Who doesn’t love sugar? It’s sweet, tasty and used to celebrate special occasions. But there’s a reason why our brains get so hooked on sugar – it’s addictive. In fact, research shows that sugar may be just as addictive as some street drugs, and it has similar effects on the brain.
When you eat sugar, it releases dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter associated with addictive behavior. As excess dopamine is released, you feel a pleasurable high that makes you want to repeat the behavior. Eventually, the brain becomes hardwired to crave sugar, building a tolerance like any other drug.
Whether you’ve just completed rehab and are looking to live healthier, or you are currently battling a sugar habit, rest assured there are ways to break free. Below are seven tips to help distance yourself from sugar.
1. Start your day off right.
It’s easier to make healthy choices when you start your day strong. Unfortunately, many of the so-called healthy breakfast options are loaded with sugar, including granola, cereal and breakfast bars. We recommend avoiding pre-packaged breakfast foods and instead choosing a no-sugar, protein-packed meal, such as plain oatmeal, a hard boiled egg or whole wheat toast.
2. Avoid sugary coffee drinks.
Another place where sugar is hidden is in coffee drinks. A simple morning vanilla latte can have as much as 30 grams of sugar, which is the equivalent of two donuts. If you have to drink coffee in the mornings, stick to plain coffee with milk or an unsweetened alternative. A dash of nutmeg or cinnamon adds flavor and helps regulate blood sugar.
3. Watch for smoothies and green drinks.
Green juices and smoothies can be deceiving. They have fruits and veggies in them, it’s true, but they tend to have excess sugar. Read the nutrition labels carefully. If you’re trying to eat more fruit, it’s best to get it in its whole form. A banana or apple provides plenty of fiber and slows the digestion of natural sugars.
Also make it a goal to drink more water. Carry around a water bottle and fill it multiple times a day to ensure you’re hydrating. You can always add a fresh lemon wedge or mint leaf for added flavor.
4. Eat more protein at lunch.
If you eat a protein-packed breakfast, you should feel satisfied until lunchtime. At lunch, also choose a protein-rich meal to avoid sugar cravings. Slices of turkey or chicken, Greek yogurt topped with seeds or a handful of nuts are all great options for lunch.
You can also load up a fresh salad with nuts, berries, grilled chicken and a homemade salad dressing. Dressings, too, often have a lot of hidden sugars, so it’s best to make your own.
5. Use more herbs and seasonings.
Many of the sauces, dressings and marinades stocked on the store shelves are loaded with sugar. Pay attention to what you’re putting in your foods, and cook with whole ingredients when possible. Barbecue sauce and ketchup are some of the worst culprits!
Herbs and seasonings, on the other hand, have no sugar and offer many health benefits, like decreased inflammation and boosted immunity. Experiment with cayenne, garlic, oregano, rosemary and turmeric instead.
6. Pack smart snacks.
Eating snacks between your meals is perfectly fine. These snacks can keep you feeling full between meals, provide energy for your mid-day slump, and give your body more nutrients. Just be smart about the snacks you pack, as many snacks labeled healthy are far from that.
Again, focus on whole foods. Pre-packaged snacks are often loaded with sugars and preservatives, which will only leave you craving more of the same. Some of our favorite go-to snack suggestions include:
- String cheese and a piece of fruit
- Bell pepper strips and olives
- Greek yogurt with seeds and berries
- Apple slices with almond butter
7. Know how to handle sugar cravings.
When you are craving something sweet, rest assured there are plenty of ways to satisfy your cravings without eating too much sugar. Some of the best foods that will take the edge off include fruit, dark chocolate, chewing gum, yogurt and sweet potatoes.
For some people, a distracting activity like journaling, reading a book or meditating can also be helpful. If you do slip up, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, try to understand your triggers. Do you crave sugary foods and drinks when you’re feeling stressed? Tired? Many people benefit from keeping a food diary.
Kick Your Sugar Habit Today and Lead a Healthy, Wholesome Life
Awakenings Treatment Center focuses on helping people achieve total recovery for their mind, body and spirit. As people recover from drug or alcohol addiction, it’s not uncommon for them to struggle with healthy eating. Sugar is a quick and easy way to get comfort, but it can quickly turn into another bad habit.
As with AA and NA, there is an SCAA group (Sugar and Carb Addicts Anonymous) that can help people dealing with food addictions. This group uses the 12 step solution to help people fight their sugar cravings and lead a healthier life. To learn more about SCAA and meeting times, visit SCAA.club.