The impact of dietary sugar intake is hot in the news right now, especially with release of the documentary movie “Fed Up”. This is such an important issue, that I wanted to jump in with some tips and advice on breaking your sugar habit. If you are interested in learning more, I would highly recommend watching the movie. You can see the trailer here.
High intake of sugar has been linked to many chronic illnesses, diabetes and obesity of course, but also heart disease, digestive upset, migraines, depression and osteoporosis to name a few. The difficulty is that sugar is added to almost everything in a package – just try to find a breakfast cereal without any added sugar! We have become accustomed to a sweet taste of everything – pasta sauce, crackers, breads, cereal, yogurt, etc. and in many cases are not aware of how much sugar is added.
The other issue related to sugar intake that I address very frequently is intestinal yeast overgrowth or candida. What this means it that the balance of intestinal organisms is out of balance with too much yeast present. This is caused most commonly by too much antibiotic use (even if it was in early childhood), but also by the use of birth control pills and a high sugar diet. When there is too much yeast, common symptoms include: bloating and gassiness, irritable bowel syndrome, intense sugar cravings, vaginal yeast infections, fungal skin rashes, and it can also affect mood, memory and cause brain fog. One of the biggest steps to re-balance intestinal flora is to cut sugar out of your diet.
Tips to Break the Sugar Habit
Since most of us are mildly addicted to sugar, due to daily intake, even in healthy foods, you can expect some cravings and even withdrawal during the first week. The good news is that the cravings will be substantially reduced by week two, and you will find that your appetite changes accordingly – you will be eating because you’re actually hungry, not craving foods. Here are some simple tips to make support your sugar-free challenge:
- Remove sweets from your home – this includes all cookies, cakes, chocolates, ice creams, candies. If you’re not surrounded by sugar, it will be much easier to resist.
- Get your co-workers on board at the office. Do a group challenge, or at the very least bring in healthier snacks for everyone. Sweets at work are the biggest downfall for many of my patients.
- Eat regularly to keep your blood sugar stable. This means bringing healthy snacks to work, and planning ahead. Sugar cravings are more intense when your blood sugar is low.
- Have protein for breakfast. Protein in the morning will sustain your energy better, and reduce cravings for the whole day. Protein can come from a protein smoothie, eggs or yogurt if you are not intolerant to dairy.
- Increase your sleep hours. We tend to crave more sugar and make poor decisions about our food with less sleep. Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep per night to keep your cravings in check.
- Pack your snacks. Sugar-free snacks are not easy to find, especially at coffee and tea shops. Some snack ideas include: fruit, veggies with hummus, nut butter on a rice cake, nuts and seeds, plain yogurt with cinnamon and berries, hard boiled egg, chickpea salad, 1/2 avocado with lemon juice, celery sticks with nut butter, seaweed snacks, baked apples with cinnamon,…
- Avoid fat-free products. Most fat-free products have a tremendous amount of sugar in them! Healthy fats are also essential for stable blood sugar levels, and will help you to feel full for longer. Include healthy fats in your diet such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
- Add some self-care during this time, especially the first week. Be gentle with yourself in other ways, while you are cutting out the sugar. Plan a massage, meet friends for tea, get outside in the sunshine, take a nap if you need one or go the spa.
Your 30 Day Sugar-Free Challenge
For 30 days, your goal is to avoid all sugar in foods, drinks and condiments. This will mean lots of label-reading, and it is extremely eye-opening to see how many places sugar is hidden.
Here is an extensive list of what to look for on ingredient lists. During this challenge I would recommend eliminating all natural sweeteners from your diet also.
- Sugar, brown sugar, turbinado sugar
- Cane juice, evaporated cane juice
- Honey, maple syrup, agave syrup
- Barley malt, malt
- Corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup
- Date sugar
- Grape juice concentrate
What to do when you crave sugar
If your cravings are very intense and distracting, here are some tips to help you deal with them. Remember that most of us are mildly addicted to sugar, and that this is not easy for everyone. The tips below will help you to get through the challenging days.
- Drink lots of water, especially water with lemon or lime. Your body may be detoxing, and staying hydrated will help with cravings.
- Have a piece of fruit instead – especially low-glycemic fruits such as berries, apples and pears.
- When you crave sugar, breathe fully and deeply. Cravings of any type will pass within 5 minutes, whether you indulge of now.
- Distract yourself. If possible get outside into the fresh air and go for a walk. Otherwise, call a friend for support, take a nap, start a project at home (crafts, cleaning, puzzles), or anything else to get your mind off food.
- If cravings are distracting and intense, try L-glutamine powder as needed for cravings. Take 1000-2000 mg up to 4x per day as needed.
I hope you join me in this challenge! Reply to this email on your start date, and “SUGAR FREE CHALLENGE” in the subject line to enter a draw for your choice of healthy cookbook – “Nourishing Meals” by Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre, or “Delicious Detox” by Carol Zawada.