The Sugar Beast. It lives in us all. For some, it doesn’t bother them much; for most, it’s one of the biggest daily struggles to make good choices to tame the beast and keep it at bay.
If you’re goal is to drop a few pounds and to live healthier this year, kicking your sweet tooth to the curb is a great way to start.
In 2015, the US Department of Agriculture released a study showing the average American consumes 94 grams of added sugar per day, which equates to 358 empty calories! (It’s about 2.5 cans of Coke.) What does “added sugar” mean exactly? “Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits.” (choosemyplate.gov)
These sneaky additives can be found in items such as soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, fruit drinks, ice cream, etc. This is just a small list of the major groups. Buyer beware! It also creeps its way into things you may not expect, such as ketchup, syrup, cereal, pasta sauce, baked beans, vanilla lattes, fat free salad dressing, vanilla almond milk, tomato soup, energy bars, trail mix, granola, flavored yogurt…the list goes on!
The best way to identify where it lingers is to read the food labels and their ingredients. Here’s a list of sugar names to try to avoid if found among the list of ingredients:
But why are all of these added sugars bad? Well, the average body can only store up to so many grams of sugar. The FDA recommends no more than 10% of your daily calories (about 50 grams or 12.5 teaspoons of added sugars based on a 2,000-calorie diet.) The muscles, brain and liver can only process so much. All of the leftover sugar gets stored as fat. When the body doesn’t know what to do with something (meaning there is an overabundance), it gets stored as fat.
Added sugars have virtually no nutrients, does not truly satisfy hunger, leaves you feeling tired, collects as unwanted body fat and fogs up the brain. So why do we keep eating it if it has such a negative impact on our bodies?
Well, they are influential buggers. They are good at sugar-coating themselves when communicating (provoking?) the reward center of our brains. Eating added sugars causes the brain to release dopamine, which causes us to feel pleasure when we consume it. Consuming high amounts of sugar leads to high amounts of dopamine release, providing us with a false sense of satisfaction. In turn, we want more. As we consume more on a regular basis, the brain begins to crave it and need more to keep experiencing that pleasurable feeling of satisfaction. Suddenly, we are addicted.
With all of this being said, it is really important to read the label and check the sugar source of our foods. If the sugar source is natural (i.e from a fruit), then it’s a safe bet that’s a healthier choice. Let’s say, for example, you have a protein bar with 12g of sugar noted on the Nutrition Label. Keep reading on to the Ingredient List and see where the source of the sugar is coming from. If it’s coming from dates, for example, then it’s a healthy bar to consume! If the ingredients have a laundry list of oddly sounding syrups and words like what can be found on the list above, then it may be advisable to steer clear from this one.
Beware of sugar-free options as well. I’ll save that for another post, as I know I’ve likely already overwhelmed you with information on sugar. In short, sugar-free options often replace sugar with artificial sweeteners, which may also reek havoc on your waste line.
So, how do we tame the proverbial Sugar Beast? Here are a few tips and suggestions:
- Drink water! We often confuse cravings for thirst. Try chugging down a glass of water before reaching for a snack.
- Don’t skip meals!
- Cook at home. That way you can monitor and be aware of exactly what is going into your meals. To add to that, choose fresh, whole foods to cook with, rather than the prepackaged options. You really only need to hit the perimeter when you go to the grocery store. The in-between aisles are all the processed stuff that we are likely better off avoiding for the most part.
- Track your food through a food log. I don’t recommend doing this so that you can count your calories each day. I recommend doing this so that you create an awareness of each food group and the nutrients you are consuming each day. Are you getting enough macros? (Carbs, Fat, Protein)
- Be active. If you feel a craving coming on while you’re sitting at your desk job, get up and move a little. Take a walk around the office, Come back to your desk and continue working. It may help reduce the craving.
- Consider changing up the way you drink coffee. Rather than going to your local coffee shop for a vanilla latte (which can contain 32g of added sugar), brew your own pot of coffee at home and add a dash of cinnamon for the extra flavor! Cinnamon has shown to help control blood sugar levels. It decreases inflammation, protects heart health and fights infections and viruses. It’s also great on oatmeal, sweet potatoes, yogurt, apples, protein shakes, etc.
Bon Appetit, baby!