Even if you stay away from sweets and choose water over soft drinks, you might still be consuming way too much sugar. Only up to 10 percent of your total calorie count should come from added sugars, according to the Health Promotion Board (HPB). That’s between 40g and 55g – or eight and 11 teaspoons – of added sugar. The HPB’s recommendations are the same as the endorsements issued by the US government. If you are overweight or often feel lethargic, there is a chance you’re taking in too much of the white stuff. But there’s a simple ﬁx: Cutting back has real beneﬁts – namely, it makes you feel rejuvenated and helps you drop kilos. So worth it!
Your Body on Sugar
“Sugar triggers a spike in your blood sugar level, which is followed by an energy-draining crash,” says Cassie Bjork, a dietitian in Minneapolis in the US and the owner of Healthysimplelife. com. This leaves you sluggish and can sap your endurance during workouts. If you’re feeling lethargic, fuzzy-headed or moody, sugar may be the culprit.
Over time, excess sugar creates inﬂammation throughout the body, raising the risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, arthritis and depression. Daily consumption of the amount of sugar in just one can of soft drink is enough to raise your chance of a heart attack by 19 percent, according to a study published in Circulation. “Sugar has a toxic effect on your health,” says Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.
Scale back, though, and you’ll reap some great rewards almost immediately. In a study published in the journal Obesity, kids who reduced their added sugar intake from 28 percent to 10 percent of their calories experienced a drop in their weight, blood pressure, triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol in just 10 days.
Your Body Reset
As you’ve probably experienced, your body becomes hooked on sugar, making it tough to cut it from your diet. “When you eat it, your body steps up the production of chemicals that activate pleasure receptors in your brain,” says Mark Hyman, the director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine in the US and the author of Eat Fat, Get Thin. The problem occurs after this feel-good high wears off, when you’re left craving more. In fact, in an animal study, 94 percent of subjects chose a sweet reward over cocaine.
A detox, however, can help you beat those cravings and reset your taste buds. While some experts recommend quitting cold turkey, that can make you so miserable and give you such intense cravings for sugar that you’ll be more likely to backslide. To kick the habit for good without feeling deprived, follow our saner three-week schedule.
Cut Out the Obvious Sugar Bombs
Lay off sweetened coffee drinks, juice, candy (everything from fruit chews to chocolate), cookies and other desserts. Try hard not to cheat – little hits of sugar add up and keep your body addicted. And don’t use artiﬁcial sweeteners. They may cause blood sugar ﬂuctuations just as sugar does and encourage cravings, research shows.
If this feels too drastic, seek out low-sugar alternatives, such as dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, or replace treats with naturally sweet ones, like a baked pear with cinnamon, and eat them sparingly. Your taste buds will soon adjust. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who went on a low- sugar diet rated slightly sweet foods as tasting sweeter after eight weeks than those who didn’t go on the plan.
Add Protein to Your Meals and Snacks
Getting 15g to 20g of protein every time you eat can stop sugar cravings by keeping your blood sugar level steady, which in turn prevents hunger, Cassie says.
In fact, in a study from the University of Missouri in the US, people who ate a protein-packed breakfast experienced fewer cravings throughout the day than those who didn’t eat the meal.
Find – and Banish – Sneaky Sugar
A majority of the added sugar you eat comes from processed foods, many of which aren’t even thought of as sweet, such as bread, crackers, salad dressing, pasta sauce and condiments. Manufacturers add sugar to foods to enhance ﬂavour and texture, and to extend freshness.
Scan labels for sugar’s more than 250 aliases, including high-fructose corn syrup, dried cane syrup, fruit juice concentrate, and pretty much any word that ends in -ose, like lactose, fructose and maltose.
(For a list, visit responsiblefoods.org/sugar_names.) “Natural” sugars such as honey, molasses and agave syrup count, too, because they have the same effect on your body. The Sugarchecked app ($1, sugarchecked.com) can help you shop. It scans bar codes and alerts you to any added sugar.
Confront the Craving
Expect withdrawal symptoms, like irritability and exhaustion, and prepare for them by scheduling some TLC, like a massage or yoga class.
“When cravings strike, try to wait them out. After 15 minutes, a sweet tooth will usually subside,” says Jessica Crandall, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the US. If it doesn’t, ﬁnd a healthy sweet alternative such as fruit or a piece of sugar-free gum to help kick your craving.
You can also try tapping your toe or your forehead. One study found that this simple distraction reduced cravings by as much as 35 percent. Researchers believe that tapping stops you from visualising food.
Eliminate Refined Carbs
Get rid of any remaining sources of added sugar in your diet, and trade in reﬁned carbs, including white bread and cereal, for whole grain versions. Like sugar, simple carbs cause your blood sugar to rise and then plummet. They also stimulate the area of the brain responsible for hunger and cravings, according to an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study.
This ﬁnal step will really reset your habits and taste buds. “Once you realise how much more energy you have, sweets won’t be nearly as tempting,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, the wellness director for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in the US.
You Can Still Enjoy Dessert
It’s perfectly ﬁne to have a small portion of a sweet treat once or even twice a week after you’ve kicked your sugar craving, experts say. Because you’ve cut other sources of sugar from your diet, your blood sugar levels are steadier overall, and one cupcake is less likely to get you hooked, Kristin explains.
“But before you indulge, stop and ask yourself if you really want that cookie or brownie,” she says. If you do, blunt its negative effect by eating it after a meal or with some protein, like a glass of milk. Then go ahead and savour every sweet bite.