8 Tips For Kicking Sugar Addictions To The Curb

April 6, 2018

By Anna Varriano

There is no question that sugar is addictive – and the food industry knows it. That’s why it’s in so many prepared foods, often in surprising amounts, including in yogurts and granola bars that are often touted as health foods, low-fat foods, marinades and BBQ sauces, tomato and spaghetti sauces, ketchup, and salad dressings to name but a few.

Why should you care? Because sugar is linked to numerous health conditions that are growing by leaps and bounds, even among children. To learn more about this, I invite you to read my February 2018 Tip of the Month entitled: “Does Sugar Cause Cancer?”

Foods high in sugar release a reward or pleasure seeking neurotransmitter (chemicals that affect our brain and nerves) called dopamine. Dopamine is involved in many positive behaviours; however, it is also involved in addictive behaviours such as gambling and substance abuse.

Consuming a lot of sugar/sugary foods, desensitizes dopamine receptors, which means that the body gets used to eating a lot of sugar and will crave more of it to get the same ‘sugar high’.

Breaking a sugar habit is no joke. When someone tries to ‘stop’ sugar, they can experience some pretty nasty withdrawal symptoms including migraine headaches and digestive upset such as bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and/or constipation. They can also experience extreme fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, and depression.

I know of some individuals who have successfully kicked their sugar habit by going cold turkey. Sometimes that is the best approach, although also likely the one that will give you the most withdrawal symptoms.

‘Quitting’ sugar doesn’t mean you can NEVER have anything with sugar in it ever again; however, when you successfully slay the sugar monster, you won’t constantly crave sugar. Interestingly, when you do have that sugary treat, it may just turn you off as it will seem sickeningly sweet. You may even have symptoms similar to those associated with sugar withdrawal.

So, while everyone is different, here are 8 things that you can do to tame your sugar monster.

1. Get It Out Of The House

Go through your kitchen (and anywhere else you have sugar or sugary treats stashed), and get it out of there – or better yet, out of the house! There’s the obvious stuff like sugar, corn syrup, soft drinks, cookies, breakfast cereals, and chocolate bars. Then there’s the not so obvious stuff that you might even consider to be ‘healthy’, such as instant oatmeal packs, flavoured yogurts, and granola bars. Read the labels on EVERYTHING and remember that 4 grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon of sugar. Get the sugary stuff out of the house, and don’t bring any in. If that package of Oreo cookies isn’t in the pantry at that moment when you’re craving them, but a health alternative is, chances are the healthy alternative will win out over the inconvenience of having to drop everything to make an Oreo run. So what do I mean by healthy alternatives? Read on!

2. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth With Healthy Alternatives

It’s likely that you are going to have sugar cravings; in fact, cravings are a sign of withdrawal. If you can’t power through the cravings, then it’s important that you have healthy alternatives on hand. If you just have to have a fizzy sweet drink, you can find alternatives that don’t have as much sugar, or you can make your own. Try some soda water with fresh squeezed lemon and lime and a splash of maple syrup, honey, or a tiny bit of stevia. If you just have to have that cookie or granola bar, go to a health food store and read labels until you find one that is low in sugar, or make your own. Try my Power-Packed Cookies, or No-Bake Yummy Snack Bars,  or my No-Bake Date/Nut/Coconut/Chocolate Balls .

If none of those appeal to you, then do a Google search of your favourite treat preceded by the word ‘paleo’; for example: ‘paleo chocolate chip cookies’.

In terms of sweeteners for baking or beverages, consider raw honey (local is best), coconut sugar (more nutrients and lower glycemic index than regular sugar), pure stevia, pure maple syrup, xylitol, and dates (a single PITTED date added to a smoothie offers a nice touch of sweetness) or date sugar.

3. Avoid Zero- or Low-Fat Versions of Foods

When food manufacturers remove fat from a food (think 0% fat yogurt or low/no fat cookies), they typically have to add something else to make up for the lack of taste and mouthfeel associated with the fat. That something is often sugar. In fact, eating fat with sugary or starchy foods helps to slow down the rate at which the sugar is absorbed into the blood stream.

Eating low fat foods can increase your craving for sugar. Healthy fats are a sugar monster’s worst nightmare! A high quality coconut oil is a great addition to the diet if you’re trying to kick a sugar habit. That’s because the medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) it contains are a great alternative to glucose as an energy source for our cells, in particular our brain cells. In fact, one of my favourite ways to calm a sugar craving is to take 4 or 5 Mary’s Crackers (or other gluten-free/wheat free cracker), spread a generous amount of coconut oil on each one, and then sprinkle a bit of unprocessed sea salt on top. This satisfies my sweet/salty cravings as my cells and adrenal glands appreciate the MCTs in the coconut oil and 60+ trace minerals contained in the unrefined salt!

4. Buy Real Food!

Sugar cravings are often a sign that the body isn’t getting enough healthy fats, minerals, vitamins (especially B-vitamins which are so easily destroyed in food processing), and fibre. Eating whole foods that contain healthy fats, fibre, and loads of other health-boosting nutrients is satiating and also slows down the speed that glucose enters your bloodstream, preventing roller coaster blood sugar highs followed by roller coaster blood sugar lows (that make you crave sugar to get to them high again!). An added bonus related to buying real food is that you won’t have to worry about deciphering sneaky food labels when the food you buy doesn’t come with a food label!

5. Avoid Artificial Sweeteners

If I ever had a craving for a soft drink (which I NEVER do, even though we used to drink glasses of pop with dinner as kids), I would hands down go for a regular soft drink instead of a diet one. There are many studies now that show that consuming artificial sweeteners actually makes us crave sugar! While artificial sweeteners may trick our taste buds, they don’t satisfy our cells’ cravings for sugar. In fact, artificial sweeteners can interfere with a hormone called leptin, which plays a critical role in appetite regulation (e.g. it tells us to stop eating when we feel we are getting full).

6. Drink More Water

We often crave sugar because our cells are ‘sluggish’ – that is, we feel tired. Our cells can also feel ‘sluggish’ if we don’t drink enough water – and the fact is, most of us don’t. Before reaching for that sugary snack, try drinking a glass of water and wait for 10 or 15 minutes. You may find that it helps diminish or eliminate your craving. Drinking just a couple more glasses of water a day can make a huge difference in so many aspects of our health.

7. Take Supplements That Help Balance Blood Sugar

Blood sugar imbalance and sugar cravings go hand-in-hand. There are many nutrients that can help balance blood sugar, including B-vitamins, magnesium (chocolate cravings may be a sign of a magnesium deficiency), probiotics, omega-3 fish or krill oil, and vitamin D. Not all supplements are created equal, so make sure that you consult a nutritionist (like yours truly) to ensure that the supplements you are taking are going to make a difference.

8. Follow Your Gut

We can crave sugar because our cells are starving for energy, even if we feel we are eating pretty well. Why are they starving? It could be because they’re not getting the energy-creating nutrients they need from the food we’re eating because of insufficiencies with our body’s ability to digest foods and absorb nutrients. This opens another can of worms, and interestingly, one of the top 3 reasons that clients come to see me is to address digestive issues.

The next time your sugar monster is whispering sweet nothings into your ear, I hope you’ll remember some of the suggestions in this blog. Cold turkey or baby steps? What do you think you can do? The important thing is to just start somewhere, give yourself credit for every step you take in the right direction, and if you cave to a craving here and there, don’t stress it. Show the sugar monster who’s boss and keep moving forward to a healthier, more vibrant you.


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