By Rennie Aranda, Skinny Gene Registered Dietitian
We all go through it — the sudden urge to taste something sweet. Perhaps it is a craving for a delectable dessert after dinner, or even as simple as adding sweet sugar to our morning cup of Joe. The energy and joy we feel as the sugar settles in can become an addictive feeling that we crave time and time again. Unfortunately with sugar “highs” come the sugar “lows” when we feel tired and the urge for something sweet starts all over again. It’s time to uncover the truth about sugar cravings and how we can finally tame our sweet tooth and break our sugar addiction.
How it works – Sugar fuels every cell in the brain so the brain perceives sugar as a reward, which causes our sugar cravings to want more. Simple sugars found in syrup, soda, candy, and table sugar quickly gets absorbed into the bloodstream, causing our blood sugar levels to spike (known as the “sugar high”). Once the blood sugar is moved out of the bloodstream and into our cells for energy, (with the help of the hormone insulin), it causes a drop in blood sugar levels. These rapid changes in blood sugar levels leads to the crash, or sugar “low”, leaving us to feel tired and wiped out and in search for more sugar to regain the “high”. This sets us up for bad eating habits that are hard to break.
The Good News! – Sugar is not needed as much as we think. We can retrain our taste buds to enjoy things that are not as sweet or find ways to curb our sugar cravings. The best way to do this is to gradually cut down foods or drinks with added sugar. This change is more doable for long term so that we are not likely to fall back into bad habits. Try one less sweet food or drink from your diet each week. For example, pass dessert after dinner or use less sugar in your coffee or cereal. Over time, you will lose the need for the sweet, sugary taste!
Most Americans consume about 19 teaspoons or more of added sugar a day, which equates to up to 285 calories. You should be aiming for no more than 6 teaspoons daily for women and 9 teaspoons for men, cutting it down to 100 calories and 150 calories, respectively. Try some of these tips to cut down on added sugar consumption:
No need to completely give up on sweet treats. Simply replace table sugar or sweet processed foods with the “good-for-you” sweets such as fresh berries or fruit in oatmeal instead of sugar. Try dried, frozen, or canned fruit without added sugar. Also, a low-sugar yogurt can help provide you with natural sugars to satisfy your cravings.
- Protein helps! High protein foods digest more slowly, keeping you feeling full for a longer period of time and curbing the sugar cravings. Lean proteins such as lean meats, low-fat yogurt, eggs, nuts, or beans are good choices and also do not make your blood sugar spike up and down the way refined carbs and sugars do.
- Fill up on fiber. Like protein, fiber helps in keeping you full and giving you more energy. Fiber does not raise your blood sugar, preventing any crashes or sugar “lows”. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are some good examples to aim for. Smear some peanut butter on an apple for a protein/fiber combo!
- Watch out for hidden sugars. Get in the habit of reading food labels and filter out high sugar foods before they hit your shopping cart. If sugar is listed in the first few ingredients, the product is likely to have more than 4 total grams of sugar, or 1 teaspoon. Sugar can also be labeled differently with names like: agave nectar, brown rice syrup, high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, malt syrup, molasses and words ending in –ose (glucose, lactose, sucrose, etc.) Foods that are not commonly seen as sweet may contain high amounts of sugar such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, pasta sauce, and reduced-fat salad dressings, which is why it is important to read food labels to help control added sugar intake.