Imagine you’ve gone two days without sugar. You’re determined to change your diet and break the sugar habit, but at the end of the day you’re exhausted and irritable, and you’ve developed a splitting headache. When you see that someone left chocolate chip muffins on the counter, you let the temptation overwhelm you, “Chocolate is good for me,” you reason, “It’s just one muffin, and I deserve it.” You give in. It tastes so good and comforting that you eat another one...
When you first decide you’re going to kick the sugar habit, your body may rebel. In addition to feeling deprived at having to give up your favorite snacks and desserts, you may have withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue, anxiety, or depression. So, although you know about the dangers of sugar, you may find yourself giving in to temptation anyway.
If you think this description sounds like addiction, that’s because it is addiction. Dr. Mark Hyman, author of The Blood Sugar Solution: 10-Day Detox Diet, tells us that sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine! As a matter of fact, experts at Harvard Medical School tell us that if you’re dependent on sugar, reducing your consumption even a little can make you crave sweets even more. Stopping suddenly may even lead to sugar binges!
Keep these unpleasant side effects to a minimum by reducing your sugar consumption gradually, writes Paul Pitchford, author of Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. Periods of meditation or self-reflection might also ease your transition into a low-sugar or no-sugar diet.
Some experts, however, suggest quitting “cold turkey” in order to get control of your sugar addiction quickly. Fred Pescatore, MD, author and President of the International and American Associations of Clinical Nutritionists, suggests eliminating all sugar, and even natural sweeteners, for three days. If you can make it through 72 hours, he notes on his website, you will be over your addiction and the strong cravings will disappear.
Similarly, Dr. Joseph Mercola, citing evidence from the clinical studies of Dr. Richard Johnson, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, advises that you consume no sugar, particularly fructose, for two weeks. After two weeks, add only a few pieces of fruit, striving for a maximum of 15 grams of sugar per day. A very low fructose diet for two weeks, both Mercola and Johnson agree, will “reboot” your body’s system.
Control Those Cravings!
While you are trying to cut down on sugar, or to cut them out completely, you may have cravings. Following are suggestions from the experts for warding off temptation.
- Chew your food well, advises Pitchford. The more you chew, the sweeter foods taste. Even vegetables, legumes and grains will begin to taste sweeter and help to satisfy your cravings.
- Choose foods that help reduce cravings. Pitchford’s list includes sweet vegetables, such as beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash and parsnips; sprouts or sprouted grains; spirulina, chlorella, and wild blue-green algae; and sour, pungent and spicy foods.
- Exercise or do deep breathing when you crave sweets.
- Involve yourself in an activity that doesn’t involve eating.
- Eat a filling breakfast such as oatmeal, eggs or fruit, advise Harvard experts. A nutritious meal in the morning will reduce your chances of falling prey to cravings later in the day.
- Postpone the treat you’re craving. WebMD reports that putting off a snack until some indefinite time in the future helps reduce your craving. And if you do give in later, a recent study shows, you’re likely to eat less of the food than if you’d eaten it immediately.
- Drink plenty of water, says Pescatore, and...
- Plan meals in advance so that food is available when you need it. When you’re hungry, you don’t want to find yourself resorting to a sugary convenience snack.
Once you’ve got your sugar dependence under control, you can begin to satisfy your sweet tooth in healthy ways. The key is to limit your consumption to reasonable amounts of natural, healthful sugars and natural non-sugar sweeteners.
Fruits offer not only a sweet taste, but fiber and important nutrients, as well. You might find that a single piece, such as a banana or an orange, makes a great dessert.
For variety, however, try the following ideas:
- Dip banana chunks or apple slices into unsweetened peanut butter.
- Mash a very ripe banana and mix with plain, unsweetened cocoa powder. Eat as is, or use it as a spread.
- Top a bowl of berries with whole, unsweetened coconut milk.
- Mix up a smoothie in your blender. Use frozen banana chunks, your milk of choice, and any other fruits you choose. Throw in a large spoonful of cocoa powder for a chocolate shake.
- Mix up a bowlful of fresh fruit and toss in a handful of raisins and/or nuts.
- For a healthy snack or dessert your whole family will likely enjoy, try the following: Chop an apple (unpeeled) and sprinkle with fresh lemon juice. Add a handful of raisins, a handful or two of shredded carrots, and a spoonful or two of all-natural mayonnaise. Mix well and serve.
Sometimes you really want to add a little more sweet into your day. And you can! Consider the following natural sweeteners. Just remember to use them sparingly, since they are also forms of sugar.
- Honey - Add a spoonful to your hot tea or oatmeal, or use it in baked goods. As an added bonus, honey has many health benefits. It aids in digestion, for example, and provides a boost to your immune system.
- Molasses – Try a bit on your morning whole wheat toast and you’ll add some extra vitamin B6 into your diet. Molasses also provides important minerals including iron, potassium and magnesium.
- Maple syrup – Use in place of regular pancake syrup, which is usually nothing but corn syrup and artificial flavors.
- Fruit spread – Check the label and make sure it’s pure fruit. Spread it on bread with peanut butter or mix a spoonful with plain yogurt.
- Fruit juices – Although 100% fruit juice is far more nutritious than soda, these concentrated fruit sugars quickly spike blood sugar levels. In his book, The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies, Dr. Mark Stengler advises against drinking juices on an empty stomach. Drinking limited quantities along with foods like green salad, however, will slow absorption into the blood.
- Barley malt – Derived from sprouted barley, this sweetener comes in granulated or syrup form and contains many of the nutrients found in the whole grain.
You can use the following natural non-sugar sweeteners with no worries about elevating your blood sugar. All three come from plant sources and have been declared safe for human consumption, Dr. Stengler notes. You can find them in health food stores or in the health food sections of your regular grocery store.
- Stevia – With almost no calories, this sweetener may actually lower blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. You can buy it in both liquid and powder forms. Look for all-natural sodas made with Stevia for a healthy alternative to regular soft drinks.
- Lo han – Possibly 150 to 300 times sweeter than sugar but with no calories, this product is also called lo han kuo or luo han gu. It’s an extract from an exotic fruit and can be used in baking just as you would sugar.
- Xylitol – You’ll find this sweetener in sugar-free gums and toothpaste because it can reduce tooth decay by up to 80%. Its consistency is similar to sugar, making it another great substitute in the kitchen. Add it into your diet gradually, however, since it can cause digestive upset for some people.
These all-natural sweeteners cost a bit more than table sugar, but it’s worth it in the long run. They can easily replace sugar in almost any drink or food. Try making your own lemonade, for example: Squeeze the juice from a couple of lemon wedges into a glass of water, mix in your chosen sweetener to taste, and add ice.
A Few Warnings
In your quest to eliminate dangerous sugars, don’t fall into the trap of cleverly marketed artificial sweeteners. Aspartame, for example, causes harmful side effects for many people. Other artificial sweeteners include sucralose and saccharin. Read labels and watch out for their misleading brand names.
Also, don’t be fooled by agave syrup. Although it’s often labeled as “all-natural,” it’s usually highly processed, Dr. Mercola warns.
Enjoy Your Sweet Life!
Once you’ve kicked the sugar habit, you may find yourself feeling so much better that you would never consider going back to your old way of eating. According to Pitchford, after eliminating sugar most people report the following results: increased energy and endurance; fewer colds; healthier teeth; better moods; more emotional stability; improved concentration, memory, and speech; more restful sleep; and better health in general. And while you reap the health benefits of your new lifestyle, you’ll still be able to satisfy your sweet tooth with the wonderful desserts that nature has to offer.
Imagine you’re relaxing on the couch, sipping your favorite flavor of all-natural, Stevia-sweetened soda. You reach for the bowl of popcorn you just prepared. You look forward to the treat you’re going to fix later: a sliced banana covered with a mixture of 100% cocoa powder and all-natural peanut butter. Completely satisfying! Plus, you’ve got that peaceful feeling, knowing you’re treating your body right. You’re on your way to a truly sweet life.
Written by Beth Prassel-Sieg
- OTHER PARTS IN THIS SERIES -
THE SWEET LIFE
10 Dangers of Sugar
THE SWEET LIFE
Become a Sugar Sleuth
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