The health industry has a new enemy: sugar.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day for women, and 9 teaspoons of day for men. But the average American consumes at least three times more sugar on a daily basis.
From sugary sodas and rich desserts to the supposedly innocent foods in your pantry, such as yogurts, soups, and pastas, sugar is found everywhere.
Our collective enslavement to sugar has resulted in a host of devastating physical, emotional, and psychological conditions, not to mention health-related financial setbacks. Sugar is responsible for over 25,000 American casualties a year. The estimated economic cost of diabetes alone was $245 billion dollars in 2012.
Clearly, sugar is a sneaky slaughterer – and an addictive one at that, like a widely-abused drug.
So how do we take back our health and happiness? We go sugar-free.
What is Sugar-Free?
Sugar-free is not the same as no sugar at all. Come on, our lives would be bitter without a shot of sweetness.
A sugar-free diet, as championed in this article, is one that removes hard-to-process, unnatural, or refined sugar. It is less of a dietary change than it is a lifestyle change.
Now, sugar is not harmful when consumed in moderation. This carbohydrate provides energy for the body, smoothens the skin, lends flavor to food, and, quite simply, makes us feel good.
The problem arises when you consume more sugar than your body can metabolize. Particularly, when you consume more fructose than your body can metabolize.
A Quick Science Lesson
Fructose is one of the two monosaccharide components of sugar, the other being glucose.
Fructose is primarily (and rapidly) metabolized by the liver and, unlike glucose, does not cause the secretion of pancreatic insulin, the blood sugar balancing hormone. Worse, it suppresses the satiety hormone, leptin, while stimulating the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Consequently, the more fructose you consume, the more you crave.
When the amount of fructose in the body exceeds the liver capacity, this excess is transformed into fatty acids and transported throughout your body where they are stored in “adipose cells” — aka fat cells.
The scary part?!
Fructose lurks in the commonest foods, including granola bars, low-fat yogurt, cereals, fruit juices, bread, and commercial salad dressings.
Foods that you are consuming every single day.
Think about that for a minute. Think about how much unnecessary sugar is invading your body. Think about how this superfluous sugar is triggering serious ailments.
By cutting out added sugars, you are doing your body and mind a huge favor.
You are improving your mood, balancing blood sugar, preventing weight gain, and reducing a large number of health risks, such as dementia, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart attack.
Tips to Transition into a Sugar-Free Diet
Despite the benefits of sugar-free living, it is hard to wean yourself from something that has comforted you for years.
Following are some actionable tips to ease this transition:
Clean Your Pantry
Just like a recovering alcoholic shouldn’t be around wines, a recovering sugar addict shouldn’t be around sugar. Give your pantry a nutritious cleanse by getting rid of ‘toxic’ products.
It is much easier to give up addictions when your temptation is in check. It is much easier to keep your temptation in check when your surroundings are free from sugar.
While you are at it, limit your intake of artificial sweeteners too.
Those pink, blue, and yellow zero-calorie packets might save a few calories but are just as destructive (and addictive) as added sugar when absorbed in surplus.
Saccharin, aspartame and sucralose – the chief components of Sweet’N Low, Equal, and Splenda respectively – are cloyingly sweet, synthetic sugar substitutes that result in a host of ugly gut-related, body-related, and mood-related side effects.
Forewarned is forearmed, right?
Restock Your Pantry
When you remove excess sugar from your body, you have to put something back to make up for this lack. You don’t want your body to go into starvation mode.
So how do you compensate for the lack of sugar?!
You turn towards fats, proteins, and fibers.
Winced when you read the word ‘fats’?
Truth is, good fats are satiating, satisfying, and supremely critical to the functioning of our body. Fats absorb food nutrients, insulates crucial organs, prevents inflammation, and enhances cognition.
The trick is to know which fats to eat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the safest) and which fats to avoid (oils used in fried and processed foods).
Healthy proteins, such as eggs, lean meat, and legumes, also lend density to your food and quiet your appetite. Proteins are used to build, develop, and maintain every part of our body, from hair and nail to muscle and bone.
Unlike proteins, fats and carbohydrates, (soluble and insoluble) fibers are not absorbed by your body.
Fiber reduces blood pressure, regulates bowel movements, lowers cholesterol levels, and assists in weight loss. By bulking your meals with fiber, you feel full faster without those uncomfortable energy dips and spikes that accompany sugary foods. Example: cruciferous veggies.
(Note: Check out the USDA-recommended guidelines for each food group here.)
Frozen foods, packaged goods, and canned vegetables are all sources of hidden sugar. Buy fresh and eat fresh as much as possible.
Beware also of supermarket labels. They can be amongst the most misleading sources of fats, sugar, protein, and calories.
Let’s take sugar-free snacks, for an instance.
If you didn’t know that sugar-free isn’t necessarily ‘no sugar’ or ‘healthy sugar’, you would happily drop a few of these snacks into your cart, congratulating yourself for making a wise choice. But, as already mentioned above, chemically enhanced low-calorie sweeteners are just as bad as refined or processed sugar.
If sugar is amongst the first three choices listed on the label, place it back where it belongs. Also look for words that often sub for ‘sugar’.
Added sugar by any other name is still harmful. Never forget that while studying labels.
Make a List of Non-Food Rewards
You work all morning and decide to celebrate with a quick stop at Starbucks for a sugar and cream laden coffee before resuming work.
Sweets are associated with joy, rewards, and success. There is something about a melt-in-your-mouth pie, cake, drink, or cookie that makes you believe that all is right with the world – even if is just for five minutes.
Unfortunately, your five minutes of bliss will have years of painful consequences.
What if you flipped this story and decided to choose a non-food reward instead, especially if you spend most of your days in a sedentary job (or position)?
Walk your dog, go for a run, hit the gym (moving your body is always recommended), read a book, take a bath, listen to music, watch your favorite show, solve a puzzle, write in your journal, talk to your best friend, nap, meditate, or simply sit and enjoy the moment.
Make a list of your favorite activities, print this list, and paste it in front of your workstation. When the urge for a sweet drink hits, pick a substitute activity from your list.
Trust us, it will feel good.
You can live for almost three weeks without food. But you can only last a week without water (an optimistic estimate, which is possible only under ideal conditions).
Water is one of the building blocks of life. In fact, over 70% of your brain and around 60% of your body is water.
H2O has numerous benefits, including weight loss, fatigue relief, improved bodily functions, and heightened alertness.
Simply put, this miracle drink helps you feel better, think better, and function better.
Yet, we ignore water in favor of energy drinks, soda pops, and sweetened juices. Liquids that only ruin our taste buds, bust our concentration, mess with our body functions, and throw our sleep cycles out of whack.
Don’t make this mistake.
Keep sipping water – it could turn out to be your best friend on this journey.
Explore Your Emotions
Have you ever never noticed that your sugar craving escalates during times of stress, distress, joy, or boredom?
Sugar is often eaten in response to an intense feeling or an extreme circumstance. Becoming aware of your triggers is the best way to embrace a sugar-free lifestyle without feeling deprived.
The next time you are eyeing that frosted donut with a chocolate icing, stop and ask yourself: What am I really feeling? What do I want? How else can I satisfy my cravings?
Take note of your emotions, either in a journal, with a loved one, or in a support group.
This brief pause will allow you to consider your life objectively – from outside your body – and make proactive decisions.
Say Hello to the “Sugar-Free” YOU
Pat yourself on the back for having the courage to shun artificial, processed, refined and unnatural sugar. You are giving yourself the gift of hope, healing, health, and happiness.
This isn’t going to be easy, especially when you are surrounded by people who don’t understand your quest. You might fail a few times. Be gentle with yourself and get back on the horse.
After all, there is no gain without pain.
In the coming weeks, we shall provide a list delicious and simple sugar-free foods and recipes to lend fun and flavor to your journey.
Meanwhile, feel free to check out our 30 Days Sugar Free challenge to find a community of well-wishers who will cheer you all the way.
Are you ready to sweeten your life by going sugar free?