You may love sugar, but sadly it doesn’t love you back. Increasingly, this food additive has been associated with many lifestyle woes: obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and even cancer. Worse still, it’s often hidden in products that are marketed as healthy. The challenge many sugar lovers have is to live with less sugar in their diets. Here are some helpful ideas to help you consume less.
But first, recognize this is an unhealthy addiction
The World Health Organization recommends a maximum of 5 to 10 teaspoons of sugar a day. But while you may know by now that Coca-Cola contains at least 12 teaspoons of sugar, did you know that your go-to gin and tonic contains around 8 teaspoons of sugar? That’s your daily dose in a single drink – and it’s not even sweet!
And not only does sugar hide in these products, but it often goes by various aliases. So, you may look at the label and not recognize sugar for what it is.
Yogurt. Salad dressing. Fruit snacks. Nut butter. Granola bars. Gummy vitamins. Bottled tea. Fruit juice. Protein powder. Smoothies. All examples of healthy, wholesome foods you can safely enjoy, right? Not exactly. Unfortunately, in our modern society, many of the foods that are marketed and sold as healthy won’t contribute to our health in any way. That’s because they’re often loaded with sugar. As a result, we consume large amounts of sugar without realizing it. This all adds to the cycle of dependency on this pervasive food additive.
The most common names for sugar include:
- Corn syrup (which is the additive used in most foods and drinks)
What happens to us?
You know that if you regularly devour a slab of chocolate or down a bottle of soda on your own, you’re going to pick up weight. Your dentist may also have told you that you need to avoid sugar to prevent cavities and other dental problems. But what you may not know is that it’s one of the biggest contributors to the following chronic diseases:
- Heart disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Metabolic disturbances
Furthermore, recent studies have strongly linked high consumption of sugar to the development of endometrial cancer.
You need to select the right sugar alternatives
Certainly, there are various options if you want to stay away from sugar. These are usually grouped in the following categories: sugar alcohols, novel sweeteners, and artificial sweeteners. The problem with many of these is that they often come with consequences you don’t want either, such as negative effects on gut health, blood sugar levels, and metabolism.
Impact on your brain
A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry indicates that typical artificial sweeteners can “induce insulin secretion and a rise in appetite”. Other studies have established that, when we consume a sweet substance that contains no calories, the brain doesn’t register the substance to have a filling effect. As a result, it sends a message that we need to eat more to feel satisfied. Before we know it, we’ve polished off the entire bowl of “sugar-free” fruit sorbet, and, to boot, still feel peckish.
Some healthier, SWEET alternatives
Stick to healthier, naturally occurring sweeteners, as suggested by Healthline.com, as follows:
Stevia is 100% natural, contains zero calories, and has no known adverse health effects. It has been shown to lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that contains 40% fewer calories than sugar. Eating it in moderation is generally safe, but xylitol can be highly toxic to dogs.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that tastes almost exactly like sugar, but it contains only 6% of the calories. However, more research is needed to determine whether it contributes to weight gain in some people.
Monk fruit sweetener
Monk fruit sweetener is a safe and healthy sugar alternative, but more studies are needed to fully understand its health benefits.
Yacon syrup contains one-third of the calories of regular sugar. It’s also very high in fructooligosaccharides, which feed the good bacteria in the gut and may aid in weight loss.
Coconut sugar contains a small amount of fiber and nutrients, but it’s high in fructose and should be consumed in moderation.
Honey contains antioxidants and small amounts of vitamins and minerals. It may offer some health benefits, but it’s still sugar and should not be consumed excessively.
Maple syrup contains several minerals and over 24 different antioxidants. It has a slightly lower glycemic index than regular sugar, but it will still raise your blood sugar levels significantly.
Molasses contain nutrients that support bone and heart health. Nevertheless, it’s still high in sugar and should be consumed sparingly.
Less is more
- Get rid of all the sugary foods and drinks in the house and replace them with options such as nuts, fruits, and vegetables (be sure to shop on a full stomach and avoid the sweet aisle like the plague).
- Make breakfast a priority. Include sources of protein, such as eggs and lean meats, low-GI carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fibre
- Avoid sodas and sugary drinks, such as flavored coffees. Fruit juice is also very high in sugar – eat fresh fruit instead
- Ensure that you drink enough water throughout the day. If you’re craving something sweet, drink water instead and check whether you’re not, in fact, thirsty. If it’s cold, try to up your hydration by opting for herbal tea (mint, ginger, cinnamon, or rooibos)
- Ensure that you get enough sleep – we tend to reach for sugary snacks more when we’re sleep-deprived
- Apply patience and discipline. If you’re used to lots of sugar in your diet, it will take some time to phase it out. You don’t have to go cold turkey. For example, if you usually add three spoons of sugar to your coffee or breakfast cereal, reduce it by one spoon each week, until you can enjoy it without sugar.
- Instead of using a high-sugar, processed salad dressing, make your own
- Read the food and drink labels! They will help you understand what you’re consuming
The bottom line
Sugar is addictive. Scientists have shown that when you eat or drink it, you will want more and more. But as you consume less, you will find that your cravings will subside, and you will be healthier, thinner, and happier.