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Seven smart ways to cut sugar out of your life

Seven smart ways to cut sugar out of your life

Weaning yourself off sugar is like breaking an addiction, but there’s hope, it takes just 21 days to make a new habit.
Woman saying no to sugar
All you need to do is to train your brain to satisfy its sugar cravings by eating foods like mangoes, dates, and honey instead.

Sugar is sweet, but it has a bittersweet reputation. While sugars are found naturally in a host of fruits, vegetables, and grains that we eat, they are usually accompanied by fibre, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, making it all right to eat them. 

The real problem is with the refined white sugar crystals which we add to sweeten our food and drinks; and the large amounts of refined sugar which are hidden in processed foods, which are all linked with causing several diseases. 

Researchers say you are at a greater risk of developing obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cognitive decline and even some cancers if your intake of added sugars is higher than necessary for your body. 

‘Definitely, sugar is something we want to avoid,” says Shalmali Sharma, founder and chief nutritionist at Re-Vive. “In general, keeping your sugar in a low range is essential to regulate your hormones. Consuming a lot of refined sugar can even disturb certain brain chemicals and can be more dangerous than consuming cocaine.” 

Here are some intelligent ways to either partially or entirely cut the consumption of sugar. 

Train your brain 

When you eat a sugary substance, your brain understands its sweetness only as a taste. It cannot make out whether the sugar is natural and nutritious as from fruits; or whether it is refined sugar and unhealthy. All you need to do is to train your brain to satisfy its sugar cravings by eating foods like mangoes, dates, and honey instead. 

“Sweetness does not really mean sugar,” says Sharma. “People are so habituated to having refined sugar that they overlook the fact that nature has provided us with a combination of salt and sugar. We must just identify a natural and better source [than refined sugar.]” 

How to cut sugar craving

The key is in keeping the intake of sugar, especially the added spoonful, in check. You can count the sugar added to everything you eat and drink, consciously making sure you are consuming it within the recommended levels. 

The National Health Services (NHS), UK, recommends that the daily intake of added dietary sugar should not exceed 30 grams for an adult, 24 grams for a child aged 7-10 years and 19 grams for a child aged 4-6 years. According to NHS and experts, children under the age of 4 years should not be given sugary or sweetened food and drinks at all. 

Though these recommendations might change based on populations, India, for instance, recommends a daily intake of up to 9 teaspoons (30 grams) for adult men and 7 teaspoons (25 grams) for adult women. This is based on the differences in their body structure and hormonal levels. 

Right substitutes 

Good nutrition can control sugar cravings. Sharma says that if you succumb to the cravings of an ice-cream, eat it along with a cup of fruits. This way, you will also be consuming the fructose present naturally in fruits. Over time, the palate gets used to relishing fruits, the sugar cravings get less and the addiction is broken. 

A teaspoon each of sugar and honey both have 85-89 calories. What then is the use of replacing sugar with honey? It comes down to nutrition. A teaspoon of sugar is empty calories, but that is not the case with honey, which is good, Sharma says. 

Those aiming to reduce their sugar intake but still want to eat sweets should try to add nutritional value to their desserts. This does not mean that every glass of water you consume should have honey in it, but it can break the addiction to colas, sodas, and energy drinks. 

“We recommend [eating or drinking] the best version of the worst [foods],” Sharma says. 

Spotting the packed villains 

Most of the extra sugar that we consume comes from sugary beverages such as colas, juices, and energy drinks. Although packaged fruit juices, smoothies and energy bars sell themselves as being ‘healthy’, they, too, contain a large amount of added refined sugar. 

Every time you buy a processed food item, make it a practice to check its nutritional labels.  Reading the information on the packs carefully for details of added sugar and other ingredients in them is one way of deciding which foods to avoid.  As a rule of thumb, if you find sugar as one of the first five ingredients on a label, return the product to the shelf. You can also plan to fill your kitchen with ‘no-added sugar’ snacks and sauces. 

“I am sure that 90 percent of packaged, preserved, or canned food and beverages would have a lot of sugar in them,” says Sharma. “Bread, biscuits and sauces, for example, contain far more sugar than we presume.” 

She suggests that the intake of sugar is best controlled with desserts made at home. 

Train the taste buds 

Training one’s tastebuds is not impossible, it’s only a realisation that you have power over your own body. Experts recommend weaning yourself off sugars slowly rather than fully denying them abruptly. The first few days might be difficult, but over a period the results will be rewarding. 

Sharma suggests a mind training trick to reset your palate. If you are used to taking two teaspoons of sugar in your coffee or tea, try to cut it to 1.5 teaspoons for two weeks and then to one teaspoon – or even none – in another few weeks. Over time your tastebuds will get reset and find it too sweet if you add two spoons or even less sugar to the drink. 

From what she has seen, it takes 21 days to make a habit and almost 90 days to make it permanent. 

“Your brain is a rebel. If you suddenly cut off anything, it will crave more of that,” says Sharma. “Any alteration should be gradual and slow so that the body will adapt itself to it smoothly.” 

Avoid artificial sweeteners 

Many people who plan to reduce sugar consumption often substitute it with artificial sweeteners in beverages and desserts. These are synthetic chemicals that mimic the sugary taste and come as powders or tiny pills. A general view of doctors is that dumping chemicals into our body in the form of artificial sweeteners is not healthy at all and should be avoided unless approved by a physician. 

Keep stress out  

In times of stress many of us end up eating `comfort foods’ such as fried snacks and sweets. There is a scientific reason for this. When we are under stress, our body releases cortisol – a stress hormone – and this is counteracted by `happy hormones’ that are released by our brain when we indulge in sugary foods. 

However, this perceived happiness is temporary. Sugary foods are not only unhealthy, they also make us feel sluggish. When treating anxiety or stress, experts suggest that bad eating habits should be fixed first. 

A nutritious diet also boosts the brain where all bodily signals originate. Sharma cautions that everyone should be mindful of not only the food they eat but also of the slow poison that refined sugar is. When we consciously adopt nutritious and low-sugar habits, the rewards are two-fold: a healthy body as well as a happy brain. 

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