So let’s face it, our diets are loaded with sugar. We may think we are only consuming the slightest bit, even on our best days but our coffee, breads, fast foods, snacks, and even certain fruits are laden with sugars. The worst of it is most of the synthetic sugars are difficult for the body to process and eliminate, so they often get stored as fat.
There are also some serious side effects related to high sugar intake including: obesity, blood sugar imbalances, heart disease, arthritis, immuno-suppression, and vitamin and mineral depletion. The best thing to do if you aren’t ready to curb your sugar intake is to at least choose the best quality sweeteners to enhance your diet.
Let’s take a look at a few of the healthier sweeteners that are on the market. All of these can be found in your local health food store.
Agave Nectar- From the Blue Agave plant from Southern Mexico, the same plant that Tequila comes from. Agave nectar is 90% fructose and is sweeter than table sugar so you can use less of it. Agave’s viscosity is somewhere between that of honey and maple syrup, so it is easily substitutable for some of your favorite treats.
Brown Rice Syrup- Rice syrup is a sweetener prepared by culturing rice with enzymes to break down the starches, straining off the liquid, and cooking it to the desired consistency. Brown rice syrup contains 50% soluble complex carbohydrates, which take from two to three hours to be digested, resulting in a steady supply of energy. This syrup can be evaporated to form a rice syrup powder.
Local Honey- Honey has more calories and carbs than refined sugar. Raw honey reportedly has medicinal benefits and contains enzymes and small amounts of minerals and B-complex vitamins. Because it’s sweeter than sugar, you can use less of it. Choose organic local honeys to reap the health benefits. Doctors suggest that honey should not be given to children under 18 months of age because their digestive tracts and immune systems are not developed enough for spores that may be present in honey.
Stevia (powder, crystals)- Made from an extract of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, stevia boasts zero net carbs, zero calories, and a rating of zero on the glycemic index. It’s also about 300 times sweeter than sugar, so only a tiny amount is needed. It does have a reported slight aftertaste.
Maple Syrup- Make sure it’s maple syrup and not caramel colored “high fructose corn syrup”. Grade B maple syrup, which is darker than the more popular Grade A, contains more minerals. Research shows that maple syrup is also a good source of antioxidants.
Xylitol- A sugar alcohol, xylitol is a good low-calorie alternative to refined sugar. Because it is absorbed more slowly than sugar, it doesn’t contribute to spiking blood sugar levels in the body, which can lead to both hypoglycemia and diabetes.
Identifying the sugar culprits
Choose Bread Wisely- soft, moist, squishy, warm, tasty and comforting…
but what’s not so comforting is that within 15 minutes of ingestion, bread transforms into sugar in your blood stream. It burns very quickly and is deceptively filling. That’s why we grab bread on the go, a bagel here, a muffin there…all the while the sugars from the over processed grains are quickly processed. If you want to eat a bread that will burn slow and long- choose a dark grain, like rye, pumpernickel, when you can see large grains and seeds in the bread, that’s a good sign!
Avoid All the White Stuff- Say no to refined carbs (white sugar, white flour, white potatoes)
All of these foods have the same effect on the blood sugar, they cause a tremendous spike- then dramatic fall in blood sugar causing intense mood swings, hyper cravings, and low energy. Usually intense sugar binges are followed by cravings for very salty and fatty foods, this destructive cycle causes weight gain among other health side effects.
Don’t Drink the Juice- There are so many hidden sugars in beverages. By now you know soda is an obvious item to eliminate, but fruit juices are high on the list as well. Containing no fiber, juices are all sugar, 100% fruit juice just means- no added bulk to dilute the sugars. If you want to drink juice, why not add a splash of your favorite juice a glass of water. A wonderful product on the market is the new Honeydrop Organics- line of beverages containing one drop of organic fruit juice, one drop of organic honey- containing only 80 calories and good for kids and adults alike. www.honeydrop.com
Don’t go low on the Carbs- Low-carbohydrate diets often create cravings for starchy foods and sweets because the brain prefers running on glucose, supplied by carbohydrates. When you don’t consume enough carbohydrates to fuel your body, you get hungry, which many people experience as a craving for sweet foods. Build meals around complex carbohydrate rich foods. Examples include baked or roasted purple potatoes; sweet potatoes; root vegetables, such as carrots or parsnips; fresh fruits; or whole grains, such as brown or wild rice, millet, quinoa, buckwheat or 100-percent sprouted or sourdough whole-grain bread. At least twice a day, add colorful, fibrous vegetables — particularly greens- preferably steamed or sautéed leafy greens, salad greens, a dash of healthy fat or oil (nuts or seeds; olive, coconut or flax oil; butter; or avocado) and include a small portion of protein in each meal, insufficient protein intake will induce sugar cravings as well. So keep your diet well rounded.
Shake your Sugar Blues- Emotional eating is a huge factor when it comes to sugar dependency. We often use sugar to replace what we are lacking in our personal lives, for instance- sweetness allows us a window to “taste” what we may not be experiencing emotionally. Have you ever experienced a bad break up, what types of foods did you reach for- brown rice or chocolate ice cream? Instead of using sugar to cope with imbalances in our lives, why not explore a dialogue with yourself to start fresh and slowly integrate healthier sweeteners, and make a conscious effort to decrease your intake of sweets. Your body will thank you.
5 Steps You Can Take to Kick Sugar to the Curb:
1. Drink more Water- Often times we experience cravings that are largely due to dehydration. Drink more water. When you feel a strong craving arise, drink an 8 ounce glass of water. See what happens 10 minutes later, you may find that your craving will decrease of fade entirely.
2. Manage your stress levels- Adrenal exhaustion can contribute to cravings for stimulants, such as salt, sugar, alcohol, coffee, etc. Working out daily will help alleviate your adrenals and relieve your system of stress. A regular practice of deep diaphramatic breathing will also help you manage stress as it rises.
3. Integrate Sweet Foods- sweet potatoes, pears, cinnamon, these foods are soothing to the pancreas and can satisfy the body’s craving for sweet taste.
4. Try Herbs- Garcinia & Gymnema Sylvestre- “Sugar Destroyer”
This herb is used in Ayurvedic medicine to balance sugar cravings by temporarily numbing the tongue receptors to sweet and restoring the pancreas. You can take capsules or drink the tea.
5. Eat Your Veggies- As you increase your intake of dark leafy green vegetables your body begins to find a balance and cravings for sweet begin to diminish. The micro sugars in your greens loaded with phyto-nutrients that fortify the blood and cleanse your organs.