The reasons for sugar addiction are different for different people, but three major reasons can be distinguished: hormonal imbalances (especially the hormones insulin and serotonin), an unhealthy diet in general, and the power of habits. Sugar addiction really does exist!
Below are some recommendations for those who want to cut back on sugar in their diet. But first, let’s look at sugar consumption recommendations.
How much sugar is it OK to eat?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the consumption of free sugars should not be more than 10% of all consumed energy, and preferably less than 5 %. Let me explain right away what free sugars are. Free sugars include monosaccharides (for example, glucose and fructose) and disaccharides (for example, sucrose, aka table sugar), which are added by the manufacturer (or the consumer himself) to food and beverages. Sugar, which is naturally present in sugary foods like honey, syrup, and fruit juices, also falls into this category. But! The WHO recommendations do not apply to so-called natural sugars found in fresh fruits, vegetables and milk. So, get the myth that “you can’t eat a lot of fruit, because it has a lot of sugar” out of your head, and enjoy its sweet taste without feeling any guilt.
Why this number? “We have strong evidence that eating less than 5% of total energy intake of free sugars reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay,” explains Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of the WHO Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.
It is clear to pretty much everybody that a lot of sugar is found in all types of industrial confectionery products, preserves, and jams. But not everyone knows that a significant portion of sugar consumed is hidden in processed foods, which are usually not even considered to be sweet. Here are some examples. One tablespoon of ketchup contains about 4 grams (about 1 teaspoon) of free sugars. A 125 ml serving of fruit yogurt contains an average of 12 grams of sugar, or 3 teaspoons. One glass of sugary soda contains up to 40 grams (about 10 teaspoons) of free sugars. Energy drinks, granola bars, and crunchy breakfast cereals are also high in sugar. Manufacturers add sugar to sauces and dressings, baby food and bread.
What do the WHO recommendations mean in practice?
How much is 5% (sugar) of your energy consumption? Let’s count together. On average, men need about 2.500 calories per day, women – 2.000 calories. Five percent (sugar) will be, respectively, 125 and 100 calories per day. There are 400 calories in 100 g of sugar. This means that the WHO recommends eating no more than 25 g of sugar (women) or 30 g (men) per day. One teaspoon of sugar is about 4 g. This means you can eat 6-7 teaspoons of sugar per day. But you need to not only consider the “pure” sugar that you add to tea, coffee, baked goods, etc., but also the sugar in the composition of finished products, as well as honey, other sweeteners, and fruit juices.
Dietary advice: how to get over sugar addiction
It is possible to drastically reduce sugar intake. I have prepared ten practical recommendations for you, and you can decide for yourself which one(s) to follow.
- Read labels
The ingredients on the label are listed in order of their mass fraction in the product. That is, the ingredient with the largest share is indicated first. Therefore, if you see the word “sugar” at the forefront, then be sure that there is a lot of it in the product. In most countries the exact amount must be indicated by the manufacturer on the label.
- Don’t start your day with sweets
Scientists have made an interesting observation: a breakfast that tastes sweet (muesli, croissants, sweet yogurt, etc.) stimulates further consumption of other sweet foods throughout the day. Read about ideal breakfast composition in this article.
- Consume enough dietary fibre
There is glucose in our blood all the time. It is important that its level does not become too high. Dietary fibre slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. Fibre is found in plant foods: whole grains, bran, lentils, beans, peas, vegetables, berries, nuts, seeds.
- Don’t starve
Never skip meals. The most optimal nutrition pattern is breakfast, lunch, dinner (preferably at about the same time every day) plus 1-2 light snacks, if necessary. Make sure there are no excessively long pauses between meals. During long periods of time without food (> 5 hours), blood glucose levels drop significantly. This leads, firstly, to poor mood (irritability, inability to concentrate, weakness), and secondly, to the fact that the body urgently requires fast glucose, read: sugar.
- Get rid of temptations
Do not buy sugar-containing foods, do not use “children” and “visitors” as an excuse. Sugar is harmful for their health too!
Implement a sugar-free workplace policy.
The urge to eat something sweet comes and goes. If you feel overcome by it, tell yourself that you will satisfy it if it does not disappear within 10 minutes. Wait. Keep in mind that most emotional impulses, including food-related ones, only last a few minutes. Also keep in mind that food addiction is no different from any other form of addiction: after the first bite, you want a second, a third …
- Switch attention
If you have a “sweet tooth” attack, do something completely different that will distract you from the desire to eat. Ideally, go for a walk or engage in another physical activity.
- Brush your teeth or chew gum (sugar free)
Many people crave sweets after lunch or dinner. In this case, rinsing your mouth with an antiseptic solution or brushing your teeth helps. The specific taste of toothpaste does not go well with sweets. The same goes for chewing gum (unsweetened). Research shows that chewing gum (preferably mint-flavoured) reduces the intake of sweets.
- Experiment in the kitchen
Try new dessert recipes without sugar. Nowadays, both bookstores and the Internet are full of resources with useful healthy recipes. Have a look at my healthy recipes here.
- Set realistic goals
Finally, I want to point out that in any dietary strategy, it is important to set realistic goals for yourself. You don’t have to completely eliminate sugar from your life. Just make sure to set reasonable boundaries for yourself.