How to quickly slay that nasty sugar monster
When I wanted to describe sugar, I thought about the word insidious. How sugar is subtle, but harmful to our health.
But the plain truth is sugar is sneaky. It sneaks into so many foods that we eat. It becomes difficult to get it out of our diets.
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Appendix 3, we should limit our total daily consumption of added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day.
The Dietary Guidelines go on to say that the two main sources of added sugars in U.S. diets are sugar-sweetened beverages and snacks and sweets.
When it comes to getting sugar out of your diet there are two basic ways.
Are you the type of person who likes to jump right into a swimming pool, or wade into the water and acclimate? People that prefer to dive in are also the type that prefers to go cold turkey and to quit sugar right now, today.
Those who prefer to ease into the pool water may find that easing into getting rid of sugar is right way for them.
There is no “best” approach. You have to decide how likely you are to succeed.
If the temptation of sugar will be too much and you won’t be satisfied with a little bit of sugar, then cold turkey is best. It’s also best if you have a significant sugar habit and eat sugar with every snack and meal.
If you possess good self-control and want to avoid the pangs of withdrawal then easing into a sugar elimination is a good idea. Going cold turkey will result in more significant sugar withdrawal symptoms.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of going cold turkey. I will also talk about how to make it happen.
The Pros and Cons of Going Cold Turkey
It is possible to completely eliminate sugar from your diet. Starting right now.
One woman named Nicole had such a sugar habit that she decided she would go an entire year without sugar. She allowed herself three cheats for the entire year. These cheats, not surprisingly, were used up within the first two months. The good news is that she did make it an entire year without sugar.
The cheats were helpful because one of the downsides to quitting sugar is the inevitable withdrawal that comes along with eliminating it. I will talk more about withdrawal in the next section, however it’s important to know that you will likely feel miserable for a few days as your body adapts to less sugar and has to find new sources of energy.
The other possible downside, if you don’t give yourself cheats, is that if you have a slip-up, you’ll have to start your elimination diet over. I recommend that however you choose to start your sugar elimination diet, you get to a point where you do not consume any sugar for at least 30 days.
Once you have eliminated sugar for thirty days, your taste buds and metabolism will have sufficiently changed. Sugar won’t rule your life.
You can then have the occasional treat without throwing your body and your blood sugar out of balance.
In my case, after 40 days, I decided to drink a beer. A premium beer. I love beer! I made my own years ago.
But my taste buds have changed. I did not enjoy the beer as it tasted so sweet. That was 7 weeks ago and was probably the last beer I will ever drink.
I don’t love beer any more.
This is one of the reasons that many people simply dive in and quit sugar. They want to get it over with and start on the path to better health. However, if you are a “test the waters” type of person then you may prefer to ease into a sugar-free life. Let’s take a look at that next.
Easing Into a Sugar-Free Life
Regardless of whether you are quitting sugar all together or easing into it, one of the first steps is to take a look at what you currently eat. What foods contain sugar? Start by writing down everything you eat during the day. As you do, look at the label and the ingredients.
For example, if you have french fries then there is sugar in ketchup and there may very well be added sugar to the fries themselves. (You’d be surprised what manufacturers and restaurants put in food.) Lunch meat has added sugar and your breakfast cereal undoubtedly has added sugar as well.
Here are a few foods that contain added sugar:
- Pasta sauce
- Low fat milk
- Salad dressing
- Anything that says “Fat free”
- Smoothies and coffee drinks
- Unflavored milk alternatives like rice milk, almond milk and soy. You have to look for unsweetened options.
- Sauces and condiments like BBQ sauce, mustard, and mayonnaise
- Canned or packaged fruit
- Cereal, protein, and sports bars
- Instant oatmeal
- Fruit juice (it often has added sugar in addition to the natural fruit sugars)
- Teas and energy drinks
- Prepackaged frozen meals
When reading labels, if you see any of the following then you know there’s sugar in the food.
- Agave nectar
- Brown rice syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
- Malt syrup
Sugar is added to just about every processed food you can imagine. To avoid it takes discipline, awareness, and planning. Of course, avoiding it can also save your life and dramatically improve your health. Once you change your habits, keeping sugar out of your diet easily becomes a way of life.
Why is sugar added to food products?
According to the Sugar Association (a trade association for the sugar industry in the United States), sugar “plays a functional role in the formulation of food. Sugar is used as a preservative, used with yeast in products, balances sweet, bitter, and spicy components of foods, among other things.
The 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines states that,
Added sugars provide sweetness that can help improve the palatability of foods, help with preservation, and/or contribute to functional attributes such as viscosity, texture, body, color, and browning capability.
Another reason sugar is added to highly processed foods is COST. It costs manufacturers more to use quality, premium ingredients in their products. They can lower costs by switching to lesser grade ingredients. To make up for differences in taste and palatability, they add sugar.
You can do a little unscientific test for your self.
Go to your favorite grocery store and find a low-cost tomato sauce and a high-cost, premium one. Read the labels. I bet the premium product has no sugar and fewer ingredients listed on the label. The premium product may also have a label that says “shake well because separation may occur.” If it does, it is because they have not added emulsifiers, which are a substance or compound that keeps liquids from separating.
Once you’ve discovered the hidden, and not so hidden, sources of sugar in your diet it’s time to start eliminating them.
Focus on sugar-sweetened beverages and snacks and sweets.Tackle the biggies first. For example, if you indulge in a sweetened coffee drink each day, that’s an easy one to quit.
If you eat a meal replacement bar for breakfast, it’s time for eggs or steel cut oats. I prefer the health benefits of eggs over oatmeal. My ideal breakfast is two eggs, sauteed spinach with garlic, and smashed red potatoes. Otherwise, it is a bowl of oatmeal with diced apples, blueberries, and sliced almonds, sprinkled with cinnamon.
Start making significant changes to your diet and spend a month gradually easing out your sugar sources and replacing them with whole foods.
A Word on Sugar Substitutes
The goal of an elimination diet is twofold. On the one hand you want to get rid of the sugar that is causing weight gain, inflammation, disease and fatigue. You also want to reset your taste buds so that sweetness isn’t necessary to enjoy food.
If you consume foods and beverages sweetened with sugar substitutes like stevia, agave, brown rice syrup, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame, then you are not only still adding sugars to your body, you’re not able to cut the cord on your sweet tooth.
There is recent research that has shown the effectiveness of low-calorie sweeteners in avoiding weight gain. Still, long term studies are needed to assess the impact of low-calorie sweeeteners on our health.
You will still have cravings. Sugar substitutes don’t help you achieve your goal of living a healthier lifestyle and losing weight. In fact, many studies have shown that artificial sweeteners, diet foods and beverages and sugar substitutes actually cause weight gain.
Once You Have Eliminated Sugar
Most sugar elimination diets are a short term solution. They are a way to reset your body so that you can live more healthfully.
Because sugar is so prevalent in food, and because food is to be enjoyed in moderation, consider eliminating sugar for 30, 60, or 90 days or, like Nicole, eliminate it for a year. Then you might consider taking part in the occasional treat. Rest assured that once you’ve changed your body, sugar won’t have the same call or appeal.
You might enjoy one small treat each week or once a month. You decide how you best want to manage your health and well-being. Once you are aware of how excellent you’ll look and feel without sugar, the temptation is greatly reduced.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about cutting sugar out of your diet. If you have other tips, any questions or wish to share your experience, please leave a comment below.
Return to Healthy Diet Guide to Losing Belly Fat and Weight