by Theresa Houghton
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Americans consume 17 teaspoons, or about 270 calories, of added sugars every day. This exceeds the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendation of no more than 10 percent of calories, or around 12 teaspoons, on a 2,000-calorie diet. The World Health Organization suggests an even lower “ideal” intake of no more than 5 percent of calories.
Despite these suggestions and the admonitions of countless books, articles and videos all telling us to avoid added sugars, we’re still each consuming nearly 160 pounds of the stuff every year. There are reasons that we keep coming back, and also ways we can finally kick the sugar habit to regain control of health.
Addicted to Sweetness
A review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine sheds light on why so many people have trouble getting off sugar. In animal models, sugar consumption is associated with “drug-like effects,” including binge eating, cravings, tolerance, dependence and withdrawal.
Added sugars are highly refined before being incorporated into food products. Stripped from their natural contexts and delivered in a non-nutritive form, they deliver a big hit of dopamine to the brain, resulting in a sensation of pleasure. The more sugar we eat, the more we need to reproduce the same “happy” response.
Getting Off the Sugar Train
Once this reward cycle starts, it can be hard to get away from. This is partly because sugar hides in just about everything Americans eat, including apparently “healthy” products like granola, whole-grain bread and even salsa.
To kick the sugar habit, start reading every label before buying products. Learn the different names under which sugar can masquerade and leave behind foods containing any form of added sweetener. Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame should also be avoided. The taste of these “calorie-free” alternatives tricks the body into thinking it’s getting food, and can make cravings worse.
Replace packaged foods with whole foods from plant sources. Fruit, for example, is naturally sweet, but also contains a range of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Fiber slows down the digestion of fruit sugars, eliminating the “rush” associated with refined sweeteners. Even some vegetables, like sweet potatoes and winter squashes, can satisfy the hunger for sugar.
Swap sweetened beverages for water, using an infuser bottle to add natural flavors from fruit and herbs. Substituting water for just 12 ounces of soda eliminates 126 calories from added sugar. Try making sauces, salad dressings and other condiments at home, using whole-food ingredients to cut down even more.
Replacing added sugars and other processed ingredients with whole plant foods zaps sugar cravings and “resets” the taste buds to respond to natural sweetness. The beneficial nutrients in fruits and vegetables boost health, rather than harming it, and help break the cycle of sugar addiction, freeing the body to enjoy vibrant well-being.
Theresa “Sam” Houghton is owner of GreenGut Wellness. She holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and is a graduate of the Bauman College Nutrition Consultant distance learning program. For more information about her 12-week Kick the Sugar Habit program, call 518-545-8370 or visit GreenGutWellness.com.