5 steps to get your sugar habit under control

Struggling to wean yourself off sugar? Try these expert tips.

20 October 2016
by Chisanga Mukuka

How often do you find yourself adding a bit more sugar than necessary to your cup of tea or coffee, reaching for that soft drink, or throwing those chocolates into your shopping trolley as you head to the till? 

You may not think much of it, but these seemingly insignificant habits are most likely pushing your sugar consumption over the recommended limit, putting you at risk of tooth decay, obesity and diabetes. According to the World Health Organisation, only 5% of your daily energy intake should come from sugar, which roughly converts to six teaspoons. 

If you’ve tried, and failed, to quit sugar, you’re not alone. “There’s some evidence to suggest that sugar addiction is plausible, due to sugar activating similar pathways in the brain as addictive drugs do,” explains Lila Bruk, a registered dietician and nutritional consultant at Lila Bruk & Associates in Johannesburg (www.lilabruk.co.za). “However, the research isn’t 100% conclusive as to whether sugar addiction truly exists as a disorder, or whether the individual simply feels more reliant or dependent on sugar than they do on other foods, or than they should.”

Whether you’re actually fixated on sugar, or simply allowing more in your diet than you need, learning to control your cravings and intake is essential for your long-term health. Follow these simple steps:

1. Choose healthy alternatives

Instead of reaching for biscuits, cakes, sweets and other sugary foods, satisfy your cravings with fresh fruit and unsweetened yoghurt, says Bruk. It also helps to ensure that you’re hydrated. “A lot of sugar cravings come from not drinking enough water – ideally, you should be drinking approximately two litres a day,” she advises. 

2. Look out for sneaky sugar culprits

Read food labels carefully. “Many pre-packaged foods such as sauces, marinades and spice mixes can all contain sugar, as do ready-made meals and snacks,” explains Bruk. Crisps, pretzels and other savoury snack foods also contain a fair amount of sugar.

3. Don’t deprive yourself…

“You’re allowed the occasional treat,” says Bruk. “If you feel you’re able to control your sugar cravings well, then going cold turkey is unnecessary.” 

The only exception is if you have the TAS1R2 gene, which makes you more likely to have a preference for sweet tastes and also find it harder to resist sugar, she cautions. “In which case, it’s best to avoid sugar completely as quickly as possible to reduce sugar cravings and to get used to not having sugar.”

4. …But know your limit!

Discipline is key, and if you feel that one little indulgence might lead to another (and another), then rather keep the sweet treats away.

5. Be wary of sugar substitutes 

“Foods such as honey, coconut sugar and pure maple syrup might be healthier forms of sugar, but are still sugar nonetheless,” says Bruk. So keep as close an eye on these as you would on regular sugar. 

For those who still want the taste without the kilojoules or potential health risk, artificial sweeteners can seem like a good option. However, Bruk warns that these sweeteners still keep you hooked on the taste of sugar and so may not be best for reducing sugar cravings. “In addition, many sweeteners, such as xylitol are not necessarily that much lower in kilojoules than sugar,” adds Bruk.

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