I’m addicted to sugar and odds are you are, too. One reason is that nutrition labels make it really difficult to determine how much we’re getting. As a nutrition student 3 classes in, it would be irresponsible for me to advise you on your specific needs, so I’ll just tell you what I’ve been reading in general terms.
- You should probably be consuming less added sugar than you do now. Way less!
- There is no recommended amount of added sugar on food labels because there is no recommended amount. You don’t need any! You get the sugar you need from natural sources like milk, blueberries, and tomatoes.
- On that note, don’t worry about the sugar you get from natural sources.
- When you consume sugar, the reward center of your brain lights up. We like sugar. Once we get it, we want more of it. It works just the same as alcohol, gambling, or heroin addiction. Getting more dulls our sensitivity to it, so it takes more and more and more to get the same reaction.
A couple years ago, my doctor had me eliminate added sugar from my diet for 6 weeks. I distinctly remember the first day of my no-sugar diet. I had a headache and was grouchy. I laid on the couch watching the Katy Perry documentary and felt sorry for myself. I promise you, it gets better after Day 1.
After just a few days without added sugar, I started noticing the natural sweetness in the foods I was consuming. Bananas were suddenly like candy. My favorite treat was a smoothie of coconut milk, banana, and a handful of cashews. Try it!
Our bodies crave sweetness, but when we dull our senses with excessive sugar, we don’t notice that banana’s sweetness. Instead we crave Lucky Charms, Frappuccinos, and sweet cocktails. Cutting sugar isn’t about weight loss or vanity. Sugar consumption is a serious health epidemic. On an individual basis, it leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and so many more bad things no one wants to go through. So what can you do?
Step one is to cut out sugar sweetened beverages, such as lemonade, soda, fruit juice, iced tea, energy drinks, all of it! Your body even processes calorie-free diet drinks the same way. You can’t fool it with a Diet Coke.
After that, look at other places to cut down on added sugar. Did you know that 30% of many cereals are sugar? When I buy cereal, I get the plain corn flakes (literally, the only ingredient is corn) from a natural market and shake on some cinnamon. You could switch to oatmeal— again, I recommend buying plain oats rather than the flavored packets. I keep a big bag of blueberries in the freezer and put a handful on my oatmeal. Those little guys defrost fast. Then I grab a spoonful of non-sweetened almond butter to stir in. Breakfast is on the table within 5 minutes.
Next, swap out sugary snacks for fruit and nuts. This has been a total game-changer for me. My sugar-dense snacks used to leave me feeling nauseous and hungry again soon. A handful of nuts keeps me satiated through my afternoon.
Finally, pay attention to what you’re eating for meals. We all expect a sugar hit when we eat a creamy tiramisu, but not when we eat Pad Thai or spaghetti and meatballs, right? Well, those sauces contain a boatload of sugar. So does commercial salad dressing, fruity-on-the-bottom yogurt cups, and more. Look for sugar where you don’t expect it. When you find it, consider workaround. Maybe instead of that bottle of Kraft dressing, you could drizzle some olive oil and balsamic on your salad. Or next time make your own Pad Thai sauce sans sugar (or with just a bit.)
It’s still a work in progress for me. Here are a few principles that help me.
- I try to only have dessert items a few times a week, and make it count. That means I don’t eat mass-produced doughnuts with a long shelf life that come in a box. If it’s a doughnut I crave, I go to a good bakery and get the best one I can find. A good rule is if it doesn’t rot that’s because bacteria doesn’t want to eat it — and you shouldn’t either.
- I aim to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. With that baseline, I know I have less room for empty calories.
- I try not to keep sweets in the house — or just pick one thing at a time. That way if I want a cupcake, I have to put on my shoes, walk out of the house, lock the door behind me, and go down the street to the store to get it. That makes me question if it’s worth it. (And sometimes it totally is!)
My main downfall right now is that my desk is right next to the table where people leave snacks to share at work. It’s hard to look past that plate of scones or package of cookies. Sometimes I indulge and I often regret it when I feel sluggish 30 minutes later.
Believe me, I know cutting down on sugar is hard (I remember every time I hear a Katy Perry song), but little changes do add up. I beg you to start now because it won’t get easier next year. And tell me how it’s going and if you have any advice for me.
For more science-backed advice, I recommend talking to your doctor about your specific needs and reading Daily Intake of Sugar — How Much Sugar Should You Eat Per Day?
- DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson WL. Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review Br J Sports Med 2018;52:910-913.
- Bremer, Andrew A.,M.D., PhD., Lustig RH, M.D. Effects of sugar-sweetened beverages on children. Pediatr Ann. 2012;41(1):26-30. https://une.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.une.idm.oclc.org/docview/914325607?accountid=12756. doi: http://dx.doi.org.une.idm.oclc.org/10.3928/00904481-20111209-09.
I’m a journalist, content strategist, doting auntie, amateur bobsledder, fitness enthusiast, and wannabe health nut (who loves chocolate and pizza too much to fully commit). I don't want you to think my life is perfect. It's not.