How to break your sugar addiction

January 18, 2018 Providence Health Team

You’re doing all the right things. You’re eating well, watching your calories, exercising regularly – but you’re still seeing the numbers on the scale inching up, and you don’t feel as good as you think you should be feeling. What’s going on?

Could it be sugar is bringing you down?

Maybe you aren’t eating gallons of ice cream or munching on cookies all day long, but sugar can creep into your diet in all sorts of ways when you're not paying attention. Even small amounts of sugar in everyday items like cereal, coffee, juice and bread can really add up. So even if you don’t think you have a sweet tooth, and don’t go out of your way to eat desserts and snacks, you could actually have a sugar problem!

A taste for sugar is more entrenched in our diets than most of us realize. The average American consumes more than 126 grams of sugar per day--more sugar than you get from drinking three 12-ounce cans of cola--and more than double the daily intake recommended by the World Health Organization, the Washington Post reports.

Assuming people aren’t spooning the white stuff into their mouths, how and why are people eating so much of it? Extra sugar can go unnoticed in many processed foods, where it is often added to boost flavor. And as more food is being produced with more sweeteners, and served in increasingly large portions, people become more accustomed to a sugary diet. Having snacks and sweet drinks more than once a day is the new normal for many people, but any sugary item can throw your daily recommended calorie intake off the charts. Consider some of these common sugar bombs we consume without really thinking:
1 slice of frozen apple pie – 18 grams or 4 ½ teaspoons
1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream – 21 grams or 5 teaspoons
12-ounce glass non-diet cola – 39 grams or 8 teaspoons
16-ounce cup blended caramel coffee drink – 60 grams or 15 teaspoons
16-ounce glass frozen orange juice – 106 grams or 26 teaspoons

Is any sugar good for you? What about the “natural” sugars in foods like berries?

Naturally occurring sugar – the kind found in fruit, sweet potatoes and milk — is perfectly healthy, and is used by the body to make the energy it needs. In fact, the USDA does not place any limits on naturally-occurring sugars, though some nutritionists say we should limit natural sugars to 14 grams per day. But it’s the added sugars in processed foods that are the main problem. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get no more than 9.5 teaspoons of added sugar per day – but the average American consumes a more than twice as much.

Ways to avoid consuming extra sugar

Don’t drink extra calories. Steer clear of the frozen coffee habit and only drink sodas as an occasional treat. Plain soda water can be made more appealing by adding a squeeze of citrus or infusing melon slices.  

Eat more protein. When you focus on eating more lean meats like salmon and chicken, the craving for desserts tends to melt away. Keep the inner engine stoked with proteins, and you won't get hungry for hours.

Make your own meals. Studies show that making healthy, balanced meals at home turns off the urge to snack later and even teaches the body to crave fewer sweets. Add foods containing fiber to help the body metabolize natural sugars better, for an overall feeling of well-being.

Make your own snacks. Can’t shake the snack habit? Make your own. Healthy nut-and-fruit crumbles, berries, apple slices, even carrot sticks satisfy the sugar urge and are way better for you.

Manage your stress. People often crave sugar when stressed, and sugar feeds stress – so break the vicious cycle by moving around more, reducing caffeine and take up healthy social interactions.

Get enough sleep. Another vicious cycle exists between sugar and sleep: High blood sugar levels can disrupt sleep, and sleepiness can drive people to compensate with high energy (sugary) foods. Make sleep a priority by setting regular hours and removing distractions.

Before beginning any diet plan, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor or registered dietitian. With their help, you can create the good habits that lead to a healthier, longer life...sans unnecessary sugars.

For one good habit to get you started, ditch the high-calorie, artificially-sweetened sodas and quench your thirst with one of our healthy beverage selections.

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