Going off sugar can make us feel like addicts because we absolutely are experiencing some of the same symptoms.
We feel the effects of sugar in all its forms, however, the biggest culprit is added refined sugar. Instead of nourishing the body, added refined sugars encourage our taste for even more sugary foods and start a vicious cycle. At the crux of the issue is this: added sugar is pervasive in so many foods and the majority of people overconsume added sugars on a daily basis without even realizing it.
How sugar affects your body and health.
Too much sugar may lead to impaired glucose and insulin function which can lead to more serious issues like diabetes, general weight gain, and an increase in cholesterol and triglycerides. Sugar wreaks havoc on our bodies. It suppresses our immune system, triggers mood disorders, and amplifies pain and inflammation.
Refined sugar contains no fiber, no minerals, no protein, no healthy fats, no enzymes, only rapidly digested and empty calories. The consumption of sugar actually pulls minerals from the body during digestion, which forces the body to compromise its nutrients and minerals in order to digest the sugars.
Sugar cravings are also part of a cause and effect mechanism. Blood-sugar dips, insatiable hunger, moodiness, and lethargy are all symptoms of “sugar addiction.” If you’re experiencing intense sugar cravings, it’s important to determine the root cause and any external factors to break the cycle of addiction.
The good news: suppressing cravings don’t have to involve drastic diet changes. Weaning yourself from the wrath of sugar starts with awareness, preventative measures, and simple substitutes. Creating consciousness around how added sugars act in the body will help you recognize the symptoms of sugar cravings and treat them as such.
5 ways to cut out sugar and kill sugar cravings.
In killing cravings and thus consuming less sugar, your body will maintain a stronger immune system and you’ll regain lost energy that has previously been wasted on sugar. These are some of my top tips to help you shake down those sugar cravings.
1. Replenish your gut.
What could be the urge behind sugar cravings? Several factors, and many start with the health of your microbiome, which is the ecosystem of bacteria that benefits our gut health and immune system. Having an unhealthy gut usually means sugar cravings will show up in the form of sweets, bread, fruit, or dairy. Too much sugar consumption contributes to an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria in the gut, also known as dysbiosis, which also creates an inflammatory environment in the body.
When the gut is in a state of balance, the good bacteria thrive, controlling inflammation and bad bacteria overgrowth, and the body is better able to digest and detoxify any foreign poisonous substances to avoid nutritional deficiency.
At Parsley Health, we often guide members through an elimination diet to help remove foods that are uniquely irritating to them and help balance their inner ecosystem. Other tips for balancing the ratio of good bacteria in your gut include consuming fermented vegetables (think kimchi and pickled veggies), probiotic liquids (such as coconut kefir and some kombucha), and healing bone broth.
Pro tip: A good quality probiotic can also help rebuild healthy gut bacteria levels, protect intestinal integrity and boost immune function.
2. Get plenty of sleep.
As the old saying goes — drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep. Quality sleep is crucial when talking appetite control. It’s much more challenging for a sleep-deprived you to resist sugary foods and refined carbohydrates. The body of a sleep-deprived person is signaling that it wants a pick me up, and the body’s neurons and muscle memory cleverly recognize that sugar provides a “high”, so the body asks for it, often in the form of a craving.
Pro tip: Create a bedtime routine. Leave room in your day before bed for restoration and relaxation time, and focus on making sleep a priority.
3. Have protein for breakfast.
Cravings are much harder to manage if you let your blood sugar spike in the morning, only to drop again a couple hours later. Incorporating protein in your breakfast is part of the important game plan for controlling appetite throughout the day. Consuming some form of protein at every meal, especially breakfast, increases satiety and has a stabilizing effect on blood sugar. This improves our appetite control and can help prevent us from reaching for a sweet snack mid-morning and will keep mindless munching at bay throughout the day.
4. Swap refined carbs for fat.
When we opt for a “low-fat” diet, we are more often than not choosing to replace a flavorful, moist, and satiating food with another flavorful substitute: usually a refined carbohydrate (AKA sugar). Our bodies digest simple carbs very easily, which in turn creates a craving for more sugar in attempts to energize the body once again. This yoyo-ing deprives our body of maintaining equilibrium and is totally unsustainable.
Healthy fats serve the body well and aid in hormonal balance, boost the metabolism, and regulate blood sugar. Eating a source of healthy fat along with or in place of a carbohydrate will slow down the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream, preventing undesirable sugar highs and lows. Healthy sources of fat include nut butters, avocados, eggs, coconut oil, and high-quality animal protein such as wild caught salmon.
Pro tip: Try adding a teaspoon of coconut oil to your morning coffee. I do this a few times a week with my High Fat Morning Glory Coffee and it helps to stabilize my blood sugar and keeps me alert and focused.
5. Know your label.
Label reading involves some common sense and some (unfortunately) not-so-common-sense. Make it a habit to read the ingredients on nutrition labels before purchasing an item to avoid artificial sweeteners and hidden sugars. Studies have also shown that artificial sugars may lead to type 2 diabetes.
Be aware that if you purchase a “sweet” food and don’t recognize a familiar-sounding sweetener, it doesn’t mean the item doesn’t contain added sugar. Sugar is often not in plain sight on labels and will masquerade under alternate names such as agave, corn syrup, malt syrup, invert sugar, fruit juice concentrates, dextrose; anything with the ending “-ose,” and more. Some manufacturers will actually divide a designated gram amount of sugar in the form of more unrecognizable sugars, in attempts to list them lower on the ingredients list, making the consumer believe the total amount of sugar on the label is lower than it actually is.
Opt for naturally sweet foods as they provide balancers. Fruit, for instance, contains natural sugars accompanied by fiber, which slows digestion and enables the natural sugars to be more easily digestible by the body resulting in no major sugar spikes. Carrots, berries, apples, sweet potatoes, coconut, and chestnuts are all great examples of naturally sweet foods with no added sugars.
Pro tip: Start buying unsweetened versions of staples like yogurt and nut milk so your taste buds can get used to it. If you absolutely need to add some sweetness to your food, try a very small amount of honey, maple syrup, or fruit.
When a craving hits, try shifting your focus and energy on other pleasurable or therapeutic activities and take some real time to determine what works for your body specifically. Let common sense prevail and remember that the craving for something sweet is just your body attempting to regulate itself; we promise you don’t need the extra sugar to survive.
If you’re not quite sure where to start with a sugar detox, try out our free 5 Day Clear Mind and Body Reset. This transformative program is designed to help you increase your energy levels, decrease bloat, and balance your hormones. It also includes a refined sugar-free meal plan, daily guided meditations to reduce stress, and ongoing support. Get started here.