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Kick Your Sugar Addiction

Are you a sucker for sweets and soda? Learn to break free.

Craving That Sweet Stuff

When we say we have a sugar addiction, we may mean anything from a mild desire to intense cravings for sweet foods and drinks. Some people go so far as to equate the effects of sugar to a drug, saying it calms them and helps them deal with stress.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid recommends we limit added sugars in our diet to 12 teaspoons per day. But the reality is that in 2001, the average American ate and drank the equivalent of 31 teaspoons of sugar daily.

It sounds insane, but sugar finds it way into virtually every kind of processed food, from ketchup to soups and, especially, soft drinks. One 12-ounce can of soda contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar. As if that is not bad enough, government data suggest that we consume an average of 41.4 gallons of soda per person annually. That's a lot of sugar -- and extra calories!

Breaking the Habit

Sugars have 4 calories per gram, or 15 calories per teaspoon. So if you want to shave calories, it's a good idea to limit added sugar in your diet. Sounds simple enough, but what about those hard-to-ignore cravings?

Here's the trick: Gradually decreasing the amount of sugar you eat, and how often you eat it, will help you reduce your desire for sugars while lowering your caloric intake. Old habits are hard to break, but making small and gradual changes in your eating style will help you break free from your sugar addiction.

Many people newly diagnosed with diabetes find that after they start eating fewer sweets, foods like fresh fruit taste sweeter and can satisfy their cravings for sweets. Remember, moderation is the key. If you can control the quantity, you will be able to enjoy sweets on occasion.

Here are some tips to help you break the sugar habit:

  • Read the label on all processed foods. Check the amount of sugars, and choose products with the least sugar per serving.
  • Become familiar with sugar terminology. Recognize that all of these are sweeteners: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, honey, molasses, turbinado, and brown sugar.
  • Keep up with your journal, and use the notes section to document your mood, setting, and activity whenever you feel the urge to eat sweets. Review your notes, and look for patterns or triggers that you can alter to help control your sugar intake.
  • Select one behavior to change each week. Try satisfying your sweet tooth with a snack-sized candy bar instead of a full-sized one. Next week, trade in a soft drink for seltzer with a splash of fruit juice.
  • Satisfy your desire for sweets with the natural sweetness of whole fruits or no-sugar-added juices.
  • Buy unsweetened food and beverages, and add small amounts of sweeteners if you need them. Enjoy whole-grain cereal with one teaspoon of sugar instead of presweetened cereals, which contain much more sugar per serving.
  • Try using less sugar in your coffee or tea. Gradually decrease the amount you use to let your taste buds adapt.
  • Don't substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar; this will do little to alter your desire for sweets. Moderate amounts of artificial sweeteners are not unhealthy, but they won't help you retrain your taste buds.
  • Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder -- and it also intensifies cravings. Allow yourself small portions of sweets on occasion. Try to satisfy your cravings with a piece of hard candy or sugarless gum. If you totally deny yourself, it will be hard to think about anything else. On the other hand, if you know you are allowed one small treat per day, you will savor every bite.
  • Quench your thirst with flavored waters that are calorie-free. Jazz up plain or sparkling water with fresh mint, a slice of lemon, lime, or orange, or a splash of fruit juice.

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