Sugar is the ultimate diet killer. It provides little to no nutritional value with lots of calories. Yikes!
The sweet, toxic, stuff is the leading cause of a host of diseases. The list is terrifying, and includes type II diabetes, obesity, infertility, impotence, depression, tooth decay, and high blood pressure.
You name the disease and there’s a good chance that eating too much sugar makes it worse .
Would you believe roughly 16% of the typical American diet comes from sugar, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?
As a nation, we are simply eating too much of it.
Here Are More Shocking Stats:
Research shows that our diets have historically shifted, from consuming roughly 10 pounds of sugar per person per year in the 1800s to about 150 pounds of sugar per person, per year today.
That’s a lot of sugar!
To put it into perspective: the average American consumes about three pounds of sugar every week, which weighs the same as half a gallon of milk, a box of wine, or a big can of Crisco shortening.
Not Horrified? Here is more: Surveys show that the average American diet includes roughly 30 teaspoons of added sugar every day. This translate to more than 500 calories, or the same as downing two 20-ounce sodas.
So, are you now serious about kicking this nasty habit? Good. Here are the six strategies you need.
My Sugar Addiction
For the longest time, sugar was my drug. As far back as I can remember, I was a comfort eater, and sweet stuff was my biggest weakness. Biscuits, donuts, chocolate bars, sugary breads, muffins. I could never get enough of it!
I knew sugar was bad for me. I was also well aware that I was consuming more than the daily recommended 25 grams.
Still, knowing something is bad for you and doing something about it are two completely different things, right?
If you’re reading this, you probably know that cutting sugar is more easily said than done—and for many reasons.
For starters, sugar is everywhere. The average diet is filled with so much of the stuff.
Not only that, some form of refined sugar is added to virtually every processed food out there. And don’t get me started on how delicious foods with added sugar are.
I thought I could get away with my sugar addiction since I was leading a very active lifestyle—running, weight lifting, yoga, you name it.
I know now that’s no excuse. Being a runner does not give us carte blanche to eat whatever we want. The fact is, you cannot outrun a crappy diet, no matter how fast you are.
Roughly 18 months ago I reached a turning point in my life.
After assessing the medical history of my family (metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease) and learning more about the harmful effects of sugar, I finally pulled myself up by my bootstraps and decided to clean up my diet.
It took 11 months of trying different things (and failing miserably most of the time,) but I finally became what most people would consider sugar-free. I’m proud of my achievement. I still have a cheat day every now and then, but I feel like as long as I’m doing it by choice, I have things under control—and with that feeling comes great power.
If you take anything from my story, take the realization that this whole process does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of patience and strength to make it happen, but long-term, it’s worth the trouble.
Simple Ways to Cut Sugar From Your Diet
What follows are some of the steps (not necessarily in chronological order) that I took to get rid of sugar without going bonkers or feeling deprived.
Eating the way I’m describing today will not only help you kick sugar to the curb, but also help you feel lighter, more energized, and much healthier. That’s a bunch of good things if you ask me.
1. Admit You’re an Addict
The first step toward complete detox is to acknowledge your addiction.
What are you talking about, David?
I hate to break it to you, but here’s the scary truth about the sweet stuff.
If you’re eating a lot of it, sugar not only takes a toll on your waistline and overall health, but recent research has shown that it can also trigger addiction-like symptoms, and that sugar intake stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain as heroin or cocaine.
More specifically, sugar activates the nucleus accumbens, the region of the brain that produces dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter directly associated with pleasure.
One study from Connecticut College assessed how the much-loved Oreo cookie affected rats’ brains and behavior. The scientists found that Oreos could be as addictive as cocaine.
Now I’m not telling you that you should never eat an Oreo. That would just be cruel. But you need to understand that just like quitting hard-core drugs, kicking the sugar habit can result in intense cravings and withdrawal, calling for an actual detox process to wean off.
To determine the seriousness of your addiction, take the Yale Food Addiction Scale test.
The test consists of 25 questions designed to help you determine whether you have a sugar dependency. It also measures high-fat food dependency.
2. Cut Back On Bread
Although it’s the bread and butter of the Western world diet (pun intended), there are many reasons why bread has to go.
Bread—even whole wheat varieties—is loaded with carbohydrates and refined sugar. It’s also mostly low in nutrients and fiber. This is especially true for white bread, which can have dire consequences for your weight and overall health.
Don’t take my word for it. Science also agrees. According to a study out of the University of Navarra in Spain, eating more than three or four slices of white bread a day was linked to a 40 percent higher risk of becoming obese.
For more on why you should ditch white bread, check the following studies:
I know it’s hard to give up on bread completely. Bread is universal. It smells and tastes delicious Who can resist it?
That being said, with just a little bit of motivation and discipline, kicking bread out of your daily menu is not an impossible feat. I’d recommend you start by saying no to sandwiches, avoiding the bread basket at restaurants, or simply limiting your bread intake to just one slice per meal.
If you can’t live without bread, try one of these awesome low-carb bread recipes that are convenient and easy to make. You can also swap out white bread with healthier whole grains options, such as barley, quinoa, brown rice or whole-wheat bread.
3. Go For Low-Carb Snacks
When you’re cutting down on sugar, it’s good to have a few healthy snacks on hand in case you get hungry between meals. This is especially true during the first few weeks of your new regime. Here’s the kicker. Most snacks are full of sugar and unhealthy additives. Chips, crackers, and pretzels are nothing but sugar bombs with little to no nutritional value.
This is why snacking the way we’re used to can actually do more harm than good.
Here’s what I recommend: swap junk snacks for healthy ones. The right snacks are high in healthy fats, lean protein, and fiber but very low in sugar, grains, and carbs. They leave you feeling full, which helps you consume less of your upcoming meal and throughout the day.
Here are a few of my favorites
- Non-starchy veggies
4. No Sugary Drinks
If you want to eat less sugar, boycotting sugar-sweetened drinks is one of the first things you should do. It was my first step, and it had a big impact on the rest of my diet.
Sugary drinks are bad for you for a slew of reasons. They pack lots of added sugar, which (I hate to sound like a broken record, but here I go again) increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and weight gain when consumed in excess.
Not convinced? Check out this research. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found a strong link between soda consumption and an increased risk for diabetes, heart diseases, obesity, and other health ailments.
Here are more studies:
Just like sugar in general, we’re guzzling too much of it. According to the National Institute of Health, soda is the third largest source of calorie intake in the typical American diet. And the Center For Science in the Public Interest has revealed that sweet beverages make up almost half of the added sugar in the average American’s diet.
You can’t get away with limiting yourself to a can a day. A 12-ounce can (355ml) can packs in between 30 and 50 grams of sugar, which is more than a day’s worth.
Want even more perspective? One can of soda is the equivalent of:
- One cup of ice cream
- Four Tim Tams
- Three English muffins
- Four large peaches
This is why you need to remove carbonated drinks from your life. Instead, keep your taste buds happy with water with fresh fruit, black coffee, or unsweetened tea.
5. Stop Drinking Fruit Juice
One of the biggest diet myths is that fruit juices are healthy. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Although they do pack in some nutrients and minerals, fruit juices are nothing but glorified junk food.
I’d go as far as to say they have no redeeming qualities. You’re simply extracting the sugar and the water from the fruit and tossing away the healthy fiber. The truth is that fruit juices aren’t much different from regular Coke.
One cup of apple juice contains roughly 29 grams of sugar, and a cup of grape juice has 35 grams. That’s not far from what you’ll find in a 12-ounce can of Coke, which racks up 39 grams of sugar. You might as well be guzzling Coca Cola!
Go for water instead. It’s calorie-free and good for you!
You can also add flavor to your water by tossing in a slice of lemon or orange. Or better yet, enjoy a piece of whole fruit that still has its nutrient and fiber intact.
6. Use Sweeteners Instead of Sugar
Get this: One tablespoon of white sugar packs in 12 grams of carbs in the form of sucrose, which is 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose. That’s a lot of sugar.
Here’s the good news. There are a few sugar-free sweeteners on the market that may even boast a few health benefits. Some of these options are calorie free while others that are not likely to boost your sugar intake contain only a few calories.
Some of the highly recommended brands include:
Stevia. This is a very popular low-calorie sweetener. Extracted from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant, Stevia has almost no calories. It has also been found to help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure in people with diabetes.
Xylitol. This one is a sugar alcohol derived from birch bark that also occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Xylitol has 2.4 calories per gram, or roughly two thirds of the caloric value of table sugar, but packs in 100 percent of the sweetness.
Erythritol. Another sugar alcohol found in some fruits, erythritol has 0.24 calories per gram, or roughly 6 percent of the caloric value of table sugar, with 70 percent of the sweetness.
These sugar alternatives are not for everyone, but if you’re willing to give them a chance—like I did—they will help on your sugar-free journey.
7. Focus on Non-Starchy Vegetables
I love vegetables—and for all the right reasons.
Vegetables are an ideal source of nutrients and fiber. They’re also rich in phytochemicals (plant compounds), many of which stimulate the immune system, slow the growth rate of cancer cells, reduce inflammation, etc.
That said, when I got serious about getting rid of sugar—especially once I started doing the keto diet—I realized that some veggies contain more sugar than others.
When choosing veggies, avoid starchy ones like carrots, peas, beets, sweet potatoes, corn, lima beans. These have drastically higher sugar content, which means that eating them can quickly take you to your maximum daily sugar intake—and you don’t want that.
Instead, opt for low-carb, non-starchy vegetables. The following are among the best:
- Brussel sprouts
- Baby corn
- Bamboo shoots
- Salad greens
- Swiss chard
You have plenty of options. Who says eating low carb is a hassle?
8. Eat Low Carb Dairy
As someone who’s been on the keto diet for quite a while, I’m very familiar with the benefits that eating low carb dairy has on both fitness and health.
Dairy products are filling and can be very healthy. Good sources help reduce appetite, promote satiety, cut the risks of heart disease, and more.
Not only that, most dairy products are rich in magnesium, calcium, and other vital minerals.
Dairy is also a good source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of naturally occurring fatty acids that several studies have shown to promote health.
But not all dairy is created equal. Some products, such as frozen yogurt, fruit-flavored yogurt, and puddings are bad options on a low carb diet. They’re typically laden with carbs, sugar, and a slew of other additives. But that’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. You have to choose dairy foods that have less sugar added in.
Make sure you’re eating full-fat foods. Low-fat products such as yogurt, shakes, and smoothies contain more sugar than their full-fat counterparts.
9. Plan your Meals
The best way to build healthier eating habits is to plan out your meals. Knowing what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat in advance frees up a lot of mental energy and makes it more likely that you stay on the right path. Failing to plan is, after all, planning to fail.
Having a plan is especially helpful during hectic days—when you’re more likely to grab convenient or take-out foods, which tends to be high in calories, sugars, and fat.
Each week, preferably on a Sunday, sit down plan out what you’ll have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of the week, then use that list to guide your shopping trips and food decisions.
10. Get Enough Sleep
For many, hunger pangs strike the hardest after a terrible night’s sleep. Have a few bad nights in a row and things get even worse.
A good night’s sleep can help eliminate cravings for sugary foods, and this isn’t just my subjective observation. Science has found an undeniable link between sleep deprivation and unhealthy food cravings.
British researchers found when subjects increased their nightly sleep, they experienced fewer cravings. Remarkably, they reduced their intake by up to 10 grams the day after a good night’s sleep.
So, why does sleep deprivation lead to sugar cravings?
The prevailing theory says: lack of sleep affects your hormones. It decreases the hormones that suppress your appetite while increasing the hormones that make you hungry.
In short, the fewer hours you spend under the sheets asleep, the hungrier you’ll feel.
Try to get at least seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every night by incorporating the following changes into your lifestyle:
- Sleep in a completely dark room to increase the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin— it’s key for a more restful night.
- Avoid screens in the hours before going to bed, and late at night.I know, I know — it’s such a hard to thing to do, but it’s worth it.
- Go to bed roughly the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Cultivate a meditation practice before sleep to help wind you down before you doze off.
11. Practice Out of Sight Out of Mind
Here’s something you can’t argue with: if your pantry and fridge are full of sweet indulgences, you’re probably going to indulge.
It’s as simple as that.
I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to go looking for a treat if I know I have a chocolate bar or a bag of cookies nearby.
Go through your cupboards, fridge, and freezer and get rid of as much temptation as possible. Lose all the chocolate cookies, the soda, the organic chocolate, the Pop Tarts and Halloween candy and any other sugar-rich items. Leave nothing to chance. Be ruthless.
In brief, declare your living premises a junk-food-free area.
This is how you set your environment up for success. Even if you can’t control every environment you’re in, at least you can control the certain ones—starting with your own kitchen.
12. Eat Your Protein
The major dietary change that helped me the most while cracking down on sugar (as well as with the cravings) was simply adding more protein to my diet. By doing so I was able to feel satisfied longer and keep temptation at bay.
Protein is good for you for many reasons. It triggers the releases of the fullness hormone PYY, which helps you reduce hunger and keep you sated longer. Protein also hinders the releases of the hunger hormone ghrelin and boosts your metabolic rate.
I could go on and on about the importance of protein, but you can check my full post here.
I encourage you to add more protein to your meals and snacks—especially your breakfast. With a protein-rich breakfast—think omelet or bacon—you’ll be less likely to reach for your favorite junk food between your main meals.
Here are some of the best high-quality protein sources:
- Greek yogurt
13. Read The Labels
Once I got serious about cutting down on sugar, I did a lot of research.
I taught myself how to properly read and interpret ingredient labels, and learned about the technical jargon that just means sugar. It was an eye-opening experience.
I did my best to crack down on products that had too much sugar in them (think juice, soda, candy, sauce, crackers, desserts, condiments).
The whole process didn’t happen overnight, but it was surely worth the headache, and it will be for you too.
Here’s my promise. Once you learn this simple skill, you’ll quickly realize just how much sugar is in just about everything.
Here’s what you need to know: sugar goes by many names. Here are just a few:
- Fructose corn syrup
- Dried cane syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Maple syrup
- Organic cane sugar
- Fruit juice concentrate
- And other words ending in “ose”
If more than a few forms of sugar appear on an ingredient list, ditch that food on the spot—it’s far less healthy than you want it to be.
14. Drink Water
Water has a lot to offer. It flushes toxins out of your system, hydrates your skin, gives you more energy, and ensures proper functioning at the cellular level.
On top of all that, here’s the kicker for kicking the sweetness habit: staying well hydrated also curbs sugar cravings.
Thirst is frequently confused with hunger. Some times all it takes is drinking a glass of water to squash cravings.
For some people (including yours truly), drinking water eliminates 80 percent of cravings. That’s a good thing if you ask me.
Before you hit the vending machine or reach for that box of doughnuts, drink a glass or two of water, then wait a few moments. You may find that your body was actually calling for water—not food — and the pesky pangs go away.
To ensure your body is well hydrated throughout the day, drink first thing in the morning, carry a water bottle with you, and drink plenty before and after exercise.
Further, keep tabs on your pee color. If it’s dark it means that you need more fluids. Remember, once you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Then it’s too late, isn’t it?
15. Go Keto
I’ve always shied away from extreme diets or eating regimens. Nonetheless, the simplicity and the effectiveness of the ketogenic diet appealed to me, so roughly nine months ago I decided to give it a try.
I avoided carbs and started consuming all sorts of healthy fats—cheese, avocados, nuts, salmon, you name it. After surviving the hellish keto flu and within two months, I lost 10 pounds of pure fat, increased my energy level, and my whole approach to eating had changed. What’s not to like?
What’s keto eating all about?
The ketogenic diet is a carb-limiting, moderate-protein, high-fat eating style. By shunning carbs and getting 70 to 80 percent of your daily calories from healthy fats, this type of eating forces your body into ketosis. This is a metabolic state in which the body switches to burning fat cells as its main source of energy instead of glycogen.
For the full guide on the keto diet, check my post here.
If making small changes to your diet doesn’t help you crack down on sugar, I recommend that you try the keto diet for a couple of weeks. Yes, it’s going to be something entirely new, but give it a try and see for yourself.
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Consuming less sugar can be relatively easy if you have the right tools and enough motivation.
To get started, please take action on the guidelines shared here. Otherwise sugar will remain a constant in your life, and you don’t want that.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.
Keep eating healthy and running strong.