It’s seemingly unavoidable. Sugar sneaks its way into our system through well-known sources like chocolate chip cookies, ice cream sandwiches and sprinkled donuts. But our cravings for sweets are also fueled through less obvious foods such as flavored yogurt, crackers and instant oatmeal. Sugar is as inescapable as the back-to-work slump you feel every Sunday night.
Perhaps right now, you’re on a “low sugar” or “no sugar” diet. But what does that mean? Is it possible (and safe) to eliminate sugar entirely? Before you swear off sweets for good, let’s separate fact from fiction and learn more about the role of sugar in our bodies.
Is Sugar Bad?
While we tend to categorize foods into “good” or “bad,” it doesn’t matter what kind of carbohydrate you eat — it eventually gets broken down into simple sugars in the bloodstream. However, minimally processed carbohydrates are preferred over refined carbs because of their higher micronutrient and fiber content.
Whole-food carbs also improve our sense of fullness and have a higher thermic effect (the calories expended during digestion). They support the management of blood sugar levels and healthy body composition. Our brains and central nervous systems rely on glucose for fuel, performing best with a continual supply. Carbs are required for optimal functioning, enabling you to get through the day while also making progress toward your fitness goals.
The Risks of Excess
Refined carbohydrates are generally low in nutrients and fiber. They enter the body very quickly, causing an increase in blood sugar levels, blood triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, inflammation and insulin resistance. Signs of excess sugar consumption include constant cravings, low energy, unexplained bloating and a weakened immune system. Research also indicates a connection between elevated sugar intake and premature aging resulting from long-term damage to skin proteins.
Taming Your Sweet Tooth
There’s no need to sacrifice your sanity along with your ice cream pints. Moderation is key. Use the following tips to tame your sweet tooth while supporting your performance and progress.
• Include fats and/or protein in your meals and snacks. Consumed alone, carbohydrates are absorbed very quickly and do not keep you feeling full or satisfied for long. Adding a protein or fat source such as olive oil, nut butter or Greek yogurt can help curb those cravings.
• Stop the cycle. Sugar is a quick source of energy, so the more you eat, the more your body begins to rely on it. Introduce healthier whole foods into your diet to reduce the cravings and stop the cycle.
• Drink more water. Dehydration can lead to cravings. Eight 8-ounce glasses of water is widely accepted as the optimal amount of water humans should consume per day. Consider adding REAAL (essential amino acids) to your drink to help control hunger and cravings.
• Go for a walk. Not only will you distract yourself from the urge to snack, but activity also will release endorphins, helping to reduce the craving and improve your mood.
• Sleep well. A lack of sleep is connected to an increase in hormones that lead to cravings for sugary, processed foods.
• Journal. Record your hunger levels and mood in a notebook. Are you eating out of stress? Boredom? Because you’re sad? Identify your triggers so you can change your actions. New actions can lead to new, healthier habits — enabling you to look and feel your best.