June 1st 2016 By Helen Byrne
I have struggled most of my adult life with sugar cravings. At the time I did not realise I was addicted to sugar and it was playing havoc on my health and my mental health. One of the good things that a breast cancer diagnosis did for me – it scared me of sugar – I enjoy the occasional treat now but nothing like the excesses before.
You may have heard somewhere that sugar “feeds” cancer cells. I have done all the research on all the reputable cancer centres and cancer studies and this doesn’t appear to be altogether true. But what we know now is that excess sugar increases your risk of lifestyle related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity. And we know that obesity is one of the 5 risk factors for cancer along with poor diet, lack of exercise, alcohol and smoking. So yes there is link between sugar and cancer indirectly.
But, there are other reasons to reassess your refined sugar intake. Refined sugar is often referred to as empty calories because it is devoid of any nutrients. People who consume the most sugar have lowest intake of essential nutrients, like vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, and magnesium.
Beyond that, sugar affects your physiology and has an addictive quality to it. When you eat sugar, it quickly converts into glucose in your bloodstream, leading to a blood sugar spike. You feel a rush of energy – woohoo! But quickly thereafter, your energy crashes leaving you tired and unconsciously cravings for another sugar high. There you are at 3pm and you feel absolutely nothing will satisfy you except another sugar high.
I talk to clients a lot about training the mind to observe and stay neutral so that we’re not pulled by the hourly changes of our thoughts and emotions. From a neutral place, we can make better decisions, be more productive and ultimately have a healthier life. When I applied the things like self-observation and open-minded curiosity—to my diet, I learned that I was being pulled this way and that, several times per day, as my blood sugars ebbed and peaked throughout the day. As nice as it was to have an occasional treat, it’s much more satisfying to feel grounded and stable. That’s what I think about when I’m tempted by something these days – I think, “Is this going to be worth it?” or “How will this help me in my goal to lose weight and have more energy. Usually the answer is no, I it not help.
Even if you don’t have the desire to cut out added sugar altogether, it’s worth staying within the World Health Organisations recommended daily range: For women that’s 25 grams daily—about 6 teaspoons. For men it’s 37 grams daily—about 9 teaspoons.
If you want to take control of your sugar habit, read on:
Basic Formula is TBD – Time. Balanced Meal. Dehydration.
My acronym “TBD” can help you remember the three most essential ways to set yourself up for nutritional success. To break it down, you need to:
Time Your Meals — Eat at regular intervals. When you wait too long to eat, your blood sugar drops and you start to crave simple, sugar-loaded carbohydrates to give you an energy boost. So at that point, there’s no chance of making a healthy choice.” I suggest eating within one hour of waking and not going longer than 4-5 hours between meals. When you first give up sugar eating small, protein-packed meals every 2-3 hours will help.
Balance — Eat balanced meals and snacks. A balanced meal is a combination of protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrates. This combo will keep your blood sugar steady, helping you to feel satiated. Often when I feel I am getting peckish I will eat a boiled egg with a small handful of nuts and I am sorted for another few hours.
Don’t Get Dehydrated — People often confuse thirst with hunger. Rule of thumb 2 litres a day.
Taper Off Slowly
Once you’ve got your basic strategy in place, you can get tactical about your sugar intake. I’m of the belief that it’s better to wean yourself slowly. For example, you can cut down on one sugary habit per week, like putting sugar in your coffee or starting your day with a sugary yogurt. Going slowly helps you get to know yourself better: You can really feel what a small change does to your energy and mood. You can start recognize your habits, your challenges, and from there you can keep strategizing.
Learn to Read Labels
When you pay attention to labels, you may be shocked by which foods have hidden sources of sugar – ketchup, breads, soups, tomato sauce, granola, and salad dressings are just a few offenders.
Any item that lists any form of sugar in the first few ingredients or has more than 4 grams of sugar is a no-go. (These are all ingredients to look for: high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, cane juice, glucose, malt syrup, molasses, lactose, sucrose, dextrose.) See my previous post on the different names for sugar.
Eat Whole Foods
It’s easier to avoid added sugars if you stick with the basics: fruits, veggies, and complex carbs that are loaded with fiber and will keep you full; proteins that will help keep your blood sugar steady.
Trade Bitter for Sweet
Bitter foods have compounds in them that make them healthy (flavonoids, carotenoids, or polyphenols). We tend to be stuck on the salty to sweet pendulum. But bitter foods can expand your palate and help you appreciate different foods. Anytime I have a sugar craving I take heed: I have olives, some almond milk with turmeric and cinnamon. I try to keep my food interesting and adventurous. Bitters are a long forgotten flavour that often gets overlooked. They offer great health benefits and are deemed an important component for a healthy diet. See the link below for more information.
Have Healthy “Treats” On Hand
The last thing you want is to feel deprived. Having some healthy treats on hand can be helpful as you’re weaning or if you know you’re going party hopping and you want to avoid mindless sweets.
This past year I have become very creative in the kitchen with some major fails but successes, too. I’ve learned to make killer banana bread, almond muffins, almond pancakes, morning oats, oat cakes and protein balls. I use wholefoods such as bananas, pineapple, carrots and sweet potatoes for added sweetness. I use grade B maple syrup in moderation. It is a good source of minerals but it will still get broken down into glucose in the body and can create more sugar cravings. So be modest. I love nothing better than stewed rhubarb and ginger with natural yogurt and a little maple syrup – very refreshing and will set your taste buds on fire rather than numb them.
Don’t Try to Be Perfect. Find Your Perfect Balance.
Is apple pie your favourite dessert that you look forward to all year long? Then have some apple pie! Did your kid’s ice cream cone nearly fall to the ground on the prom in Tramore and you just had to give it a few licks? Look, you were just doing your job. What I’m trying to say is that it’s important to maintain a sense of humour about all of this. Do the best you can and don’t beat yourself up over the small – or even the large — missteps. Food is fuel, but it’s also social. It’s a way for people to commune and share time together. If you want to indulge from time to time, my philosophy is that’s OK. However I notice with my clients who has completed the blood sugar balancing programme, they indulge because they choose to and then get straight back on track again. They are in control.
What’s important is that you make a conscious choices about what you are eating – that you are not getting sucked into a daily abyss by cravings. If you feel like you’ve gone over the edge for a day or a week, reel it back in and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” (Answer: To feel great!) “What do I have to do to get back on track?”
Eat More Fat
It’s simple: Make sure you’re getting adequate healthy fats in your diet. Healthy fats are satiating and they keep you full. I notice that I feel better physically and mentally when I have them — instead of feeling deprived from eating sugar, I feel like I get to indulge a bit in a way that’s healthy for me. Eat full fat milk and butter, eat olive oil, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, eggs and oily fish. You will be amazed how you can curb your sugar cravings by focussing on healthy fats.
If you struggle to get of the sugar rollercoaster I offer clients a
6 week sugar balancing programme.
Have a chat with me during a free 20 minute consultation, without any obligation, and let me empower you take back control of your health, your life and your future.
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