Sugar is like air, it’s everywhere (seriously, check the label for that BBQ sauce). Most of us know that too much sugar is bad (duh!), but do you really know the negative effects it has on your body? Here are 5 reasons why I decided to dramatically cut back on the sweet stuff, and since I know how difficult it can be to kick the habit, 5 ways to make the transition to a sugar-free lifestyle a little easier.
Sugar is addictive
There’s a reason refined sugar is referred to as the “cocaine of the food industry”. Once you give in to a sugary treat, it leaves your body wanting more. The sugar rush is followed by a sugar crash, creating a never-ending cycle. Quitting sugar, it’s just as difficult as quitting smoking – there are cravings, headaches, irritability… it’s all just generally unpleasant.
Your energy will increase
Most people are going to think that they need sugar to get a dose of energy. But turns out that the opposite is true. Sugar increases energy levels in short bursts. Your body starts working extra hard to process the sugar (known as the sugar high), then gets tired (known as the sugar crash). Limiting the amount of sugar in your diet helps to stabilize your body and mood (yay!).
Your heart will love you
Here’s some scary news – Scientists have found a strong link between our daily consumption of calories from sugar-laden foods and heart disease death rates. What’s worse? Just one can of soft drink a day is enough to raise that risk. Turns out that drinking fruit juice is not much better.
Sugar ages you
Sugar damages the collagen and elastin in our skin, making it more saggy (eww!) and increasing wrinkles. The good news – ditching the sweet stuff can get your skin to regain its youthful glow.
Your body will be healthier
Are you one of those people who is always sick with a cold or a fever? Then take a look at your sugar intake. Sweets causes the pancreas to release insulin to reduce the high blood sugar. This release of insulin inhibits the release of human growth hormone, which depresses the immune system and makes it easier to fight off infections and viruses.
Thinking about giving the no-added sugar lifestyle a try? First, let’s establish what constitutes as sugar. In my book, fruit and natural sweeteners (pure maple syrup, raw honey, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar) are ok in moderation. When it comes to banning sugar, I try to eat foods that aren’t processed and follow a plant-based diet most of the time. Here are 5 more tips on how I keep a (mostly) sugar-free diet:
Go slow – Waking up one morning and deciding to cut out all sugar at once is very ambitious, but not very realistic. After a few days, you’ll be binging on everything you can find. Instead, cut back slowly by adding half the sugar to your coffee in the morning, switching from milk chocolate to dark chocolate as your afternoon treat, or replacing your fruit juice addiction with a piece of fruit. After a few weeks you’ll find that your cravings have decreased and you’ll find yourself reaching for (and preferring) more natural alternatives.
Don’t go the “sugar-free” route – Sugar-free versions of your favourite foods are even worse than the regular versions. They are loaded with artificial sweeteners (pretty much the worst thing you can put in your body), which increase your appetite and sugar cravings. Plus over time, they lower your ability to detect sweets and leave your body wanting even more.
Add a touch of natural sweetness – There are so many ways to add flavour without adding sugar. Spices like vanilla and cinnamon are so delicious sprinkled on Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or in your morning coffee. Bonus! Cinnamon helps to regulate your blood sugar and control your appetite. Cacao powder is also a delicious addition to your snacks.
Replace sugar in your recipes – One of the biggest sources of sugar in our food is in baked goods. Try swapping the sugar in a recipe for unsweetened apple sauce, mashed banana or pureed fruit (if you have a juicer, keep the pulp for your recipes).
Get moving – There are so many benefits of exercise (don’t even get me started). Just 20 minutes a day is enough to release endorphins (which makes you happy) and produce dopamine (which makes you feel pleasure). Sugar has the same effect on the brain (as does drug addiction). So the next time you get a sugar craving, get your ass outside and get moving. You’ll find that after your workout session your cravings will have disappeared.
[Photo credit via now-forager.com]