Healthy Habits for Breaking Up With Sugar
We’re here in the lovely autumn month of November, and while the tricks may cease, the treats will probably take a little longer to die out. Maybe you’re a devoted parent who spent Halloween weekend taking the little ones door to door for the sweet stuff. Perhaps you’re just a sucker for those post-Halloween sales on bulk bags of Snickers. Either way, sugar is all around right now. The fact of the matter is that it’s always sneaking in whether or not it’s welcome. There’s only so much willpower we can muster up, though.
When is the last time you ate a fun-sized piece of chocolate and didn’t immediately think, “I could go for another one of those?” If you possess this superpower, let me in on your secret. Otherwise, let me commiserate with you for a moment. It’s NOT your fault. It’s sugar’s fault. Yep, don’t feel guilty. Sometimes, willpower isn’t enough. It has been said that sugar is just as addictive as crack-cocaine. While this may sound slightly dramatic, there’s some truth to it. Chocolate, candy, and sugar-coated whatever is hyperpalatable which immediately excites your tastebuds. It releases all those happy chemicals in the brain, and in order to keep the release going, we need MORE. The more sugar, the more vicious the cycle becomes. The spike in blood sugar will dip quickly because it offers no lasting energy, and you’ll be searching for more before you know it.
Good news? You don’t have to be a victim! Sugar has a way with words. It lures you in when you least expect it. You can tell yourself, “Just this once” all you’d like, but tomorrow brings the same decision: to indulge or not to indulge. Let’s break through the mind games and get you on your way to saying, “No” more often. You don’t have to swear off sugar for good, but there are tons of tiny hacks you can incorporate into your daily routine to start moving on. And we all know it’s time to move on. Halloween is a done deal until next year, after all.
Revolutionize your snacking
There are a few characteristics that generally qualify a food to be a suitable snack. Unfortunately, we have it all wrong. Think of what you reach for in between meals. First of all, it’s quick. A snack is something that doesn’t need to be prepared, at least beyond the toaster, and that’s being generous. In all likelihood, you’re probably limiting yourself to maybe unwrapping the package. Before you begin to do any damage control within the confines of your real meals, you should look at what you’re haphazardly throwing down the trap in your downtime.
Let’s crunch some numbers first. Those “snacks” all nestled snug in their plastic bags aren’t exactly friendly if you’re at all concerned about calories. It comes down to quality over quantity, but these snacks don’t have much going on for them in either regard.
- Reese’s Cups (2): 230 calories, 20 g sugar
5 teaspoons of sugar? You could opt for a square or two of 85% dark chocolate and a tablespoon of almond butter or natural peanut butter instead. Same concept, same amount of calories, more nutrition, and far less sugar!
- Luna Bar: 180 calories, 13 g sugar
Yikes! This seems like a healthy vending machine option initially, but even its protein content can’t justify more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar. Reach for a half an avocado sprinkled with sea salt. It’s just as easy with a whole lot more nutrition.
- Special K Protein Bar: 170 calories, 15 g sugar
Yet again, it seems like a good option. It’s a protein bar, and Special K is known as a weight-loss friendly brand. Think again. The main ingredient? Sugar! At just 170 calories, it packs in 15 grams of sugar with a measly 10 grams of protein. Reach for leftovers instead. A 4 oz. portion of seasoned chicken breast is 110 calories and 26 grams of protein – almost TRIPLE!
You should approach snacking with the same template in which you build a full meal, just on a smaller scale. Think protein, healthy fats, and veggies. If you’re fueling up after a workout, opt for a starchy vegetable like sweet potato in place of a quick sugar fix for energy. Pair it with boiled eggs for satiety and a protein boost. If you find yourself irritable and ravenous right after work, pack up some raw carrots to dip in guac. The fat will help to tide you over until dinner instead of worsening your “slump symptoms.”
Convenience foods are the ones with the most hidden ingredients, sugar being the main offender. By switching your daily snack to a real food alternative, you can easily eliminate 10-20 grams of sugar. In essence, we create our own convenience. Save that leftover chicken breast from dinner for an easy protein boost after the gym. Buy snack-pack guac and almond butter containers at the store. If you still need to satisfy your sweet tooth as you transition, chow down on apple slices. You create your own convenience.
If you’re trying to break up with sugar, going no-contact with the vending machine is your best bet.
Quit drinking your calories
- Wine is food, right?
Count your calories for a week and log every little thing that goes into your mouth. You might think those liquid calories are harmless, but if you’re relying on them to get by, you’re going to be flabbergasted by the excess sugar you’re racking up. This isn’t just limited to soda pop and alcohol, though. Juice, fancy coffee drinks, store-bought smoothies, and sports drinks all have a lot more in common with your Big Gulp than you might think. I’m talking sugar content, of course.
Sugar has a lot of names, but the truth is that once we swallow it, it’s all the same to our body. The human body is miraculous in many ways, but it’s not that smart. It doesn’t just decide that oranges are healthier than corn syrup, so think again before you get juicing. Let’s crunch the numbers.
- Naked Brand Green Machine: 280 calories, 56 g sugar
The ingredients list might be pretty clean, but this 16 oz. drink contains almost three times the amount of sugar of two Reese’s Cups. Holy moly. Again, the body isn’t going to disregard the blood sugar spike just because it’s coming from apple juice.
- Starbucks Peppermint White Mocha (16 oz): 460 calories, 78 g carbs
Okay, so Starbucks isn’t even letting us in on the sugar content, but you can bet all the carbohydrate content in that drink is coming from sugar. The only natural sugars come from the milk, and that’s a small portion. There are tons of smarter, wiser decisions you can make at the coffee shop. Avoiding sugar is one thing, but artificial sweeteners aren’t helping your sugar cravings, so think again before you go “skinny.” That’s a whole meal!
- Frozen Margarita: 500 calories, 70 g sugar
These numbers will obviously vary from bar to bar, but the reliable variable will be the sugar content. And let’s get real here for a minute, who stops at just one margarita? When you tack this drink on to the rest of your bar tab, your credit card won’t be the only one taking a beating.
Is your life over now? Nope. The thing about drinking calories much like snacking is that it’s a habit. We can all afford to be a little more mindful. Many people’s daily routines include a morning stop at the coffee shop. Instead of splurging in the holiday drinks (pumpkin spice latte with extra whipped cream, I’m talking to YOU), order a plain latte. Better yet, get used to drinking your coffee black. Even a pack or two of sugar isn’t doing nearly as much damage as that grande frappuccino.
The way we guzzle down caffeine in the mornings, we are a culture who values alcohol to ease up at the end of the week and socialize. While my personal recommendation is to cut out alcohol entirely, especially if you have weight loss goals, there is always the option of the better choice. Order plain liquor, club soda, and citrus over ice for a refreshing, sugar-free beverage. Choose wine over beer. Remember that you are in control! Making better choices doesn’t mean making perfect choices or sacrificing everything we know and love.
Read the label
Sugar isn’t just called sugar. Oh no, that would be too easy. This is likely one of the main reasons we’re in the dark when it comes to trying to reduce our intake of the sweet stuff. Moreover, sugar isn’t limited to cookies and cake. Dressings, sauces, and those “healthy” yogurts and cereals are all foods with a secret agenda. Just because it looks innocent doesn’t mean it is, and you should be familiar with the most common traps.
This is especially something to be cautious of if the food label reads “fat free.” If it’s fat-free, this food is probably making up for it with sugar. Makes sense, huh? And sugar-free candy? It goes without saying that these foods are loaded with fake ingredients that probably aren’t much better than sugar.
Here are a few names to watch out for as you scour the labels:
- Corn Syrup
It doesn’t have to be high-fructose corn syrup. This stuff is the same all around, and it’s much less natural than plain ol’ table sugar. Again, the body doesn’t know the difference. Remember, all corn is candy!
- (Brown) Rice Syrup
This is probably going to be the main lurker in those “healthy” granolas, cereals, and gluten-free cookies. Brown rice is known for being a healthy alternative to white rice, so what’s up with the syrup? Well, it’s just sugar. Stick to the real food and avoid its byproducts.
It’s just another name for sugar. Remember it!
- Coconut Palm Sugar
Amongst healthy eaters, this sweetener is of the most beloved. While coconut products are oftentimes a very healthy source of fat, this fruit’s sugar is… well, it’s just sugar. It’s a nice substitute to bake at home with, but beware of its ability to make something seem a whole lot healthier than it is.
Honey, molasses, and maple syrup are easily the best sweetener options. They’re all natural, and they even contain trace minerals making them at the very least slightly nutritious. I can’t reiterate enough that sugar is SUGAR, no matter what the source. Use these three when baking and cooking at home, and use them wisely!
Make it at home
No brainer? Maybe not. If you’re trying to get on board the healthy lifestyle wagon, this is a fact that cannot be overlooked. You’re going to have to spend some time in your kitchen. Hard work at the gym is complemented incredibly well with hard work in the kitchen. The best part of all? You control the sugar content. Making your own dressings and sauces can especially cut down on your intake.
The undeniable truth is that sugar tastes freaking amazing. There isn’t a living creature who can deny this. We all have a penchant for it, and that’s why food manufacturers so heavily rely on it. It makes what previously tasted like cardboard edible beyond its serving size. It gives spaghetti sauce life beyond the natural sweetness of perfectly ripe tomatoes. We’re either improving food that shouldn’t be food in the first place or fixing things that aren’t broken. Here are a few examples of sugar-laden products that are easily done sugar-free in your own kitchen.
- Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce (2 tbsp.): 70 calories, 16 g sugar
The main ingredient? High fructose corn syrup. That comes in 4 teaspoons of sugar for those ribs. And that’s if you’re being modest. BBQ is about indulgence, and that means getting generous with your slathering of sauce. You’ll likely double or triple that serving with your entire meal.
- Heinz Ketchup (1 tbsp.): 20 calories, 4 g sugar
Here’s where they get ya! That serving size is, once again, unrealistic. A tablespoon is hardly enough to get two good dips out of. Four grams of sugar may seem insignificant, but it’s pretty high for the measly portion.
- Kikkoman Hoisin Sauce (1 tbsp.): 40 calories, 8 g sugar
If you want to add some asian flare to your dish, skip the hoisin. This thick and flavorful sauce packs in the sugar BIG time. Products like these contain just as much – if not MORE – sugar than chocolate sauce. Opt for gluten-free soy sauce of coconut aminos instead.
Making these condiments at home can cut down on sugar without sacrificing flavor. Opt for dry-rubs for your meat, marinades and brines if you’re prepping ahead and sugar-free sauces like plain mustard, oil and vinegar, or your favorite salsas instead.
Above all, EAT TO PERFORM. Your body and its ability to move, work, push, pull, and recover depend on protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Sugar is a source of carbs, but it’s not the same as complex carbs like oats, rice, potatoes, plantains, and winter squash. There’s no doubt about it that sugar is both addictive and harmful in the long-term. Beyond feeling better right now, cutting back on sugar will improve your health for the long haul. You can expect better mood stabilization, weight loss, more restful sleep, and sustained energy when you give it up for good – what’s not to love?
Master your instincts!
Alexandra Barone is a healthy living aficionado residing in Pittsburgh, PA. She writes about all things real food with a focus on paleo. From the kitchen to the gym to roaming the forest, she values a good soundtrack and a color-coordinated outfit.