Those who have known me for a long time would know that I used to be totally obsessed and fixated by sugar, my 'sweet tooth' was out of control. After most meals I would crave something sweet, preferably chocolate or ice-cream, and I didn't know when or how to stop, the guilt and sickly feeling I would feel afterwards was horrible.
At that time I had no idea what was happening inside me, but now I do and I will never go back to that lifestyle. Sugar is addictive, there is no doubt about that! I do admit that giving it up is hard work in the short-term, but for me it was well worth it in the long-term. My energy levels stabilized, my immune system was stronger, my skin and eyes looked brighter, my cravings disappeared, my digestive issues disappeared and overall I just felt happier and healthier.
Research around the negative affects sugar has on our health is an ever-evolving area. Besides causing weight gain sugar also encourages inflammation and infection, compromises our immune system and raises insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone which helps control blood glucose levels, however excess insulin promotes the uptake and storage of fat in our cells, it also elevates triglyceride levels and promotes cardiovascular disease, mood swings, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis and more.
While quitting sugar and studying holistic nutrition I have learned that cravings are often due to emotional factors or habits. Stress, unstable blood sugar levels, emotional comfort, cultural upbringing and specific nutrient deficiencies are some factors which can contribute to your cravings.
I understand sugar is hard to avoid as it's all around us, but learning how to manage your intake of added sugar is one of the most important things in this process. This isn't to say you will not be able to eat your favourite treats again, but learning how to indulge in those treats in moderation is a big part of what I believe in. Stressing over not being able to eat a food or feeling guilty after a binge can wreak havoc on your hormones. I believe indulgence is important for our soul and I still love to indulge in chocolate or ice-cream however I have learnt the art of moderation, and enjoy a treat once or twice a week, knowing that I can have it again soon if I choose.
Whatever your reason may be for wanting to quit there are various ways in which you can cut down your sugar intake to dramatically improve your health. Here are some strategies which can be used to help you gradually cut down the amount of added sugar in your diet.
1) Increase protein intake
Protein helps with satiety (keeping you fuller for longer) as protein takes longer to digest in the body. Protein also helps stabilize blood sugar levels which leads to more sustained energy levels and weight loss. Try incorporating protein with each meal.
2) Increase healthy fats
Good fats will often tame sugar cravings. Try eating a handful of nuts when you next feel the urge to indulge, then wait 10-15 minutes to see if those feeling subside.
3) Avoid processed and refined foods
And just eat real food, fruit, vegetable, nuts, seeds, whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and oats! Did you know that sugar and processed foods are just as addictive as cocaine. Eating sugar artificially stimulates the same region of your brain as cocaine, which is why it is so addictive. It signals a part of your brain called the nucleus accumbens, to produce dopamine, your pleasure hormone.
4) Get creative with cooking - spice things up
Enhance food with spices instead of sugar. Try experiment with different spices and herbs. You'll be surprised at the amazing flavour combinations you can come up with. Cinnamon is one of my personal favourites, and is great at helping to stable blood sugar levels.
5) Learn to read food labels
This is one of the best ways to ensure that the food's you eat doesn't contain sugar. Do this with all the foods you eat, especially fruit juices, salad dressings, flavoured yoghurts, sauces and dried fruit. Per 100g or 100mls make sure you get under 5g of sugar (4g of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar).
6) Stay hydrated
Drink more water. Sometimes cravings are actually a sign of dehydration. If you feel the need to indulge try having a glass of water first, then wait 10-15 minutes.
7) Don't skip breakfast
Consuming a breakfast that stabilizes blood sugar contains a combination of healthy sources of protein, fat and low-glycemic carbohydrates that are rich in fiber. The body digests these nutrients more slowly, helping you stay full so that you don’t crash mid-morning. Some great options are a green smoothie, omelette or eggs and avocado on sourdough bread.
Lack of sleep will increase your bodies hunger hormone ghrelin. Aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep every night can protect you from being too tired and grabbing that quick pick-me-up sugary fix.
9) Distract yourself
Sometimes you can crave sugar out of boardem, or being stressed. Try and find something to do to distract yourself. Get up, move around, go for a walk around the block or call up a friend. I like to get up and go make myself a nice warm cup of licorice tea whenever I feel cravings coming on.
10) Get active
Being physically active helps stabilise your blood sugar levels and boosts your feel good hormones.
11) Keep snacking
At least in the early stages of quitting sugar. If you've been consuming large amounts of sugar for a long time you might have some hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) issues, which is often why people often get 10am and 4pm slumps. Eat enough so you feel satisfied, and regularly enough so that you feel stable, consuming 3 main meals and 2 snacks which are high in protein and fat can help curb these cravings.
And remember to be kind to yourself! Throughout this processes remember that you are doing the best you can. Don't be so harsh on yourself if you slip up, your only human! It's a hard journey and many people out there are fighting the same battle. Just keep reminding yourself why you are doing this and keep moving forward.