I like to think of sugar as a drug. If you think about it, refined sugar bears striking resemblances to illegal street drugs: it’s a white crystalline or powdery substance that does not occur in its refined form spontaneously in nature, just like many addicting substances. When we ingest it, we get an immediate dopamine release and accompanying sense of pleasure, and if we are used to having it often and then are deprived of it for a longer time than usual, we get cranky and irritable. We can even have withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, moodiness, and so forth when we stop eating it. It’s a substance we often can’t bring ourselves to resist, even though we are well aware of many of the consequences of using it. Sound like a drug? All laughing aside, I have to admit that it sure sounds like one to me.
One of my biggest pet peeves about public schools and certain social traditions is that they have increased my children’s intake of sugar by at least ten times what it would be without them. For instance, every time someone in my child’s class has a birthday, it’s a tradition for the birthday kid to bring a special treat—invariably a sugary treat—for every member of the class. Multiply this by 24-28 kids each school year, then add the class parties, birthday parties at friends’ houses, trick-or-treating, Christmas goodies, Valentines Day card/treat swapping at school, Easter candy, and candy thrown out to children at summertime parades. And don’t forget the treats offered to my kids every time I go to the bank, the grocery store, the hardware store, and even (yes, it’s true!) the doctor’s office of all places. By the time we add it all up, my kids have been bombarded with sugar. I am sure that the motive behind this is not to inundate my child with sugar, but that is the effect it has.
Early on in our home, we had much less sugar than we do now, but as time has gone by and my children get older, I have less control over how much sugar they eat. At times my children have absolutely refused to eat anything that is not sweetly-flavored; no meat or vegetables will cross their lips. It becomes a battle of wills. They become less cooperative, more irritable, less able to focus, and more disrespectful when they are in a sugar funk.
Kicking the Habit
How do you kick the sugar habit? I’m not an expert, but here are a few suggestions that I’ve tried somewhat successfully:
- Drink more water. Why would drinking more water help you eat less sugar? Much of the sugar we consume comes in the form of beverages, so if we fill up on water more often, we’ll be less inclined to down a soda.
- Eat more protein and fats. Protein and fats stay with you longer than sugars do. So after the sugar has been used up, the proteins and fats start to be used by your body for energy. It’s ironic that our culture that eats about 10-15% less fat than it did 60 years ago, is now, on the average, more overweight than it was 60 years ago. Be choosy about fats, though. Completely avoid trans fats, or hydrogenated oils. Eat moderate amounts of saturated fats. Also, choose healthier monounsaturated fats, and Omega 3, 6, and 9’s. And by all means, don’t go overboard on fat consumption.
- Try new flavors. Make a goal to try a new or relatively new non-sweet flavor a few times per week. Try out a new spice or herb, or a new veggie or fruit, or whole grain.
- Eat more often. Usually, when we are craving a sweet snack, it has been a few hours since our last meal. It’s easier to avoid cravings if we nip them in the bud—before they even start. If you normally start craving a sweet snack at 10:30 a.m., try snacking on whole wheat toast, carrots, cheddar cheese, and 12-16 oz. of water at 9:45 or 10:00, before your blood glucose levels are low enough to make you crave sugar.
- When snacking, think “food groups” first. Use snacks as an opportunity to add to your day’s allotment of each food group. Put a higher priority on healthy foods by choosing them first.
Good luck on your quest for a low-sugar lifestyle. It’s a goal worth fighting for, and will likely help you live longer, avoid disease, have more energy, and be healthier overall!