5 Steps to Break your Sugar Habit

Author: Kelly Lehmann  •  Date: May 6, 2014  •  Appears in: Community, News

5 Steps to Break your Sugar Habit

When the WHO came out with a draft for new guidelines recommending added sugars be decreased to less than 5% of calories (on average about 6 teaspoons, 25 g), media ran with it, in many different directions. You have the Canadian Sugar Institute claiming the guidelines are based on weak evidence. You have others taking it to the extreme of avoiding sugar in fruit and starchy vegetables too. As a registered dietitian, I am regulated by law to report only the facts. There is no doubt that in North America we consume too much sugar. And real science is emerging to support the theory that sugar has an addictive component. (1) Therefore, it is best to decrease our consumption of added sugars , preferably by increasing whole foods rich in fibre and nutrients. Follow these five steps on your path to a less sweet diet.

  1. Identify where sugar is hiding. In packaged foods you will see it listed under many different names. Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, glucose, mannitol, xylitol, sucrose, sorghum,  dextrose, fructose, and glucose are all added sugars. Also be aware of the “healthy” sugars such as coconut sugar, honey, agave or raw sugar. They are still sugar.
  2. Make sure you are eating enough throughout the day. Look at what you can add to your day, focusing on adding quality to your meals. A giant salad with organic greens and an oil/vinegar dressing or a handful of nuts are great additions.
  3. Make sure you are eating enough complex carbohydrates. Low carb diets work in the short term, however, over the long term, our need for glucose takes over. Get it from the right sources before you have cravings. Whole grains (hint: they look like seeds), sweet potato, squash, fruit and berries, seeds, nuts, beans and lentils all give us complex carbohydrates to fuel our brains and bodies, keep us full and satisfied and keep cravings at bay.
  4. Avoid artificial sweeteners. The sweet taste signals to the brain to that sugar is on the way. When no sugar follows, our brain tells our body to find sugar somewhere else, leading to cravings. Research on the mechanism of this is in its early stages, and may be an important piece to the obesity puzzle.(2) Replace diet pop with water,  carbonated or not, with a slice of lemon or lime. Other options include herbal teas.  
  5. Remember to meal plan. When you have a plan in place, you are less likely to give into cravings and you are more likely to get the nutrients and calories you need to function optimally. Plan meals you enjoy, focusing on whole foods and eat slowly and mindfully. 

Your palate will adjust to the lower sugar content in your diet. Expect the first few days to be difficult, and if you falter, be kind to yourself and don’t dwell on it, just continue eating whole foods. In time you will likely be able to add sugar in for special occasions without needing it everyday. You will also find natural foods taste sweeter and foods with added sugar will become too sweet.

(1) Avena NM, Rada P, Hoebel BG. Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008;32:20–39.
(2) Pierce WD, Heth CD, Owczarczyk JC, Russell JC, Proctor SD. Overeating by young obesity-prone and lean rats caused by tastes associated with low energy foods. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) 2007;15:1969–1979.

Kelly Lehmann


Kelly is a Registered Dietitian in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She does consultations both in person locally, and online across the country - www.okanaganrd.com. She blogs about food, cooking, family, fitness and balancing it all (as best as I can!) - www.okanaganrd.blogspot.ca.
Read more by Kelly Lehmann

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