How To Avoid Sugar, from nutritionist Mikaela Reuben
As everyone knows, eating sweets can bring feelings of comfort and happiness. This is because when we eat sugar our brains release dopamine – a feel good chemical that motivates and reinforces behaviors, like eating cookies and hiding chocolate bars beside the bed. We eat sugar, we feel rewarded, and we want more sugar.
In terms of health, sugar is not as sweet as it seems. Sugar can depress the immune system, wreak havoc on blood glucose levels, spike and crash energy levels and focus, cause major weight gain, heighten aging and internal stress, and cause inflammation in the body.
How To Spot Sugar
In order to cut back on sugar we first must be able to spot it; this if often half the battle.
The first step is to get up close and personal with food labels. You can’t choose to avoid it if you don’t know how it may be showing up in your foods. Beyond the obvious offenders, sugar content can be high in some foods you may not expect. Many foods perceived to be healthy pack a significant amount of sugar. Read the ingredients and if sugar is one of the first two listed, do not buy it. The higher up on a list an ingredient is placed, the more of it has been added to the product. This is a simple way to spot foods that include a lot of added sugar.
Sugar can hide under many names so when you are looking at a label search for any of the following: Agave, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar, cane juice, coconut sugar, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, maltose, maltodextrin, maple syrup, molasses, sorghum and rice syrup.
Sugar is added to sauces, yogurts, dressings, and bread, almost anything that is produced and processed with a shelf life in a grocery store. The best way to keep sugar out of the picture is to make your own food using whole foods so that you know each ingredient that your meals are made of.
What About Blood Sugar?
There are many reasons why someone reaches for sugar. It could be an emotional craving or a habit, but one explanation as to why someone craves sweets, is because their blood sugar is crashing.
Blood sugar is the amount of sugar circulating through the blood in the body in the form of glucose. We need glucose, but the problem is what happens when we have too much or too little, because what goes up must come down. The goal is to avoid this rapid rise and fall and maintain a more stable level of energy. This keeps our minds and our bodies functioning more smoothly.
How to do this? Eat fiber, complex carbohydrates and avoid large amounts of processed foods and refined sugars. Focus on grains or grain products in their whole form, vegetables, leafy greens, starchy vegetables such as yams, potatoes, squash, and legumes.
Healthy fats and proteins are also key in maintaining a balanced blood sugar level. They are slower to digest than carbohydrates, meaning they release their energy in a more sustainable manor. These foods keep us full and focused for longer. Think avocado, healthy oils like coconut oil or olive oil, free range organic eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, and their butters.
Snack on these throughout the day to keep your blood sugar stable:
– Mixed nuts and seeds
– Gluten-free or sprouted grain toast with avocado, nut butter or a hard boiled egg
– Oatmeal with nuts, seeds and berries
– Sliced veggies and mashed avocado
– Baked yam fries with tahini and lemon
– Hummus and sliced vegetables
Control Sugar Cravings
Sugar cravings can strike at any time and can completely derail even the best intentions for healthy eating. Here are some tips for staying on top of cravings!
1. Stay hydrated: Often when our bodies are dehydrated, this signal is misinterpreted as hunger, causing us to reach for high sugared snacks when water is what we truly need.
2. Get enough rest: When we haven’t gotten our eight hours of beauty sleep in, we are actually more likely to reach for sugary foods to help give us a boost. In a perfect world, we would all have time for eight hours a night, but in reality, life gets in the way of that. What can you do? Maximize the efficiency of your sleep. Sleep in complete darkness, avoid screen time within the hour before bed, do a relaxing activity such as yoga, meditation, or reading to stimulate the calming part of your nervous system and avoid caffeine for six hours before hitting the hay.
3. Look for the root cause of the craving: Food cravings can be a signal of something going on at a deeper level, be it emotional or physical. It is common for our emotions to lead us to snack, whether it is anger, sadness or just boredom. Ask yourself what you are trying to feed when you are having the cravings? Nutrient deficiencies can also lead to cravings, so eating a diet full of nutritious whole foods is important.
4. Identify alternatives: Sometimes cravings happen and we need to understand how to feed them best by finding the healthier version. Craving sweets? Choose some fresh fruit or banana slices with sea salt and coconut butter. Craving chocolate? A couple squares of good quality dark chocolate go a long way. Is it something salty that you are after? How about marinated cucumber and celery in apple cider vinegar and tamari, or sea salt and hemp oil on avocado. Try to compromise with the cravings.
Plan Ahead For Eating Out
It can be challenging to socialize and go out to eat with friends when you are being mindful of your sugar intake as it sneaks its way into sauces, dressings, marinades, drinks and desserts. If you want to plan ahead call and inquire about which items you can order to avoid sugar or follow some of these suggestions: Ask for olive oil and vinegar to make your own salad dressing; ask the chef to go easy on sauces or put dressings on the side; if dessert is a must, opt to share something or have a cup of tea to hush the after-dinner cravings for sweets; if you are having a drink while out, be mindful that mixed fruity cocktails usually have a high amount of sugar in them. The best low sugar alcohol options are vodka or other clear spirits mixed with water or soda and citrus. If you want a glass of wine, choose higher quality organic wines that are of the dry variety.
Sometimes there is no way around it. We need a little sweetness in our lives. In general, the more raw and unprocessed the better. Choose a sweetener that brings some added benefits.
Fruit: Swapping pureed fruit for sugar in recipes is an amazing way to add some extra nutrients and cut back on the sugar. Bananas and apples taste great in many of your favorite recipes.
Maple syrup: Real, dark maple syrup contains more minerals and antioxidants than processed white sugars. It releases energy more slowly, making it better for your blood sugar levels, but is still high in sugar so should be consumed in small quantities.
Honey: Raw honey is high in enzymes, antioxidants and it is also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Always look for unpasteurized as well as local if possible.