It's that time of year again! As we wind down from the holiday season many of us begin to set those new year resolutions...During this time of year (especially after a season full of sweet treats) we can look at our lives and our habits and decide that we may be ready to let go of (or at least greatly reduce) SUGAR.
White sugar is extremely processed from its original state. The sugar cane is stripped of its healthy minerals and put through processing that renders it pretty much void of healthy nutrition.
Our bodies do need sugar. In fact, most food is broken down inside the body into simple sugars which the body uses for energy. However, more whole foods have a complex and infinite variety of vitamins and other materials that help them to digest slowly and provide complete nutrition without all of the harmful effects of a substance like pure white sugar.
Too much sugar in your diet can increase inflammation, lower immunity, and contribute to all of the issues that accompany extremes in blood sugar levels such as irregular energy and moods. Below I put together some of my top tips to reduce or quit sugar.
How to Quit Sugar
1) Eat Other Foods that Have a Sweet Flavor
According to eastern medicines sweet flavored foods are necessary to be healthy and whole. The sweet flavor is one of 5 main flavors in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine and is nourishing and building if used correctly. Processed sugars do not provide this same energetic value. Instead they deplete the body over time.
If you are accustomed to processed sweets the following foods may not seem very sweet to begin but gradually you will acquire a more refined sense of taste.
Some sweet foods include: yams, carrots, beets, and apples. I like making carrot and beet salad (grated raw in the summer and steamed in the wintertime). You can add lemon and apple to the salad to create more balance. Eating a small amount of dark chocolate or fruit will also provide that sweet flavor -- just don't overdo it! A client of mine now enjoys adding grated apples and cinnamon to her cereal in the morning instead of sprinkling sugar. Almost all fresh veggies have at least a slightly sweet flavor so fresh salads and sprouts are another great option. Get creative!
2) Add Foods to Reduce Cravings
Sugar is an extremely addictive substance so when starting to eliminate it from your diet it can be helpful to use specific flavors that are known to reduce cravings. In particular, sour, pungent, and bitter flavors provide a counter to sweet cravings. Lemons, limes, berries, mint, celery, and cucumber are great options to eat when craving sweets. Another option is to slow your digestion with healthy fat and protein such as a snack of rye crackers with raw nut butter and apple butter. The nut butter provides the protein and fat and the apple butter is low in sugar and provides a sour flavor.
3) Clear it Out
One of the best ways to ensure you won't eat excess sugar is to completely eliminate it from your home. Avoid white and brown sugar, syrups, packaged foods, cookies, crackers and "white" foods (white foods like white rice, bread and pasta are broken down into sugar in the body very fast. Instead choose whole grains).
And as much as possible avoid eating out. Excess sugars are often overeaten when eating at restaurants and cafes because you have so little control over the foods they serve.
4) Herbal Teas
The use of herbal medicine can help to satiate or curb a craving.
I suggest herbal teas with strong flavors but cleansing qualities such as peppermint and ginger You could also try licorice tea which has a naturally sweet taste. Many people also find a warm water with lemon helps to distract the taste buds when a craving strikes.
5) Sugar substitutes
At times you may like to use a sweetener for baking or occasionally for a special treat. There are so many sweeteners out there (many of them harmful or very similar to white sugar) so be careful what you choose. I usually suggest one of the following four substitutes:
Blackstrap molasses contains small amounts of iron and b vitamins and is a wonderful substitute especially for women who may be borderline anemic or those who are vegetarian.
Very small quantities of honey can be used because it is a source of vitamins and minerals but it is still high in sugars so moderation is advised if trying to decrease sugar.
Choose pure grade “B” maple syrup which is less refined and slightly more nutritious than other forms of maple syrup.
And finally some people enjoy using Stevia which is a plant that has a naturally sweet taste and was traditionally used to sweeten teas. Its long term effects are still in question though so short term minimal use is recommended.
6) Replace your old habit with a new one
When establishing new habits it can be helpful to directly replace the old habit with a healthy new one. For example, if you are used to always having a sweet treat after dinner create a new habit of doing 10 min of stretching, or knitting instead. If you usually have a midday sugary pick me up replace the habit with a walk around the block.
When making changes in our lives it can be very helpful to have the support or others. Changing diet and lifestyle can be some of the hardest changes to make since our habitual patterns are so deeply engrained.
Try to find a friend, a partner, or family member to cut out sugar with you. You can keep each other accountable and cheer each other on. Some people like to connect for a daily check in, discuss how the process is going, go grocery shopping, cook together, and share tips and ideas.
Others find it helpful to spend more time at a place that feels supportive like a healthy cafe, or yoga studio when trying to create new patterns around changing diet.
I also host a number of yoga cleanse retreats every year. Make sure to check them out if you’d like to participate in a guided group process of cleansing in a residential setting.
I hope these tips help you to create and sustain new healthy habits around sugar. Blessings on the journey and good luck!