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What's Up Magazine

Breaking the Sugar Habit

Dec 30, 2013 04:47PM ● By Cate Reynolds
As summer is coming to a close, we are once again about to weather the annual overdose of plum fairies, fruit cake, candy canes, and gingerbread houses. This might be just the time to re-evaluate our sugar intake and make some changes this upcoming holiday season. (Think of those holiday indulgences as a form of aversion therapy.) Be prepared: most of us will need all the help we can get to cut back.

Simply put: A sweet tooth is in our DNA. Sugar once held a critical role in the survival of Homo sapiens because of its effective energy delivery system. When food was scarce, naturally sweet items had added value. Sugar (as many of us are all too painfully aware) rapidly converts to fat. This was a good thing when life was a daily struggle of literally clawing for an existence. We had and have still to ingest the same amount of calories that we burn. Thus, our sugar cravings began. For thousands and thousands of years, that worked just fine. Until human “advancements” made sugar plentiful, refi ned, and processed into virtually everything we eat. And we just sat there (very still and sedentary) and filled up.

So here we are: hooked on a cheap, ridiculously available drug. And there’s no Betty Ford/Hazelden facility big enough to hold us all while we detox.

Just consider the fact that Americans consume an average of 20 to 30 teaspoons (about a half a cup) of sugar a day. No, most are not knowingly pouring those teaspoons into their favorite hot beverage—those sweet calories are hiding in all sorts of processed foods. For instance: you opt for the regular corn flakes instead of the frosted version to avoid the sugar—and those sugary flakes do contain 8.9 teaspoons of sugar per 100 grams (about half a cup!). But the plain flakes still contain 2.4 teaspoons secreted away in the processing. More surprising perhaps is the fact that a 12-inch medium Veggie Lover’s Pizza at Pizza Hut contains three grams of sugar. But you’re not safe with that hamburger either; a Big Mac contains 8 grams of sugar, and if you add some ketchup keep in mind that there are 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon in America’s favorite ketchup, Heinz. (We’re not picking on Pizza Hut, Mickey D’s, or Heinz—these sorts of stats are standard issue in the food industry.)

Sweet Surrender

The always-reliable Harvard Health Publications have a few tips for helping to exorcize the very thing that later on would require us to exercise.

Don’t try to eliminate all sugary food at once. If you deny yourself a single piece of candy or sliver of cake, you’ll only crave sweets more, they warn. Instead, the Ivy Leaguers suggest a healthy diet of more satisfying foods—whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy oils, and lean protein.

Keep sugary foods away. Out of sight, almost out of mind. Clean out the cupboards and do not replenish cookies, candies, or any Little Debbie distractions. Do keep things like fruit and high-fiber niceness around. A handful of almonds can fill a pretty big hunger void.

Sweeten foods yourself. When possible, find unsweetened iced teas, yogurt and unflavored oatmeal. Then sweeten them yourself. Odds are you will use a lot less than the processed version.

Become a label reader. Look for those places where sugar tends to hide, including reduced-fat products. One of the Harvard experts warns: “When companies take out the fat, they add back almost all of the calories in sugar.” Avoid products that list sugar as the first ingredient or that contain several different types of sugar (brown sugar, cane nectar, etc.)—that’s one way manufacturers avoid having sugar come up as the first ingredient. (It’s rather disheartening to think of business people eagerly interacting at a meeting with the sole purpose of coming up with ways to mislead the public. But it must happen every day of the week in every industry.)

Eat breakfast. Start your day with a filling, nutritious meal, so you will be less likely to give in to cravings. Eggs, oatmeal, and fruit are all good breakfast choices, the Harvard experts confirm.

Those same experts also assure us that “when you get used to eating fewer super-sweet things, you crave them less. You become more satisfied with less sweet things.”

We sure hope so. It’s what we are counting on for our transformation.—Sarah Hagerty