Cutting the Sugar in Your Diet

Joyce Kavaras, RD, LD

Joyce Kavaras, RD, LD

November 13th, 2012

Hopefully, you’ve been checking your labels this past week for grams of sugar in the foods you normally consume. Be sure to use fast food/restaurant websites for foods without labels, as these foods are not immune to stealth sugar either! Pay particular attention to coffee drinks, sweet tea and smoothies which contain anywhere from 40 -70 grams of added sugar! That is just astounding considering the recommended amount for weight management is 24-36 grams per day. No wonder Americans have an obesity problem. As promised, here are some strategies you can use to get off the ultra sweet “Un-Merry”-go-round:

  1. Let’s start with your brain – yes, there is a huge biological component here - which the food industry takes full advantage of to drives sales through the roof! All the added sugars in our food serve as arrows designed to target the bull’s-eye: the reward center in our brain. We are hard-wired to seek pleasure and sweet-tasting, highly palatable foods fit the bill by firing a whole set of happy neurochemicals (opioids, endocannabinoids and dopamine) in our brain. This is happy dance time – we are feeling sooooo good, and guess what? It doesn’t stop there because we want more and more and more… the merry-go-round is really spinning now and you feel out of control.
  2. OK, here’s where you need to take charge so you can feel better and start to see the reward value of REAL food, the unprocessed stuff, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, lean meats, fish and low-fat dairy. You will come to see these are more satisfying, just as pleasurable, and make for even more neurochemical firing because they also will provide the intrinsic rewards of better health, less medication, weight loss, and confidence.
  3. Luckily, we know from the research that poor lifestyle habits are a learned behavior and we can retrain our brain and reset the pleasure/reward circuitry for healthier behaviors. This is really good news!

Okay, let’s get started:

  1. Continue your awareness and label reading. See where the sugar in your diet is coming from. Compare grams of sugar with the recommended DAILY amount of 24-34 grams. One caveat here, don’t count the sugars in natural products such as fruit, milk, plain yogurt etc.
  2. Slowly decrease the amount consumed by 25% at first, then, cut the amount by 50%, and so on…this takes time and practice as your taste sensations readjust. BE PATIENT!
  3. Replace the sweet craving with fruit – a natural source of sugar that comes beautifully packaged, ready to eat, contains vital nutrients, phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber. That’s a lot of bang for your buck!
  4. Really take notice of this real food, enjoy, and savor the whole experience…smell, taste, mouth feel, juiciness, chewing, swallowing, how it feels in your belly. These will enhance the reward value of healthy food. I can see the fireworks in your reward center firing already.
  5. Remove temptation: get the junk out of the house or, if that is not possible, hide it. Put it in an opaque closed container and far away (the basement perhaps). Out of site is critical for reducing your cues.
  6. Work with your brain and put the good stuff out in full view! One study showed that people who simply put a clear bowl of fresh fruit and vegetables on the table for lunch and dinner, lost 45 pounds in one year. It didn’t matter if they ate the food or not! Sounds pretty doable to me!
  7. Be patient and accepting of relapses… they are guaranteed to occur. It’s completely normal to experience them; just do the next best thing, be it a walk or eating healthy at the next meal. DO NOT berate yourself since behavior change is a process.
  8. Begin to notice more and more how you feel when eating “real” food… more energy, less tempted, decreased cravings, healthier, happier, and more comfortable.
  9. CELEBRATE these intrinsic rewards that come with taking better care of your health with a new outfit, gadget, or some other non-food reward.

Finally, if we all do this together, we can send a powerful message to the food industry that we want more real foods that nourish our mind and body. This can only happen if we quit buying the junk, since money talks in the business world. Let’s retrain ourselves and the food industry to seek and provide the “sweetest” reward of all… good health.

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