Did you already give up on your New Year’s resolution to conquer your sugar addiction? Don’t feel bad if you did. Nearly 25% of all adults quit by the end of January [SOURCE]. Well, as I write this, it’s mid-January. Time to recommit if you’ve already quit on your resolution. Though well-intentioned your resolution, the problem is that you may not know how to do it. And quitting added sugars cold turkey is arguably as difficult as giving up smoking, drugs, or alcohol.
How Addictive Is Sugar?
In fact, The Center of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Studies at Rutgers University quotes research from the Addiction Center that equates the addictive properties of sugar to those of cocaine. Sugar “can create a spark of energy and a short-term high in the body” due to the release of the reward chemical, dopamine in the brain. Hit after hit of dopamine not only causes dopamine resistance, which makes you need more sugar to get high, just like a drug, there are long-term health risks associated with sugar addiction such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Moreover, Rutgers points to an animal study published in the Journal of Nutritional Neuroscience titled “Implications of an animal model of sugar addiction, withdrawal and relapse for human health,” which concluded that
“The effects of sugar addiction, withdrawal and relapse are similar to those of drugs of abuse.”
How Much Sugar Is Too Much?
Most adults who consume a 2,000-calorie diet should aim to consume about 25 grams of sugar daily. That may sound like a lot, but considering that the average can of regular soda contains almost 50 grams of sugar, it’s easy to see how one can easily exceed the 25 grams of sugar limit. Instead of worrying about your grams of sugar, start reading food labels and look at grams of added sugar. Try to get that number as close to zero as possible. That means that don’t worry so much about how many grams of sugar you’re getting from fruit or vegetables (within reason; don’t go overboard with tropical fruits, which tend to be higher in sugar). But do pay attention to how many grams of added sugars are in foods that you may not realize have added sugars: bread, fruit juice, salad dressing, condiments, sauces and dips, etc.
Most Americans eat approximately 75 grams of sugar per day (that’s about 17 teaspoons). Many consumers are tricked into thinking that certain foods are healthy. Rutgers calls out a couple of offending brands: One cup of Dannon Low-Fat Vanilla Yogurt contains 34 grams of sugar, while VitaminWater contains 17 grams.
As a certified health coach and functional medicine practitioner, I help people conquer sugar addiction. One critical component, of course, is making dietary changes. Most of my clients succumb to sugar cravings not necessarily because they’re going through menopause, but rather because they don’t eat enough of the right foods that promote satiety (fullness).
So with this in mind, here are 7 eating hacks that will help you conquer sugar addiction.
Eat More Lean Protein
Lean protein is crucial in managing sugar cravings by promoting satiety and stabilizing blood sugar levels. Meat has a bad reputation as plant-based meat becomes more popular. But in moderation, lean, minimally-processed meats (sorry bacon and salami lovers) can be part of a healthy diet that can help you conquer sugar addiction. Most of my clients don’t eat enough protein because they consume too many quick-burning carbohydrates (white flour products) which creates a vicious circle of sugar addiction. So make sure you include one of these sources at every meal:
- Chicken breast or thighs
- Wild game
- Fish (salmon, tuna, tilapia)
- Lean beef
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
Eat More Healthy Dietary Fats
When I analyze a client’s lab work, most of the time, there’s a deficiency of essential fatty acids. These healthy fats are essential for overall well-being and can help reduce the desire for sugary snacks. Include some of these at every meal:
- Avocado oil
- Olive oil
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios)
- Seeds (chia seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds)
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
- Nut butters with zero added sugars (peanut butter, almond butter)
- Dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids in moderation; 1-3 small squares per day)
- Full-fat dairy (cheese, yogurt)
- Eggs (rich in omega-3 fatty acids)
Eat Healthy Grains
Low-starch grains with high fiber content aid in maintaining steady blood sugar levels and reducing sugar cravings. Eat a large serving of one of these healthy grains for lunch and/or dinner:
- Wild rice
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat couscous
I wrote about resistant starches in more detail here. In a nutshell, they are a small list of foods that have starch but are very slowly digested. Here’s a list of them:
- White beans
- Green-tipped bananas
- Arrowroot starch flour
- Banana flour
- Konjac flour (glucomannan flour)
Prioritize Fiber-Rich Foods
Fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels and keeps you feeling full, reducing the urge for sugary snacks. Include fiber-rich foods such as:
- Legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils)
- Vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots)
- Fruits (apples, pears, berries)
- Whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice)
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, chia seeds)
Drinking adequate water throughout the day can help control sugar cravings. Often, feelings of hunger are confused with dehydration. If you think water is boring, add some freshly squeezed lemon or lime. You can also try adding cucumber and strawberry slices; it’s like fancy spa water.
Opt for Healthy Snacks
Choose nutritious snacks that satisfy cravings without the added sugars. Examples include:
- Sliced vegetables with hummus
- Greek yogurt with berries
- Cheese and whole-grain crackers
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Mixed nuts and seeds
Need Help Conquering Sugar Addiction?
If sugar addiction seems impossible to overcome, let me help. As a Nurse Practitioner, I have an expert understanding of how the body works. And as a certified functional medicine practitioner and health coach, I’ll work with you one-on-one to reclaim your health. Take that first step and contact me.
Until next time,
Jenna Witt, NP
Founder, Fundamental Wellness of Nebraska