more unfulfilled.
It’s a fact: processed, store-bought, sugar-free ice cream will never taste just as good as the sugar-rich version.
So if you can’t live without dessert, now’s a good time to get creative: sweet potatoes, bananas and dates are all fantastic bases for sweet dishes that don’t contain added sugar.
One of my personal favorites? Combine two overripe bananas, rolled oats, vanilla extract and cocoa powder in a food processor and bake as you would a sheet of cookies.
Wait It Out
When it comes to sugar cravings, this is one time when the phrase “listen to your body” doesn’t apply.
Studies have shown that most cravings only last 15 minutes, so let that time pass before you reach for something sugary – go outside, do something else, or have a glass of water or tea instead.
But I mean this in the long-term sense, too. There’s just no other way to put it: going without sugar feels bad at first.
And the more you’ve been eating, the worse it’ll feel.
Over time, as your diet comes to rely on better foods, you’ll start to equate feeling good with eating well – and saying “no, thanks” won’t feel like deprivation.
Upgrade Your Savory Food, Too
If you’re trying to cut out sugar, but the rest of your diet consists of low-nutrient foods, you’ll likely feel hungrier, because your body is still lacking the substantive vitamins and minerals it needs, and you’ll feel more deprived, because these foods do little to support your energy levels and sugar isn’t making up the difference.
I’m not saying that you should swap all that for a measly salad. Actually, I’d advise against it.
Instead, incorporate hefty portions of lean protein (turkey, chicken, eggs), healthy fats (avocados, fish), fruits and veggies, and complex carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, brown rice).
Barring socioeconomic constraints, you can build a lot of amazing meals from these types of food.
Have you successfully cut sugar from your diet? Tell us how in the comments.
Author Bio: Emily Newhook is the outreach coordinator for the MHA degree program from The George Washington University, MHA@GW. Outside of work, she enjoys writing, film studies and powerlifting. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.