There’s a reason why so many of us turn to a pint full of Ben & Jerry’s when we’re feeling lonely, depressed or stressed. Sugar makes us feel good or at least for a short period of time. Sugar is America’s go-to “drug” of choice. Drug sounds a little extreme right? Well it actually is, because the highly refined sugar that most of us receive in processed foods act as a release for dopamine in our brain. Hence the reason we continue to go back for more until the pint of Ben & Jerry’s is all gone. That dopamine rush convinces us to have just a little more, just a little bit more, etc.
Don’t believe it? Then check out this brain scan of sugar versus cocaine and I highly recommend the recent documentary, Fed Up or Killer At Large, especially when they discuss sugar and processed foods in schools and how children become addicted to them.
Three hundred years ago, an average individual consumed no more than four pounds of sugar per year. Fast-forward to today and we’re consuming almost 40 times that! In fact, a 2014 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that 75 percent of all our foods and beverages contain added sugar. Translation, three out of four items we’re grabbing at the grocery store have added sugar in them.
If you’d like to be more conscious of your sugar intake or would like to improve your nutrition, here are a few ways to get started:
1. Keep a nutrition journal. Simply keep a notebook or a journal for your daily intake or better yet, there are tons of apps that do this for us. You can even scan barcodes of products and upload them easily into your food diary. My personal favorite is MyFitnessPal. Been using it for years and it truly holds me accountable for my daily intake.
According to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, nearly half of total sugar intake comes from beverages (juices, sodas, etc.) and over a quarter come from salsas, sauces and salad dressings. Eliminate those or find healthy substitutes and you’re doing pretty darn good.
2. “Eat in” before “eating out.” Some of us are more prone to getting cravings after seeing or smelling food, whether we’re hungry or not. If that’s you, then it’s best to clean out anything in your kitchen that could serve as a weakness. Remove as much of the temptation as possible. If you have a tendency to eat out a lot with friends, try to suggest healthier alternatives. Or if you’re constantly grabbing take-out for lunch, try to prep your meals the day before or earlier that morning.
3. Keep your snacks simple. Snacks don’t have to take a lot of time. Some examples include healthy meal replacement bars or protein bars (be sure to read the ingredients on these), grapes, walnuts, celery with almond butter, baby carrots, or peppers with hummus, or rice cakes. Or just grab your favorite fresh fruit!
4. Try to abstain completely. It’s far easier to follow a program when restrictions are very black and white and this is especially true for sugar. Since highly refined sugars and engineered foods are so addictive, one little bit of sugar can actually set cravings off on a downward spiral. Therefore, it’s best to remove sugar completely from your diet.
Abstaining can be harder for some, and it’s not always a question of who has more willpower. Sometimes sleep, stress, and even our hormones can deeply affect what, when, and why we eat the food we do. Be sure to share your plan with your family and friends, that way you set yourself up for success during social outings and family gatherings.
5. Help yourself by helping others. If you look into any recovery program, the last step is always helping others with the same issue. And let’s face it, in this country of artificial food, there are a lot of us out there who could use some help in this department. Hopefully, by sharing your journey and experiences, your positivity will inspire others. These networks become self-sustaining as well and can help everyone continue their success.