Overconsumption of added sugars in sweets, drinks and processed foods is a leading cause of obesity and is linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. It is probably not surprising that sugar also has adverse effects on your dental health. When sugar from foods or drinks mixes with the saliva and bacteria in your mouth, it creates an acid that erodes the enamel protecting your teeth.
The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake come from sugar. But most Americans consume several times that much. The first step in reducing your sugar intake is knowing how much sugar you are consuming. If sugar comprises a startling number of your calories, you might experience difficulty trying to cut back. Sugar releases the feel-good chemical serotonin, as well as endorphins. If you are overconsuming sugar, you will likely experience some unpleasant effects as you reduce it, including reduced mood, increased stress and significant cravings.
The good news is that the adverse side effects of adopting a healthier diet are temporary, and the benefit to your physical and dental health will outlast the discomfort. Here are some ways to make your transition to healthier habits.
Go Cold Turkey
Some people prefer to cut nearly all sugars from their diet (including natural ones) for a brief period. After a while, they begin to slowly add back only sugars found within healthy foods like fruit, with a modest amount of added sugars, until they achieve an ideal balance. The benefit of cutting sugar cold turkey is that the uncomfortable process will go a lot quicker. Within 72 hours, the side effects (though they will be more extreme than if you waned off sugar gradually) should start to dissipate and become mild over the next few weeks. After you have gone several days without experiencing any cravings for sugar, you can begin to add healthy sugars back. The downside of this method is that the first few days are difficult, and some people give up before succeeding.
Don’t Get Hangry
Waiting too long between meals can cause your blood sugar to drop and your cravings to rise. A craving combined with hunger is a powerful drive that is difficult for most people to overcome. You can quickly find yourself in line at the fast-food drive-thru or halfway into a bag of chips loaded with sugar additives. To keep your blood sugar stable and your hunger at bay, try to eat healthy, protein-packed, fiber-rich meals every three to five hours.
Don’t Eat When You Are Not Hungry
It is common for people to mistake a craving for hunger. So while you shouldn’t let yourself get too hungry, you should monitor your actual hunger level when you have a strong impulse for a particular food (especially sweets). A good rule of thumb is to think of a healthy food that you don’t crave and ask yourself whether you would eat it right now if it were the only thing available to you. If not, then you are probably experiencing a sugar craving and are not truly hungry. Many people will use hunger to justify making a poor food choice, so it’s best to be self-aware to take this excuse off the table.
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
When you are trying to reduce your sugar intake, artificial sweeteners might seem like a great substitute. However, they don’t reduce your cravings for sugar. In fact, they can make them worse. Artificial sweetening agents such as aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet N’ Low), and sucralose (Splenda) are hundreds of times more potent than sugar. So rather than adapting your taste buds to more natural tastes, they have the opposite effect.
Know The Different Name For Sugar
Unfortunately, sweeteners that might sound healthier than refined sugar are almost always not. Your body cannot tell the difference between different types of sugars. Common ingredients like cane sugar include brown sugar, dextrin, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, hydrogenated starch, mannitol, maple syrup, molasses, sucrose, sorbitol, turbinado, and xylitol.
Swap Your Snacks
Figure out how many grams of sugar are in your typical food choices, and find similar options that have fewer. Certain brands of food contain more sugar than others, so get in the habit of reading labels. And rather than snacking on processed sweets, try some natural alternatives. Try frozen fruit rather than ice cream or a fruit salad instead of candy. But be mindful of how much sugar exists in the fruits you consume. While natural fruit is certainly more healthy than processed food, eating dozens of pieces of high-sugar fruit each day won’t do much to help your progress toward breaking your sugar habit.
Get More Sleep
Your sleep patterns can affect your sugar cravings. People not getting enough sleep are likely to experience more frequent cravings at higher intensities. A nap as short as 10 or 20 minutes is sometimes all it takes to break an intense craving. Research also shows that people make poorer food choices when they are tired. It is also crucial that you regularly get enough sleep. According to the CDC, adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, and teenagers need between eight and 10.
Increase Your Protein
While high-fat diets are currently in style for those who want to cut carbohydrates, protein is the most filling macronutrient. Protein also may help reduce sugar cravings in particular. Studies using MRIs of patients’ brains found reduced activity associated with cravings when adding protein to each meal. Additionally, starting the day off with a high-protein breakfast can help reduce cravings later in the day.
Set yourself up for success by making your environment as conducive to reducing sugar as possible. Eliminate unhealthy, high-sugar foods from your refrigerator and pantry. When going out, try avoiding places where you know the menu is packed with temptation. You are more likely to slip up if sugary sweets are an easy grab. Going out and purchasing something when you are experiencing a craving will give you some time to think about your decision and whether it’s one you want to make.
Drink More Water
A straightforward method to alleviate a sugar craving is to drink more water. It is the healthiest replacement for other drinks, and it helps with feelings of fullness, which may prevent unintentional snacking on sugary foods. One study showed that people who increased their water intake consumed significantly less sugar than those that did not. Additionally, sweetened drinks such as soda, juice and sports drinks are the primary source of added sugar in our diets.
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