by Caitlin O’Donnell
The average American consumes 2-3 times more added sugar than the American Heart Association’s maximum recommendation. For men, the AHA recommends no more than 36 grams or 9 teaspoons per day. The AHA caps it at 6teaspoons or 25 grams for women.
When Does it Become a Problem?
People who are addicted to sugar crave it, and when they give into the craving, they can’t control how much they eat. The reason a person eats sugar also matters. People often eat sugar to make themselves feel better when they are sad or stressed, similar to how a smoker might crave a cigarette. Withdrawals from sugar can even resemble that of an addict.
This mentality uses food as a crutch rather than as nourishment. High-calorie sweets make it more challenging to get all of the necessary nutrients without consuming too many calories and grams of sugar.
According to The Dietetic and Diabetic Association, eating excess sugar is the leading cause of degenerative disease. It can also cause anxiety, stomach problems and migraines.
It’s not just obvious culprits like candy and cake. The body turns starchy, carb-heavy foods like pasta, bagels, pretzels and rice into sugar.
Nutrition labels also disguise sugar under many names, including almost any kind of syrup, maltose, dextrose ,concentrates, malts and more. Many recipes or packages boast that the food is “sugar-free” or uses “healthy” unrefined sugars, such as honey or agave. But unrefined sugar is still sugar.
How to Break The Cycle
Sugar addiction isn’t easy to overcome because the body needs sugar in moderation to function. Added sugar is not necessary for a healthy diet, but the body needs natural sugars in foods like fruit or milk. It is a reward for the brain. The crash that follows a sugar rush makes the body crave more sugar to get back the sugar high.
- Quitting cold turkey isn’t a reasonable expectation. Many who choose to go cold turkey cut out all sugars, including natural sugars in nutrient-dense foods, which imbalances their diet. Instead, choose one unhealthy sugary food to forego and replace it with a healthier choice each week. For example, choose baked or dried fruits over desserts like cookies for the first week. Then, sweeten coffee with cinnamon, vanilla extract, unsweetened cocoa powder or milk instead of creamer the following week. Sugar cravings will lessen as the taste buds adapt.
- Eat sweet or starchy foods with nutrient-dense foods. Fruits and dairy also contain sugar, but they are also nutrient-rich. Fiber and protein digest slowly, which slows down the sugar going into the bloodstream and makes a person feel full for longer. Doing so can prevent a sugar high and subsequent crash. Good choices for protein sources include eggs, chicken, nuts or beans. Fruits and vegetables and whole grains contain plenty of fiber.
- Check food labels. Anyone could guess that a cupcake is high in sugar, but some foods fly under the radar. A 16.9-ounce bottle of vitamin water has 23 grams of sugar. Many manufacturers add extra sugar to processed foods to preserve them, even if they are not sweet. Sauces, salad dressings, baked beans, bread and flavored coffee are sneaky culprits. For example, two tablespoons of Kraft Catalina Salad Dressing has 8 grams of sugar. That’s more sugar than a Nature Valley Sweet ‘n’ Salty Granola Bar.
- Aim to drink more water. Don’t go overboard. Over-hydrating can be dangerous, but it is a suitable replacement for juices or sodas that do not quench thirst as well. Also, being thirsty can increase cravings.
- Exercise more. Exercise can create positive feelings and increase self-esteem. Feeling healthy often makes a person want to eat healthy, as well.
- Use spices to make foods more flavorful. The nose is responsible for 80% of taste. Sweet-smelling spices can trick the brain into thinking foods are sweeter than they actually are.
Sugar addiction can lead to many chronic health problems. Reducing sugar intake little by little to reduce withdrawals is the best way to get sugar consumption under control. Some simple replacements and mindfulness about what is in food and why it is being craved can go a long way.
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