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One of the most common questions I receive via email is about sugar addiction. Actually, let me take that back. It's rare that someone emails specifically about "sugar addiction." The wolf is cloaked in sheep's clothing, if you will. The emails go something like, "why can't I resist cupcakes?" or "I try really hard but can't stop eating cookies at night. Why don't I have willpower?" or "I have such a bad sweet tooth."
I think a large part of the problem is many of us aren't aware how addictive sugar is and that many of us are hooked.
We only see that we can't resist chocolate cake, or cookies, or hard candy. That's an isolated view. We're not seeing the big picture. Because we love and can't resist cookies, we think it's just the cookies. The cookies are not the problem. Our weakness is cookies but in reality, it's probably sugar. The cookie is just our favorite form of it.
Another huge part of the problem is that sugar is in everything. I picked up a can of corn the other day. I don't normally buy canned corn, but it was on sale so I took a look. I actually wanted to see what the sodium looked like and after a quick scan of the label I gasped. Canned corn (not creamed corn — regular corn) had sugar added. WHAT?!
So here we have this addictive substance and, to make matters worse, it's in everything. Yikes! No wonder we're all struggling with our sweet tooth.
Why is sugar addictive? According to Dr. Oz, "When you eat sugar, it stimulates the release of dopamine in your brain, which makes you feel pleasure. The brain recognizes and likes this feeling and begins to crave more. It may startle you to learn that heroin, morphine and sugar all stimulate the same receptors in your brain." (Source) In lab studies, rats that binged on sugar had brain changes like those of getting off drugs! (Source).
How to kick the sugar habit:
Many of my clients, once they've completed the 3-Day Reboot, come back to me saying they realized they were addicted to sugar.
In fact, Allie shared her experience bravely on her blog, Lotus Loving. Allie wrote, "My thoughts after the Happy Herbivore Reboot: I normally eat WAY too much sugar (cookies, chocolate covered raisins, candy bars, WHATEVER I CAN GET MY HANDS ON). This cleanse has really opened my eyes — sugar is truly an addicting substance."
It's amazing how fast my clients realize they have an addiction to sugar, even if it's minor. Many will come back saying they didn't think they were sugar addicts because they weren't scarfing down hard candy, etc. etc. but then a headache kicks in during Day 2 or 3, along with strong cravings for sugary foods and they realize they were hooked at some level.
Anyway, a detox (my 3-Day Reboot or the 10-day Cleanse & Immersion) is a great way to break the cycle and get off sugar, but you don't have to do my programs. You can go on a "sugar fast" and just avoid sugar (and all the sneaky places it might hide) for a few days.
What to avoid: fast food, restaurant food, processed food, most condiments, gum and candy, desserts (i.e., those cookies!), sweetened drinks (i.e., use unsweetened almond milk), soda, coffee (drink it black if you must have it), fruit juice, sugar in all its forms (i.e., honey, cane sugar, HFCS, maple syrup), artificial sweeteners (including xylitol and stevia), alcohol, chocolate, baked goods, and "snacks" like granola bars or cereal — they tend to contain sugar.
Also look out for hidden sugars, such as sugar in the canned corn I wasn't expecting. Yogurts (including vegan yogurts) are sweetened, ketchup, dressings, applesauce (some brands have sugar added), canned fruits, even dried fruit might have added fruit juice or sugar to it. You'll need to scrupulously check labels.
2. Retrain your taste buds.
In addition to the magical chain reaction in your brain, your tongue loves the sweetness of sugar too. Over time, you can train your taste buds to enjoy things that aren't as sweet. After a period of time away from sugar, you'll be surprised how sickly sweet "sweets" taste.
If you can't go completely off sugar or a detox program doesn't work for you (some people need to ease away and transition off slowly — we're all different), try making small changes. For example, if you currently put 1 tsp of sugar in your coffee, try reducing to 3/4 or 1/2 tsp if you can. If you have three cookies after dinner, cut back to two. When your bottle of ketchup runs out, replace it with a natural ketchup or an unsweetened ketchup. Keep chipping away and reducing the amount of sweetness in your diet. Over time, your tastes will adapt.
3. Sweet Swaps — Use Fruit Instead.
Use fruit instead of sugar. For example, on the meal plans, we frequently sweeten oatmeal with (unsweetened) applesauce instead of sugar. Or instead of applesauce, we'll add sweet fresh fruits like banana slices or berries. Still a sweet taste, but much healthier — and more filling, too! More bulk, less calories.
If you must use sugar on a food (i.e., oatmeal) sprinkle it on the top — don't mix it in.
I also can't recommend frozen fruit to my clients enough. Slowly nibble on a frozen banana or frozen peach slices to get that sweetness you crave after dinner. You can also make banana ice cream.
You can also add lemon zest or vanilla extract for added sweetness. I also like cardamom.
4. Another Sweet Swap — Use Sweet Potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are deliciously sweet (and filling!). Roasting them in the oven makes them even sweeter. A "treat" I love is a cooked sweet potato with cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice. You can also make sweet potato ice cream!
Corn and carrots are also sweet tasting vegetables, so nibble on baby carrots and try having corn on the cob as a snack or treat.
If you're like most people in the U.S., you eat 19 teaspoons or more of added sugar a day. That adds up to 285 calories, which health experts say is way too much. How much sugar should you be eating? No more than six teaspoons daily for women.That's 100 calories. Men should get a max of nine teaspoons. That's 150 calories.
5. Keep Health Within Reach.
Keep healthy choices within reach. This is why I always advocate the meal plans. You prepare all your food for the week in a few hours so you can reheat or grab-n-go all week long. You won't be tempted to steer off the healthy path and down the fast food or convenience lane when a wholesome meal is already waiting for you. Keep plenty of healthy meals — and healthy snacks — on hand!
If you're starving, drink a tall glass of water. It'll help keep the pains at bay until you can get to a healthy solution.
Finally, remember that "sugar" has many names: agave nectar, brown rice syrup, caramel, carob syrup, cinnamon sugar, coconut sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, demerara, dextran, dextrose, diatase, disacchraride, erythritol, ethly maltol, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, fruit syrup, glycerol, golden syrup, granulated sugar, honey, pure maple syrup, glucose, lactose, malt, malt syrup, malt extract, maltose, maple sugar, mannitol, molasses, monosaccharide, rice extract, sorbitol, sucrose, sucanat... just to name a few.