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6 Tips to Break Your Sugar Addiction

There’s no denying that the United States has an addiction to sugar. The average American eats from a quarter to a half pound of sugar per day (DiNicolantonio & Lucan, 2014), vastly exceeding the 100 calories (6 teaspoons) for women or the 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men recommended by the American Heart Association (2015). Unfortunately, that sugar addiction can be tough to break. Our bodies evolved to prize the taste of sugary foods, given the scarce calories available in the evolutionary world. Today, however, it takes a concerted effort to cut back on sugar and rein your intake back to recommended levels.

1. Check All Food Labels -- You’ll Be Surprised What Foods are Full of Sugar

The most important recommendation when breaking your sugar addiction is to check every single food label you see. Sugar lurks in the most surprising places. Sugar is found under the “Total Carbohydrate” section of a food label. The American Heart Association recommendations are 25 grams per day for women and 37.5 grams for men, so keep a running tally throughout your day.

Of course, candy, baked goods, ice cream, and soft drinks tend to be full of sugar. However, other sugar bombs are more surprising. Barbecue sauce, breakfast cereals, ketchup, yogurt, Chinese takeout, pasta sauce, and granola bars are common sources of added sugar (Oaklander, 2015).

2. Know the Other Names for Sugar

Would sugar by any other name taste as sweet? It’s not difficult to find out, as many processed foods contain sugar that hides behind another alias. When checking ingredients lists, keep an eye out for the following alternative sugar names:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Corn sweetener
  • Invert sugar
  • Molasses
  • Honey
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Malt sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Maltose
  • Syrup
  • Brown rice syrup

Once you recognize the alternative names for sugar, you can work to eliminate sugary foods from your diet.

3. Use Sugar Substitutes

Glucose is the type of sugar that causes our blood sugar to spike and increases risk of type 2 diabetes (American Heart Association, 2015). Sugar substitutes taste sweet but often have zero calories and less of an impact on blood sugar. Consider swapping sugar for artificial sweeteners to harness their benefits. For example, stevia is 150 times sweeter than sugar but has zero calories (Mayo Clinic, 2015). Acesulfame potassium (e.g., Sweet One), aspartame (e.g., Equal), tagatose (e.g., Naturlose), neotame, and saccharin (e.g., Sweet’N Low) are all artificial sweeteners that may prevent you from overindulging on added sugars.

4. Limit Yourself to a Small Serving of a Sweet Snack

There is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying a sweet snack, but our portion sizes often exceed the recommended daily sugar intake. So next time you’re craving something sweet, portion it out ahead of time. Cutting a tiny sliver of cake, restricting yourself to one Girl Scout cookie, or following the recommended quarter-cup serving of ice cream are good ways to keep your sugar intake within reasonable limits.

5. Pay Attention to Beverages

When trying to cut back on sugar, sweet desserts and foods are the obvious culprits. However, beverages contain a surprising amount of sugar. Most people know that soda contains a large amount of added sugars, but fruit punch, lemonade, and energy drinks can also pack a sugary punch (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2014). In fact, a typical 20-ounce flavored water can contain a whopping 31 grams of sugar, more than the entire recommended daily intake for a woman!

Instead of sugary beverages, stick to plain water whenever possible. Adding a lemon wedge, lime slices, or sliced melon can flavor your water without adding extra calories and sugar. Also remember that the natural sugars in milk do not count toward your daily total of added sugar (American Heart Association, 2015), and milk contains protein that could keep you satiated.

6. Add Protein and Healthy Fats

Eating sugary foods causes your blood to become loaded with simple carbohydrates, triggering a spike in blood sugar and subsequent crash that can leave you craving more carbs (Migala, 2016). Stop this cycle by loading up on protein and healthy fats, which prevent sudden swings in blood sugar. A handful of nuts, a few slices of cheese, sunflower seeds, or an avocado spread over whole-wheat toast can each make an excellent snack to help diminish your cravings for sugar.

Healthy Recipes to Reduce Sugar Intake

Eating right can still be sweet with the right recipes. You can find more healthy recipes and snacks in our article on sugar substitutes, but the list below is certainly a sweet start!

Quinoa Pancakes

Quinoa Pancakes Recipe

These palatable pancakes provide protein in a flavorful flapjack for a fantastic way to start your day. Each serving of the cakes contains less than 8 grams of sugar. To lower this, you can also opt to substitute the maple syrup for one that is sugar-free.
Ingredients: Quinoa, whole wheat pastry flour (or brown rice flour for gluten-free cakes), eggs, milk, maple syrup or honey, raw pecans, baking powder, vanilla extract, salt.
Total Time: 15 minutes | Yield: 7 pancakes

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad {gluten-free}

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad Recipe {gluten-free}

A super lunch to fill you up while providing the nutrients your body needs, this scrumptious salad is a spin on the classic Mediterranean dish. Seasoned with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the dish contains less than 2 grams of sugar per serving!
Ingredients: Quinoa, cherry tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh parsley, fresh mint, black pepper, salt.
Total Time: 40 minutes | Yield: 4 servings

Farro Risotto with Mushrooms

Farro Risotto with Mushrooms Recipe

This scrumptious supper supplies a hearty meal that is ideal for those that need enduring energy to get them through the next day’s festivities. A single serving of this dish also contains a mere 2.3 grams of sugar!
Ingredients: Organic pearled farro, sliced mushrooms, garlic cloves, extra virgin olive oil, frozen peas, salt, fresh basil, parmesan cheese, hot water.
Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes | Yield: 6 servings

Spirulina Ice Cream {gluten-free}

Spirulina Ice Cream Recipe {gluten-free}

As far as sweets go, finding a dessert that doesn’t dish out sugars in excess can be desperately difficult. That’s why the sugar content of 1.5 grams per serving for this spirulina ice cream is music to our ears. Try this scrumptious recipe today!
Ingredients: Full fat coconut milk, agave syrup, spirulina, cacao nibs.
Total Time: 10 minutes | Yield: 4 servings

Sweet Snacks for Restricting Sugars

The following snacks have been selected due to their innovative use of sugar substitutes or their composition that is naturally balanced to include a reserved amount of sugars. Enjoy the foods below and all they have to offer, and get your snacks today!

References

American Heart Association. (2015). Added sugars. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Added-Sugars_UCM_305858_Article.jsp

DiNicolantonio, J.J. & Lucandec, S.C. (2014). Sugar season. It's everywhere, and addictive. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/23/opinion/sugar-season-its-everywhere-and-addictive.html

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2014). Sugary drinks. Retrieved from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/sugary-drinks/

Mayo Clinic (2015). Artificial sweeteners. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936

Migala, J. (2016). How to cut down on sugar. Health. Retrieved from http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20809521,00.html

Oaklander, M. (2015). 10 hidden sugar bombs. Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/10-hidden-sugar-bombs