Sugar is found in many food and beverages, even in some you might not expect. From sodas to coffee drinks to pastries and dairy products, you can find sugar in almost anything. Many people don’t even realize the amount of sugar they consume on a daily basis and overindulge without knowing it. While plenty of us can readily admit to having a sweet tooth, few would say they are addicted to sugar; yet, studies show that sugar has addictive properties.
Recent research sheds light on sugar addiction with compelling evidence on how it activates the brain’s reward system in a way similar to hardcore drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine. As you consume a sugary treat, your brain releases endorphins and dopamine in response to the pleasure you experience. This is the same chemical circuit activated by other pleasurable activities. The “high” soon wears off, though, as the blood sugar spike plummets and you are left feeling tired and hungry once more. Without even realizing it, you begin to crave that same reward again and again, and thus, an addiction is born.
You may be addicted to sugar if you eat sugary foods to:
- Combat boredom or negative emotions
- Satisfy constant cravings
- Wake up in the morning
- Complete every meal
- Avoid experiencing withdrawal
How to Cut Back on Sugar
If you eat too much sugar, you’re not alone. The typical American diet is made up of 17% added sugar, yet the USDA recommends limiting calories from added sugar to less than 10% per day. But how do you cut back when sugar-laden foods and beverages are everywhere?
Some of the ways you can limit sugar include:
- Cut back on sugary drinks: Sugar is a staple in many beverages, and you should be getting the vast majority of your calories from food rather than liquids. Drink sugar-free beverages, and no, we don’t mean diet soda! Try sparkling water with a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon for a soda alternative, or flavor your water with cucumber and mint. Herbal or fruit teas have a hint of sweetness, but no sugar, and try unsweetened black tea or coffee to perk up in the morning.
- Avoid desserts: Those after-dinner treats have little if any nutritional value. If you’re still craving something sweet, try foods with naturally occurring sugars, such as fresh fruit. Although fruit also contains sugar, it’s full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals that you won’t find in a pint of ice cream. Greek yogurt with a dash of cinnamon is also rich in calcium, protein, probiotics, and vitamins. Another food to try when you’re craving sugar is a small piece of dark chocolate with high cocoa content.
- Limit sugary sauces: Ketchup, barbecue sauce and sweet chili sauce all contain loads of added sugar. Instead, flavor your food with herbs and spices, fresh chili, yellow mustard, vinegar, or pesto. If you do grab that can of premade marinara sauce, check the label for the sugar content.
- Remember that “low fat” does not mean low sugar: Many mistakenly think their favorite food is healthier if it is a lower fat version, but this is not always the case. In fact, low fat foods often contain added sugar to make up for a loss of flavor. If you do choose low-fat foods, make sure to check for the sugar content on the food label, and compare it to the “full fat” version.
- Eat whole foods: “Whole” means unprocessed or refined. The opposite of whole foods are ultra-processed foods, like those prepackaged microwaveable meals loaded with sugar, which can extend shelf life and add flavor. By contrast, whole foods are free of added sugar and other common additives. Cook from scratch, and you’ll be much more aware of the sugar you’re adding to your meals.
Want to lose weight? Contact us at Soza Weight Loss at (504) 475-9817 to learn more about healthy eating.