Sugar may be the most prevalent addiction on the planet today, delivered and consumed in various forms, be it a candy binge, a super-sized coke or an endless queue at a new cupcake shop. It works just like other drugs, interfering with one of the body's regulation mechanisms- in this case, the hormone leptin, which acts as a weight regulator and possibly, a sweet sensing suppressor- while triggering natural opioid production in the brain, just like heroin. We know that sugar is bad for us- it contributes to obesity, rots our teeth, promotes insulin resistance, causes cancer cell growth, and is thought to be a primary culprit to a host of autoimmune diseases and inflammatory disorders. And yet, we turn a blind eye to the overwhelming evidence, sacrificing our health for a Cronut. If you're a sugar addict- like 99% of the human race- and you wish to cut down or completely banish this drug from your body, the following is a list of what foods to avoid and ten strategies for a sweet but sugar-free life.
What to Avoid...
The obvious: Candies, pastries, nonya kueh, chendol, ice cream, sweetened coffees and teas, soft drinks, packaged fruit juices, alcohol (beer, wine and spirits)
Refined carbohydrates: pastas, noodles, white flour,”wheat flour,” white rice, crackers, cereals, biscuits, cookies, cakes, muffins, white bread
The not so obvious: granola bars, energy and protein bars, dried fruit, flavored yogurt, and trail mix all have high amounts of sugar, yet they're deceptively cloaked under the “healthy” label. Many condiments like sambal and ketchup, as well as most salad dressings also contain sugar, so be sure to read the labels!
10 Ways to Cut Down on Refined Sugar (or eliminate it altogether)...
1. Ditch the sugary soft drinks and fruit juices! Try green drinks and infused water concoctions instead for a pure energy jolt. I reach for superfood powders like Vitamineral Green and always have a pitcher of “dressy” water nearby, like cucumber mint or raspberry lime.
2. Take the natural approach when dealing with cravings. Reach for fruits that are lower in sugar, like blueberries, strawberries, papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, guava, and apples. Limit high sugar fruits like pineapples, pears, mangos, bananas and kiwi fruit, and stay away from dried and packaged fruits.
3. Use Stevia as a sweetener. It’s approximately thirty times sweeter than sugar in its unprocessed form, has no effect on blood sugar, and has been used for many centuries by some cultures in East Asia and South America. Buy Stevia seeds or plants and make your own Stevia powder at home!
4. Munch on some healthy, savory treats. Homemade hummus dip with veggie slices, dehydrated zucchini chips, a handful of almonds, baked sweet potato fries, or unflavored Greek yogurt with a sprinkle of blueberries are excellent choices. Pick one day of the week to make your favorite munchies, and keep these treats pre-prepared in your fridge so that when a craving strikes, you’re ready!
5. Chocolate is still your friend! Reach for dark chocolate- the darker, the better! Stick with bars that have at least 70% cacao. Green & Blacks Organic 85% Dark and Lindt Chili Dark Chocolate Bar are my faves.
6. Learn to drink your coffee unsweetened or better yet, switch to green tea. The catechins and polyphenols in green tea are known to increase the metabolism, reduce bad cholesterol and prevent tooth decay. Beware of those holiday beverages at Starbucks and CBTL- many of them are loaded with sugar!
7. Add sweeter spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to your foods and beverages. Cinnamon may lower blood sugar in people with diabetes, as well as improving glucose and lipid levels. Studies show that cinnamon may also help you lose weight and reduce bloating. Nutmeg can alleviate digestive issues like constipation, bloating and flatulence and also contains antibacterial properties to give you sweeter breath.
8. Stay educated and alert when eating out. Sugar can be hidden in high amounts in many dressings and sauces that restaurants use. Always ask for sauce on the side and don’t be afraid to quiz the waiter on how your meal is prepared. Beware of candied or dried fruits lurking in your salad, and stick with basic, easily identifiable menu items.
9. Go cold turkey for 21 days. Cut out any and all sources of sugar, including all fruits, alternative natural sweeteners like agave nectar and honey, and of course, all of the items listed under “What to Avoid.” By completely purging your body of sugar, you’ll reduce cravings in the long run.
10. Plan for withdrawal accordingly. It sucks, but it’s only temporary. Whenever you feel a craving coming on, suck on an ice cube, snack on some veggies, or take a run around the block. Do some jumping jacks or push ups in your living room. Take a bath. Write in your journal. Whatever you do, find a strategy that will get sugar off your mind for a bit. Set a sugar-free goal, and don’t forget to reward yourself with something that represents the new you, like a pair of running shoes or a package of fitness classes.
Are you aiming to embrace a sugar-free or reduced sugar life in 2014? Have you already eliminated sugar from your diet? Share your experience in the comments section. I'd love to hear from you!