The average American consumes 179 pounds of sugar per person annually!
I believe most of this sugar is eaten during this time of the year as we consume candy, pies, eggnog, pastries, desserts and more. In some cases we may not be consciously choosing to eat extra sweets, it is in many of the products we buy off the grocery shelves. Foods that once never had a sweet taste – like soups, peanut butter, and salad dressing – now are packed with sugar.
You may think that you can’t survive the holidays without sugar. But, your body does not need refined sugar. Diabetes is becoming an epidemic in the U.S., not to mention China and India, due to unnecessarily high amounts of refined sugar in our diets. If sugar is in so much of what we buy how can we avoid it is the question. Before you venture out to the grocery store, knowing ahead of time what to look for can help. Here is a list of common names for sugar:
Barley malt, Beet sugar, Brown sugar, Buttered syrup, Cane juice crystals, Cane sugar, Caramel, Carob syrup, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Date sugar, Dextran, Dextrose, Diastase, Diastatic malt, Ethyl maltol, Fructose, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Glucose, Glucose solids, Golden sugar, Golden syrup, Grape sugar, High-fructose corn syrup, Honey, Invert sugar, Lactose, Malt Syrup, Maltodextrin, Maltose, Mannitol, Molasses, Raw sugar, Refiner’s syrup, Sorbitol, Sorghum syrup, Sucrose, Sugar, Turbinado sugar, Xylitol and Yellow sugar.
You may be wondering “What fun would the holidays be without sweetness?!” After all, "sweet" is how we describe the best events in our life, the happiest moments, and even our sweetest dreams. It conjures up childhood memories of candy canes and Halloween buckets.
I am not suggesting that you should give up all that’s sweet in your life, but understanding what’s going on in your body when you consume sugar is important. When you eat sucrose – the white sugar next to your coffee pot – it’s been stripped of all of the fiber, minerals, and nutrients that were in the sugar cane plant that it came from. And this highly processed, unnatural state causes an imbalance in your body when you consume too much. We're not just talking about candy and cookies, either. When it comes to carbohydrates, you must remember that sugar is the basis for them. Simple carbs like sugar, fructose, lactose, maltose, and glucose break down very quickly in our bodies. Complex carbs like beans, legumes, vegetables, and whole grains absorb at a slower rate, giving us longer lasting energy. Sounds simple, but what has happened is that the complex carbs have been turned into simple carbs like white pasta, white bread, white rice, bagels, cookies, and crackers. At one time, their ingredients came from a complex whole grain, but they have been processed so much that they act as simple carbs when you eat them, which means they take your blood sugar for a ride. It’s that 10 a.m. sugar craving or the 3 p.m. blues when we reach for a candy bar that tells us we aren’t eating the right kinds of foods to give us sustained energy.
Here are some tips to help you overcome the sugar bug:
1) Eat fruit and sweet veggies. Not only will this help you get your five to eight servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, but it will curb your sweet tooth! You’ll be amazed at how your cravings for sweets decreases when you indulge in luscious fruits. There are plenty of sweet veggies to snack on, too, such as sugar snap peas or baby carrots.
2) Drink plenty of water. Sometimes having a sweet tooth is a sign of dehydration. When the sugar craving hits, drink an entire glass of water. Soft drinks will not rehydrate you. They’re the number one dietary source of added sugar in the U.S. Just one can of soda contains 40 grams of sugar! That's about 10-12 teaspoons per can.
3) Use natural sweeteners. While artificial sweeteners may not be sugar, they certainly aren’t natural. They will not give you lasting energy and you will wind up craving more sugar because they are chemically 300 - 500 times sweeter than actual sugar. Maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, barley malt, date sugar, sorghum, and brown rice syrup are great alternatives. Natural sweeteners still contain the minerals and nutrients from the plant that they came from, unlike white, refined sugar which has been highly processed. The body likes nutrients and can better process a natural sweetener. Your blood sugar won’t spike as it does with white sugar.
4) Enjoy exercise every day. Start with 10 minutes a day of an easy activity, such as gentle yoga or going for a walk. Work up to 30 minutes a day. Exercise balances blood sugar levels and provides a very necessary outlet for everyday stress, thereby reducing your need to “medicate” with refined sugar.
5) Enjoy spices. Sweeten your foods naturally with wonderful spices such as cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, coriander or cardamom. They will help reduce your sugar cravings.
6) Reduce or eliminate caffeine intake. Caffeine dehydrates the body and spikes blood sugar, which then forces it to plummet. This rapid drop, along with dehydration, creates sugar cravings.
7) Get plenty of sleep and relaxation. When you’re fatigued, stressed out and generally sleep deprived, your body craves energy—in the form of refined sugar.
8) Eliminate low-fat or fat-free packaged foods. These processed foods may be low in fat, but they’re high in sugar. They may also be high in high-fructose corn syrup.
9) Sweeten your life. Life is short, so you should regularly indulge in its sweet moments! Get plenty of hugs from family and friends, treat yourself to a massage or watch the sunset. When you regularly enjoy life’s sweet moments, you’ll naturally reduce your need to “medicate” with refined sugar.
Don't let sugar cravings during the holidays derail your healthy eating plans.