“But it makes things taste so… sugary.”
If you’re desperate to break off your long-term love-hate relationship with sugar, we know the feeling.
In just a few hours (read: the time it takes to finish a carton of Ben & Jerry’s) (on a slow day), we’re wheeled through sugar highs, unexpected hanger, and desperate longing for an Almond Joy. And yet, we always end up welcoming the sweet stuff back into our lives with open hearts/mouths.
So if you’re ready to step off of the emotional (and physical) sugarcoaster, you’ve come to the right place.
These 10 tips from wellness expert, author, and nutrition consultant Kelly LeVeque (of Be Well by Kelly) will help you build a foolproof plan for cutting down on sugar and staying strong through those tough “all I want is some goddamn cookie dough” moments.
Before we start, have in your head that 4 grams of sugar is equal to one 1 teaspoon. This will help you visualise your sugar intake as you move through.
It’s not all bad, but it’s definitely better to eat less of it. We’re also talking about avoiding added sugar, and not the sugar in whole foods, such as the fructose in fruit or the lactose in milk.
1. Replace it, neutralize it, and break it… for good!
Soda might not be your thing. Maybe it’s frozen yogurt or Hot Tamales. Perhaps it’s sugar-filled flavored lattes.
Whatever it is, you may want to cut back on the amount of added sugar you’re consuming on a daily basis. If you’re not a quit-cold-turkey type of person, try to replace the habit as often as possible with a lower or no-sugar option you’re less emotionally attached to.
Maybe swap for a flavored sparkling water or fruit-infused water before you jump down the soda wormhole. Gradually replacing means you’re gradually neutralizing. The goal is to break the habit once and for all.
Being consistent is key. For example, if you’re used to drinking soda twice per day, first work on cutting back to once a day, than once every other day, and so on until soda isn’t a part of your typical diet. Same goes for other sugary foods like candy, sweetened breakfast cereal, and ice cream.
2. Get to know your labels
The nutrition label lists all ingredients in order of quantity. The higher up on the list, the more of the ingredient a recipe has. So if sugar’s in the top three ingredients, it’s best to avoid that product.
FYI: 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar. This is helpful to know when you’re scanning nutrition labels.
3. Learn how to spot sneaky sugars
Sugar is often a hidden ingredient in processed foods, sneaking in under their scientific names.
4. Keep your blood sugar in check
Nutrition labels vary in how they flag up added sugars. Sometimes, they’ll group natural and added sugars together, while others have an “added sugars” section.
However, come January 2021 (can someone just get 2020 over and done with?), nutrition labels will start showing the percentage of total sugars that are added.
Especially for people with diabetes and metabolic diseases, knowing how foods will cause a blood sugar spike is central to maintaining daily health.
It’s important to understand how a food will affect your blood sugar because maintaining healthy blood sugar control is crucial for overall health. Plus, foods high in added sugar negatively impact blood sugar control and may increase cravings for sweet foods.
I recommend high-fiber foods to keep your blood sugar balanced. It’s also good to add fat or protein to meals that contain more than 25 grams of net carbohydrates. The extra fat/protein can help support your body’s blood sugar balance.
Find out more about reducing blood sugar here.
5. Get your a.m. protein
Start your day with protein!
Eating protein can help lower NPY (neuropeptide Y), a hormone produced in the brain and nervous system that “stimulates” the appetite for carbohydrates and sugar.
We rounded up a bunch of high-protein breakfasts to keep you full and away from that relentless urge to nom sugar.
6. Stop drinking sugar
Sugar doesn’t just appear as a white powder or your fave chocolate bar. Some huge contributors to your daily sugar intake will be the sugar you drink. So one of the easiest ways to lower sugar intake is to eliminate liquid sugar.
7. Instead… drink more water
H2–Oh, yeah, baby. The good stuff.
Wake up and drink two large glasses of water to help flush out your system and lower blood glucose levels. It’s especially important when you might be dehydrated after a big night out (and one alcoholic drink too many).
When you’re dehydrated, the volume of blood decreases, and the blood glucose remains the same. This means more of your blood consists of sugar — in other words, the concentration of sugar is higher.
8. Whole foods provide clarity
Check every food with a label. You will find hidden sugar everywhere from bread, tomato sauce, ketchup, and canned food to kombucha, cold-pressed juice, and chia seed pudding.
Yes, even chia seed pudding. Also, Santa’s not real. (This has not been a good day for you.)
Just because it looks like a healthy food doesn’t mean it’s free from added sugars. A good rule of thumb is to eat real, whole food meals and do your best to avoid snacking on packaged snacks — these tend to have the highest sugar servings.
If you made a meal from fresh, whole ingredients, you can pretty much guarantee that you know about any added sugar in the recipe.
9. Focus on the Fab Four
The Fab Four is a light structure I built to help my clients remember what nourishing foods they should eat.
These foods can help elongate your blood-sugar curve (to provide the energy and fuel to easily move toward ditching snacks), and support hormone production, microbiome proliferation, and healthy body composition.
Eating the Fab Four calms various hunger-related hormones and can help reduce your appetite:
- Protein, fat, and fiber induce cholecystokinin (CCK), a “satiety hormone” that can help you feel full.
Burton-Freeman B, et al. (2017). Ratios of soluble and insoluble dietary fibers on satiety and energy intake in overweight pre- and postmenopausal women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5389022/
- Protein and leafy green vegetables increase glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which has played a role in bringing down blood sugar levels in people who have type 2 diabetes.
Chudleigh RA, et al. (2020). Comparative effectiveness of long-acting GLP-1 receptor agonists in type 2 diabetes: A short review on the emerging data. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32110076/
- Eating a fiber- and protein-based meal may increase concentrations of peptide YY (PYY) — appetite “control hormone.”
De Silva A, et al. (2012). Gut hormones and appetite control: A focus on PYY and GLP-1 as therapeutic targets in obesity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3286726/
Check out this sugar-free granola recipe if you’re in a crunchy mood.
10. Avoid late night snacking
Those late night Gummi bears can be extra sugar that sneaks into the wee hours if you start getting hungry before bed.
So, instead of hitting the Haribo, hit the hay instead.
Here’s some advice that might help you put off your noshing ’til morning if you find yourself dreaming of candy before you shut your eyes:
- Brush your teeth. Ever tried to eat or drink anything but water while basking in that minty afterglow? Thought not. Brushing your teeth will give you enough time for the urge to pass.
- Get an early night. To be honest, this is great anyway. But if you find yourself lusting after sugar, go to sleep before it gets too bad.
- Sip some tea: Having yourself some herbal or black tea (preferably decaf) can give you a burst of flavor without exposing you to sugar late in the day.
- Distract yourself: Picking up a book and diverting your attention might be a good way to get your mind off of snacking (unless it’s one of the Game of Thrones books, which are mostly just food and porn).
- If you’re going to snack, keep it simple and healthy: Sometimes, you’re just really, really hungry. Low-carb and low-calorie foods are the one for this — your body is more able to use simple nutrients while its resting.
Kinsey AW, et al. (2015). The health impact of nighttime eating: Old and new perspectives. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/7/4/2648/htm
Want more information on late-night snacking? We’ve got it covered here.
Also, buzzing off sugar can stop you getting to sleep. And not getting enough sleep may negatively impact your health in several ways.
So it’s important to try to get the recommended amount of snooze time (that’s 7 to 9 hours of sleep if you are 26 to 64 years old and 7 to 8 hours of sleep for those over the age of 65 years).
So, yes. Turn off the TV, put down the Swedish Fish, turn over the pillow, and get some rest. It may help.
If you don’t just fall asleep like that, we rounded up 31 tips that can help you drift off.
There areof ways to reduce how much sugar you’re eating. But an important first step is realising how to calculate your intake and making adjustments that mean you don’t sacrifice flavor.
It’s a lot easier to switch up the foods you eat if they still taste good. So eat whole foods, look out for stealthy sugars in drinks and processed foods, and get savvy to reading and understanding food labels.
To work out how much sugar you should be eating, remember: 1 teaspoon = 4 grams.
To get you started, here are 30 alternatives to sugar straight off the bat.
Kelly LeVeque is a celebrity nutritionist, wellness expert, and best-selling author based in Los Angeles, California. Before starting her consulting business, Be Well By Kelly, she worked in the medical field for Fortune 500 companies like J&J, Stryker, and Hologic.