To quote a recent newspaper headline in the UK “Sugar is as dangerous as alcohol and tobacco, warn health experts”. (Telegraph) You cannot pick up a paper or watch the TV without some mention of the damage refined sugar is doing to our waistlines and the general health of the population. Yet one of the hardest things to do is to rewire the brain. August’s National Geographic (2013) stated that “an injection of sugar into the bloodstream stimulates the same pleasure centres of the brain that respond to heroin and cocaine”. So how can we make a start at reducing the amount of this addictive substance? Whether this is for you, your children or both let’s take a look at the ways to help reduce or eliminate sugar from your diet.
- Reduce exposure
- Reduce Intake
- Reduce Craving
1. Reduce Exposure:
a) Don’t keep sugary foods in the house. This is a fairly simple step. It is even more important if there are kids in the house. They will get given sugar by others which you can manage for a time but why invite temptation where it is not needed? By not having sugary foods in the house but by having plenty of other options such as nuts, fruit and fresh vegetables you can provide plentiful healthier snacks than sugary ones.
b) Share your views on this (or perhaps this post) with other parents. This is a hard thing to do alone. Those around you may also feel the same i.e. their children are exposed to far too much sugar but it is one of those issues that people don’t always discuss with those around them. And yet those around them may indeed wish to stop giving their children or their friends children sweet foods too. This quote sums the attitude towards sugar in today’s society rather well – Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa, Canada, Yoni Freedhoff says “Not only has added sugar found its way into virtually everything we eat, but worse still, the use of sugar as a means to pacify, entertain and reward children has become normalized to the point that questioning our current sugary status quo often inspires anger and outrage.” Safety in numbers is what I say. If we all make small changes and speak openly about what we are doing I believe we can change the attitude of others.
c) If sweet foods are used as a reward for children or adults then try and reward differently. For children a reward chart working towards an ultimate big prize can be very worthwhile. For adults the reward of clarity of mind, better work productivity, better mental and physical well being may be enough. If it is not then find other rewards. I won’t specifically recommend anything here because I think you know better than I do what really floats your boat. For me personally it’s a trip to a charity shop to find a new piece of clothing or accessory. That’s just quirky old me though.
2. Reduce Intake
a) Fruit juice is one of those things that was sold to us as being ‘healthy’. In reality the most healthy foods and drinks are those in their most natural form. Fruit was meant to be eaten as fruit. Whilst a fruit smoothie is a close second (as long as it contains some of the pulp) because it still contains some of the fibre which helps reduce the speed at which the fruit sugar enters the blood inevitably fruit is a better choice. So try and reduce or eliminate fruit juice and eat whole fruit. If you find fruit difficult to digest you may find eating more easily digested fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, bananas and grapes better. Also eating fruit away from other foods can help with digestion.
b) Look out for sugar which is added to some of your favourite foodstuffs. Years ago I had a client who’s only fruit/veg intake was tomato soup. This was the tinned variety that has 4 tsp of sugar per portion. Slurping on a tin of this tomato soup is like drinking a soft drink and think about the damage that is doing to your/your kids teeth let alone your overall health. Other foods that contain more sugar than you think: Ketchup, Baked Beans, Peanut Butter, Salad Dressings, Cereal Bars, Fast Foods, Cereals. Do check the labels. In the long run you’ll make your own life easier.
3. Reduce Cravings
a) Break the habits that you associate with eating something sweet or sugary. For some this is the after meal urge to eat a dessert. The way to get around this is through distraction i.e. a game, the opportunity to listen to a favourite piece of music or for kids to show you their latest street dance. For adults arranging to do an evening activity can be sufficient to ensure that meal time is enjoyed but with something else to look forward to after eating which helps you avoid the temptation to choose a sweet dessert.
b) Create different associations. So for example if Friday has become ‘sweet night’ then make Friday something else night e.g. ‘movie night’ or ‘make your own smoothie night’.
c) Chewing on licorice sticks helps from two perspectives i) it gives you something to do with your mouth! ii) it helps your adrenal glands to manage the production of stress-related hormones better which in turn helps you manage your cravings better.
For various reasons I have enforced a strict no sugar policy at various times in my life. It has worked but only when I have implemented these three processes. It is tough especially in a world where we are surrounded by sweet temptation but once you are not slave to the sugar bowl then you realise how much more life can offer and how sweet some of those opportunities taste. As far as the kids are concerned I have never implemented a strict ban. I give them the facts (there are plenty available to give), I implement the above and on the whole I think they have a healthy attitude towards sugar. They are knowledgeable and becoming responsible young adults. I am happy with that.