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February 16, 2019 3 min read

By Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

If there’s one food most of us have a love/hate relationship with, it’s sugar. We love the sweet stuff, but endorphins don’t last forever. Plus, eating too much sugar can lead to weight problems and chronic diseases.

But apparently, taste trumps science. In 2014 the World Health Organization dropped its sugar intake recommendations from 10 percent of daily calorie intake to 5 percent. If you do the math, you'll find that's a paltry 100 calories per day for women (about 6 teaspoons) and 150 calories per day for men (9 teaspoons). Yet people in the U.S. continue to consume an estimated 2–3 times the recommended daily amount of sugar. 

One reason we can't kick the sugar habit is that it’s ubiquitous these days — especially in processed foods. Another is that there is a lot of science indicating  sugar is highly addictive.

The question is: Are you hooked? Consider the following five signs that you may need a sugar intervention:

  1. Mindless sugar consumption. You often eat more of a sugary product than you intended to. Even if you don’t really want to eat it, your fork keeps going for that cake. 
  2. Cravings for simple carbohydrates. This doesn’t necessarily mean cookies and ice cream or other sugary snacks. It could be animal crackers, pretzels, chips or other processed snacks. Simple carbohydrates give your brain and blood sugar a spike, albeit short-lasting.
  3. Sugar withdrawal. You’ve noticed symptoms of withdrawal if you don’t have sugar within a certain time. You might notice headaches, body aches, fatigue and feeling overall poorly.
  4. Skin problems. You’ve developed uncharacteristic acne. Some studies suggest that foods with a high glycemic index — which are typically high sugar, simple carbohydrate foods — can worsen acne, while eating mostly low glycemic index foods may help alleviate it. 
  5. Fatigue and poor sleep. You don’t sleep well, even though you feel tired throughout the day. If this is the case, your body may be looking for its next pick-me-up, while you crash in between doses. On the other hand, poor sleep can make sugar cravings worse.

Does this sound like you? If so, here are some ideas for how to combat sugar addiction:

Try a whole foods detox. This could be approached in a couple of ways. Either you make a gradual transition to cutting out sugar and focusing on whole foods, or you ditch sugar cold turkey. Eventually, you will retrain your brain (and palate) to crave whole foods instead.

Replace desserts and sugary snacks with fruit. Fruit contains natural sugars. You may be able to satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit, like frozen grapes or berries. Identify when your sugar cravings tend to hit and plan to munch on fruit around those times instead.

Avoid artificial sweeteners. Sugar alternatives are many times sweeter than table sugar. When people are trying to avoid sugar, they often turn to diet beverages or “light” foods that contain artificial sweeteners. The problem is that these compounds actually promote sugar cravings and sugar dependence.

Drink more water throughout the day. Staying hydrated can help prevent cravings when you’re not really hungry. Keep a water bottle by your side as much as possible. Flavor it with a slice of lemon or lime if you like.

Keep yourself busy. Do you find yourself opening the fridge multiple times even when you  don’t know what you want to eat? This is usually a result of boredom, or perhaps procrastination. Try to keep your brain occupied around your craving times. Go for a walk, call a friend or do a crossword puzzle.

Reduce known stressors. Sugary foods are great for comforting us during times of stress. If you think stress could be a factor, try to identify what your stressors are. Either eliminate them or come up with other ways to help your mind cope.

It can be hard to completely avoid sugar, but it’s important to have a healthy relationship with it. For many of us, this means acknowledging when we might be eating too much and figuring out the best solution.

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