Sugar has been making quite a name for itself in the news over the past few weeks. We’re learning more and more about the negative effects of sugar on the body and how it contributes to many chronic diseases. All calories are not created equal, and sugar – specifically processed sugar – turns out to be more like a drug than a food. This is an unfortunate discovery for many people (author included!) who crave sugar many times throughout the day and think they can’t possibly live without it. As someone who used to buy packages of cookies and bags of candy to munch on, and bake desserts all the time, it can seem daunting to rid yourself of your sugar habit. But it’s not as scary as it seems.
When your body has a craving, it’s trying to tell you something. Not that you need that bag of candy to survive, but that you’re lacking in some nutrient or that there’s an imbalance in your body it’s trying to correct. Sugar occurs in nature in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In these forms, you get complex carbohydrates with fiber, which causes the sugar to be absorbed more slowly into the body so you don’t get a sugar high and crash. Perhaps when you find yourself craving sugar, your body really wants some fruits and veggies. Think of what it must have been like back when there were no grocery stores and restaurants and people just lived off the land. The body is smart and told people to crave the things that would help it survive, like all of those fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Modern society is flooded with many forms of processed sugar in candy, packaged cookies and pastries, and high-fructose corn syrup hidden in almost everything on a grocery store shelf. It’s no wonder people have such strong cravings for this sugar-drug when you eat it even when you think you’re not!
But don’t fret; it’s totally possible to combat the cravings and cut down on sugar, I promise! Start by simply adding more fruits and veggies to your diet, especially ones that have a sweeter flavor like squashes, corn, carrots, sweet potatoes, and any fruit. Try eating an apple when you find yourself wanting that package of M & M’s from the vending machine, drink a full glass of water, and see if you feel better.
Another great way to lower the artificial sugar intake is to begin using natural sweeteners. Agave nectar is a really amazing natural sweetener made from agave plants (yes, the ones that tequila comes from, but you won’t get a buzz from this) and is perfect for using in tea, baking, on toast, or in salad dressings. Stevia is an herb from South America. It comes often in a bottle with a dropper because one or two drops are plenty since it’s very sweet! A little goes a long way with stevia. There’s also brown rice syrup, barley malt, and, of course, honey.
If you find that you still want that chocolate at the end of the day, see if you can start buying only high-quality chocolate instead of the usual stuff from the vending machine or drugstore. A really nice organic dark chocolate piece is much better health-wise and you’ll find yourself being able to savor the small piece and make it last longer. When you spend more you won’t want to guzzle it all down in one fell swoop. You can find great quality chocolate at your local health food store in many flavors like sea salt, lavender, orange, ginger, and more!
Most importantly, begin to notice your cravings, whether they be for sugar or something else. Ask yourself what the cravings might mean, do some research to find foods in nature with the same qualities as your cravings so you can begin to crowd out the unhealthy binges, and begin to satiate your body’s needs with the nutrients it really wants instead of the fake food you’ve trained yourself to want at certain times of the day.