Sugars in your diet can be naturally occurring or added. Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits, vegetables, milk and grains. Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods, drinks and condiments during preparation and processing.
Added sugars contribute zero nutrients – but many added calories – to your diet. Not only is sugar not healthful, it is a source of numerous health risks including:
- Insulin resistance
- High blood pressure (even in teens)
- Belly fat
- Lower energy levels
- Skin aging
- Other risk factors to heart attack and stroke
There is no question that cutting our sugar intake can help us look better, feel better and live better.
However, for some it can feel nearly impossible to limit sugar intake. Our cravings can be so powerful that it can feel like we’re addicted. And we just might be.
Kicking the Sugar Addiction
Sugar has a tremendous influence on our brains, triggering our bodies to produce feel-good chemicals that, when combined with fat and salt, light up the same areas of the brain that are activated by addictive drugs.
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day and men no more than 32 grams.
To put this into perspective, a 20-ounce Coca Cola has 65 grams of sugar. Drinking just one of these is already more than double the recommended daily intake! It is no surprise, then, that the average American consumes 88 grams of added sugar per day.
So, where do we even start?
It may not be easy at first but following these sugar-slashing strategies will help you curb your cravings for the sweet stuff.
Retrain Your Brain
Give your body a “sugar detox.” For one week, eliminate all types of added sugar, including those that seem like better options such as honey, agave, coconut sugar, organic cane juice, etc.
This first week may – and most likely will – feel insanely difficult, but you can do this! Rest assured that it will get easier once your taste buds start to catch up to your new habits.
Tip: Watch out for even seemingly healthy foods that are loaded with sugar. Flavored Greek yogurt, nutrition bars and even “healthful” products like Clif Bars and Special K Protein Shakes can easily pack in 20 grams of sugar or more.
Swap Out Your Sweetener
Eliminating added sugar from your diet will start to change your cravings, but if you still need to add a touch of sweetness to your food or drink, there are better options than sugar and artificial sweeteners.
My recommendation for folks working to wean themselves from a high-sugar diet but also want to avoid artificial sweeteners is to try natural plant-based sweeteners like Swerve (New Orleans-based), Truvia or Stevia. Each has zero calories and zero glycemic impact, meaning it has no effect on blood sugar or insulin.
Tip: Each natural sweetener has its own distinct taste and texture, and some work better in cooking and baking while others are better suited for beverages and no-bake sweets. Experiment to find which natural sweeteners work for you.
Rethink Your Drink
If you only make one change, eliminate sugary drinks. This is the single biggest impact we can make on our sugar intake, since sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugars in the American diet.
Tip: Keep in mind that it’s not just sugary soft drinks like Coke or Sprite that are to blame. In fact, we can easily sip three days’ worth of added sugar in many smoothies, sweet teas, juices, sports drinks, energy drinks and sugary coffee shop drinks.
See below for sugar drink swap outs and sugar savings that you can start immediately.
- Instead of: 20-ounce soft drink with 65 grams of sugar.
Try: Sparkling flavored water like La Croix or Dasani Sparkling with 0 grams of sugar.
- Instead of: 16-ounce lemonade with 40 grams of sugar
Try: Vitaminwater zero lemonade with 0 sugar
- Instead of: 18-ounce sweet tea with 45 grams of sugar
Try: Unsweetened herbal tea with 0 sugar
- Instead of: 20-ounce sports drink with 34 grams of sugar
Try: Adding nuun tablets to water bottle with 1 gram sugar
- Instead of: 16-ounce energy drink with 54 grams of sugar
Try: Green tea, protein coffee or Zero Sugar Hi-Ball Energy Sparkling Energy Water with 0 sugar
- Instead of: 16-ounce Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino with 61 grams of sugar
Try: PJ's Eat Fit Mocha Protein Velvet Ice with 8 grams of sugar (3 grams added sugar)
A version of this article originally appeared on Nola.com. See the full article here.
Note: Registered dietician Molly Kimball offers brand-name products as a consumer guide; she, along with Ochsner Health System, do not solicit product samples nor are paid to recommend items.