Tried and True Ways to Eat Less Sugar

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At this point, I think it’s safe to say that we are all aware how bad sugar is for us. I’m sure that some of you may have even set yourself the goal of ‘cutting down on sugar’ as part of your new year’s resolutions. Well, unfortunately for us, removing sugar completely from our diets is an uphill battle. From granola, to tomato sauce, to salad dressings, to smoothies - sugar has a sneaky way of creeping into our diet, even if we are trying everything we can to avoid it.

(Just as a quick note here, when I am referring to ‘sugar’ in this recipe, I am referring to refined, processed sugar. I’m not including natural sugars (fructose) that occur in fruits and vegetables in this bucket.)

Firstly, don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself craving sugar often. As someone who used to think that craving sugar meant I was weaker and had less willpower than someone who didn’t crave it, I now know that is not the case. There are so many factors that come into play and influence how much sugar you crave; diet, sleep quality and stress levels being the main three. Unfortunately, though, eating sugar is not good for the body, and therefore if you are someone who does find themselves craving it often, then some changes need to be made.

"A diet high in sugar can contribute to a wide range of health conditions, including heart disease, fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes. It can also alter your gut microbiome, increasing intestinal permeability and triggering widespread inflammation," says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C.

Before I list off some ways to consume less sugar, it is always important to do a little reflection and figure out why you are having these sugar cravings in the first place. Do you gravitate towards sugar when you are particularly stressed? Do you find that when you sleep for less than 6 hours a night, your cravings are amplified the next day? Or do you find yourself mindlessly eating sugar, without having any real connection to how it is making you feel? Starting here is an important step as it forces you to really pay attention to how your emotions are affecting your eating habits, and therefore, address the root cause of your sugar cravings. Of course, and this may not come as a surprise, but if you don’t crave sugar, you spend less time thinking about it and eating a low sugar diet comes much easier.

So, here are 8 tried and true tips that should help curb your sugar cravings, and in turn, manage how much sugar you are consuming:

1.       Eat Protein for Breakfast

As our mothers and grandmothers always used to tell us, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. But what that breakfast consists of is equally as important as just eating something at all. While cereal and granola are convenient, they can be very high in refined sugar, which will cause your blood sugar level to go-through a roller coaster first thing in the morning. Instead, start your day with a high protein meal, such as eggs or a smoothie. Filling up with a protein-dense meal will help to balance your blood sugar levels throughout the rest of the day.

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2.       Include Healthy Fats

Similar to protein, healthy fats will help keep your blood sugar levels more balanced, leading to less blood sugar crashes and ultimately, less cravings. My go-to healthy fats are coconut oil, flax seeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds. Throw a tablespoon of coconut oil in your protein smoothie to have a power-filled breakfast that you can take on-the-go.

3.       Prioritize Sleep

 Did you know that sleep maintains a healthy balance of the hormones that cause the body to feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin)? When there is a lack of sleep, ghrelin levels increase and leptin decreases. This probably explains why after a poor night’s sleep, you may find yourself gravitating towards more high fat and high sugar foods. Sleep also affects how the body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. Prioritizing how much quality sleep you are getting will have a drastic impact on your sugar cravings. Check out this previous post that I wrote for HIH all about the power of sleep.

4.       Prepare for Afternoon Cravings with Healthy Snacks

As I’m sure you’ve experienced many times before, when you get hungry around 2pm every day, it is very easy to reach for the Timbits, cookies or candy that is lying around your office or workspace. Instead of reaching for the sugar, come prepared with some healthy, balanced snacks that you can enjoy and not have to worry about the sugar crash that comes later. My favourites that I keep on-hand are healthy blueberry muffins, an apple with some almond butter, trail mix and date balls. (I usually make my own but when I’m in a pinch, I like to buy Nomz for their incredibly clean ingredients.)  

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5.       Make your Own Sauces & Dressings

If you tend to buy your marinades, sauces and salad dressings pre-made, there could be a ton of sugar lurking in there, that may not even be labeled as sugar. It could be listed as any of the following: corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar syrup, cane crystals, cane sugar, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids or malt syrup. (Oh boy.)

Instead, make your own super easy dressings from simple (and clean) ingredients like EVOO, balsamic vinegar, honey, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, lemon, salt and pepper. Experiment with a few of these until you find a combination that you really love!

6.       Use Nature’s Blood Sugar Balancers

 Some foods have the ability to increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which as I mentioned, is the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. The simplest one, and in my humble opinion, the most delicious, is cinnamon. That said, try incorporating cinnamon into your routine daily but adding it to your oatmeal, making a Turmeric Latte or sprinkling it on your roasted sweet potatoes.

7.       Drink Herbal Tea

When you find yourself really craving some sugar, make yourself a herbal tea. This is something that I’ve added to my toolbox over the last couple of years and I absolutely love it. Not only does it provide a warming and comforting feeling, especially in the winter, but it will give you something to enjoy without reaching for the sugar. My favourite herbal teas are peppermint, ginger, or this herbal tea that contains milk thistle, dandelion and sweet fennel.

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8.       Trade Refined Sugars for Natural Sweeteners

While consuming sugar intake in moderation is important, even if it comes from natural sources such as fruit, there are still some ways to enjoy some sweetness without the health issues that come with processed and refined sugars. Make the switch to natural sweeteners next time you are craving something sweet, like raw honey, maple syrup, applesauce, dates and bananas. Also, if you are someone who enjoys baking, try incorporating these substitutions into your baked goods for some natural sweetness. My favourites to bake with are maple syrup (preferably organic) and raw honey. But as I mentioned, sugar is still sugar, so while these are definitely healthier choices than refined sugar, it is a common myth that you can load up on these with no health consequences.

My advice? Practice incorporating numbers 1 through 7 in your life, and only when you are needing something sweet (because balance is also important), then use these substitutions as a guide.