Dr. Samantha’s Top Tips for Kicking Sugar to the Curb
Most people eat more sugar than they think that they do. It’s everywhere. Go grab a few things from your pantry or your fridge. Spaghetti sauce. Crackers. Cereal. Yogurt. Even milk. Now, look at the label. Check out the serving size. Now, look at how much sugar is in that serving. 4.2 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. Now think about how this adds up. Even before you have anything that you think of as being a sweet treat…cookies, bars, etc.
But, but, but…what if it’s healthy sugar? Fruit? Raisins? Granola? Yogurt? Milk? Yes, those things have nutritional value so they’re better, of course, than a Snickers or a Ding Dong. But it’s still sugar. Make it count toward your health. Sweet potato. A piece of fruit. Some dark chocolate. A little milk in your tea.
When you eat too much sugar it’s straight up bad for your health.
Now to be clear I’m not saying sugar is evil. I don’t want to demonize any food. But here’s the deal: It can increase inflammation (conditions ending with –itis anyone?) Too much sugar in your blood can increase your cholesterol and triglycerides (for my high cholesterol patients I almost always suggest a high protein and low carb/sugar diet but that’s another post…) It can affect your heart health. It increases cancer growth. It can increase your risk for dementia. And that’s just part of the picture.
In short, for most of us, less sugar is better.
Here are my top tips if you think it would be helpful for you to cut it down (or out!):
- Read every label with the fact in mind that 4.2 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. If you’re reading this you’re old enough to choose what you’re putting in your own mouth. Eat sugar if you want but be conscious of it, and make sure that it’s something that you are choosing, not a knee-jerk reaction, and not because you don’t realize it.
- Eat enough food. More of my patients under eat than overeat. That includes people who come in looking to lose weight. If you don’t eat enough food you’ll be more likely to go off the rails and eat things that don’t line up with what makes you feel best.
- Eat more protein and good quality fat (nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, fish, coconut oil, lean meats etc.) Protein and fat stabilize blood sugar. Stable blood sugar means more stable moods so you’ll be less prone to go for sugar. Stable blood sugar means fewer sugar cravings.
- Sleep well. Studies show that you eat more when you don’t get enough sleep. Studies show that you are more likely to make poor food choices when you don’t get enough sleep. Studies even show that it’s harder to lose weight (if that happens to be something you’re after) if you don’t get enough sleep.
- Consider a sugar ‘detox.’ As a rule I really dislike the word detox. You don’t really ‘detox’ when you don’t eat sugar or carbs or whatever other thing you’re not eating. (Also, please don’t take laxatives for a ‘detox’ that’s not a detox, but I digress.) Because sugar can literally be addicting to the brain, sometimes it’s best to just STOP to be able to get off of the sugar merry-go-round. We get accustomed to the taste of sugar such that we need more and more to get both our taste and emotional needs met. When you stop eating it for a while (and I do recommend all sugar if you can manage it, natural sugars included) your taste will literally change.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. First, we really have no idea how these affect our bodies in the long game. Studies seem to show that they actually cause weight gain (again, only an issue for those who have concern about this.) But also, when you eat sweet things your tongue will want more sweet things. I also believe that our bodies are designed to ingest food the way nature made it. As one of my colleagues says “Eat close to the Earth.”
- Look at what is underneath your sugar consumption. No, your body doesn’t need chocolate when you lack magnesium. And no your body doesn’t need sugar when you’re tired. Cravings are almost always emotional. Sugar makes us feel good. It is often offered as a substitute for love, as a reward, and as a way to make ourselves feel better. Of course, it’s ok to connect around food but not if it feels like it’s ruling your life, or if it’s affecting your health. If that’s the case then you need to look at what is driving your sugar consumption. The more you understand, the better choices you’ll make.
- Find another dopamine booster. See my last post about dopamine and sugar. If you have other (legal and ethical of course) ways to create dopamine then you’ll be able to meet that part of why you feel driven to eat sugar in another way. Novelty, sex, companionship, and exercise are all options.
- Supplements. There are two supplements that I will often recommend to patients and clients who are dealing with sugar cravings are l-glutamine and chromium picolinate. Of course, you should talk to your own physician about whether it’s appropriate for you—and if you need some personalized guidance about what might be best for you from a health or nutritional standpoint, you can book with me personally here. 🙂
- Purge your house. If there is food that you legitimately don’t want to eat, get it out of your house. Don’t finish it. Donate it. That half eaten pint of Ben & Jerry’s? It won’t do you any more good in your belly than it will in the compost if you really are trying to cut back. If you have kids that ‘need’ junk food in the house, consider whether that is actually true. Does your eight-year-old have to have a cookie for dessert? Could she have a piece of fruit? Is it necessary to have family dessert every night?
- Ask yourself what’s most important…every, single, day. My book Overcoming Overwhelm—Dismantle Your Stress from the Inside Out guides you through a process of identifying what is most important, as well as how you want to feel in your body and how you want to feel emotionally. Think about this before you grab that muffin. Is this the best choice you can make? What other options do you have? If it is your only option, how can you plan better for tomorrow? Bring nuts with you to work. Keep jerky in the car. Make this smoothie instead of the one that you usually make with all that fruit.
- Be kind to yourself. Nothing will make you binge on sugar faster than hating on yourself for eating that cookie when you decided you weren’t going to eat a cookie. Judging your body, judging your own choices, judging yourself in any and all ways is a sure fire way to lead you down a road of self-destruction be it major or minor. If you don’t believe with every cell of your body that you deserve to feel good, make it a priority to do your work to figure out why you don’t.
A healthy, life is waiting for you—body, mind, and spirit.
Go get it!
Yours in Health,