10 Tips For Quitting Sugar If You’re Still Struggling

chocolate sugar

There’s research to indicate sugar is as addictive as illegal drugs, which means breaking and cutting the habit completely can be pretty tough. 

Giving up sugar, or at least cutting back on the stuff, can have major benefits to your overall health. We’re talking about weight loss, healthier teeth, improved gut health and better sleep. 

So, if you’re looking to cut back on sugar but are struggling to do so cold turkey, try easing in with our 10 tips.

1. Quit sucrose first

It would be impossible to cut all sugar out of your diet — considering that glucose, the ‘good sugar’, is found in everything that we eat, and is our body’s main source of fuel. Instead, you should focus on eliminating sucrose, found in 80% of processed foods, and limiting the amount of fructose. 

Sucrose is a combination of glucose and fructose, and is found naturally in sugar cane and sugar beets. Today, sucrose, or table sugar, is highly refined and is the most harmful sugar to our bodies. 

Sucrose is ingested as glucose and fructose. Insulin is released into the bloodstream to help the glucose be absorbed by any part of our body that needs energy; however, fructose can only be utilised for energy when it reaches our liver. If it’s needed, fructose is used to make glycogen — stored glucose. However, if our body doesn’t need any more energy, the fructose becomes fat. Taking this into account, when you’re looking to start a no-sugar diet, your main aim is to stop eating sucrose.

2. Don’t listen to dopamine

Dopamine is the hormone in our brain that tells us we need sugar, and that we need it now. It’s dopamine that creates those irresistible sweet cravings, and it has been linked to both alcohol and drug addiction. 

Dopamine essentially rewards us for eating sugar with a short burst of happiness, so no wonder quitting sugar is so hard. The key to overcoming dopamine is to be aware of how it works and understand exactly what it wants you to do (read: eat chocolate). Resist these cravings and over time, your brain will regulate the amount of dopamine released, meaning your cravings will become easier and easier to overcome.

3. The pantry detox

If you’re serious about quitting sugar, then a pantry toss-out is necessary. Collate all junk foods and sugary beverages (including juice) and pass them onto a friend or donate them. 

But what about whole fruit, dairy and carbs? Some fruits do contain high amounts of fructose, but fruits should still be included in your diet as they provide nutrients, fibre and water. The best way to avoid high-sugar fruits is to pick fruit with high water content, such as oranges or melons. Avocadoes and berries, such as blackberries and raspberries are also very low in sugar. 

As for dairy, unless you’re going lactose-free, you’ll find sugar in most dairy products. However, lactose, like glucose, is classed as a good sugar and won’t impact on your quit sugar regime. Just be wary of added sugar in yoghurts and low-fat dairy products. 

The trick with carbs is to avoid anything that’s been refined. Whole grains, oats and legumes are all fine — packed full of glucose to get your body energised. White bread and flour, pasta, white rice, noodles and potatoes are all out.

4. Substitute with care

If you can’t live without sugar in your tea or coffee, you can substitute stevia or an artificial sweetener such as Equal or Splenda for your teaspoon of table sugar. But here’s the catch: if you’re quitting sugar for good, holding onto these sugar-like extras will only keep you in the realm of sweet temptation. 

On top of this, although stevia is touted as ‘natural’, these days it’s incredibly refined, often bulked up with calorific maltodextrin, and artificial sweeteners are coming straight from a laboratory. If you can do it, you’re much better off cutting these out altogether.

5. Understand the labels

When considering a product, first check the total sugars on the nutrition label, and remember that 4 grams of sugar is about equal to 1 teaspoon. The total sugar is the amount of natural sugars plus the amount of artificial sugars, if any. The second step is to check the list of ingredients. 

Sugar is known by over 50 different names, and a lot of companies list each different type of sugar in order to make the sugar content appear lower than it actually is. Watch out for words ending in ‘ose’, fruit and cane juice, and syrups.

6. Train your brain

If you’re feeling like something sweet to fill the void, reach first for a glass of water. If that’s too boring, you can always add a bit of citrus to brighten it up. 

If that still doesn’t tide you over, grab a piece of whole fruit, some lightly salted air-popped popcorn or a sugar-free treat — there are plenty of recipes online for sugar-free snacks that should satisfy your habits.

7. Replace sweet with sour

When sweet cravings hit, try grabbing a mouthful of something sour. A tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or some sugar-free sauerkraut or kimchi is guaranteed to stop the cravings. 

However, if you really can’t stomach sour things, you can always go for a handful of healthy nuts such as almonds or walnuts or a bit of avocado. These healthy fats aren’t as effective at stemming the cravings but they will reduce your feelings of dissatisfaction.

8. Dark Chocolate

If you’re experiencing a moment of weakness and nothing is helping, reach for the dark chocolate. If you can stand it, go for the 100% cocoa variety, such as dark cooking chocolate. If this is a bit too much, 85% cocoa dark chocolate is a good mix. However, exercise self-control if you’re going to go down this path, and only have one or two squares.

9. Enjoy tasting again

It might take a little while, but once you’re off sugar you’ll come to realise how good everything tastes. What once was plain, boring and in dire need of sweet additives or sugary dressings will soon reveal a complex taste and texture of its own. 

Food that you once enjoyed sweet will become too sweet. You might even be encouraged to try new foods, or those that you had previously dismissed.

10. Don’t sweat the small stuff

As usual, when changing the way you approach food, you’re bound to make mistakes, give in to temptation or indulge for a meal. Instead of feeling guilty or giving up entirely, enjoy your little slip-up — savour it. And when it’s over, get back on track. We’re all fallible — admit it, enjoy it, and have the strength to continue on the better, healthier path.

This story originally appeared in Fitness First magazine.

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