A naturopathic doctor, sugar researcher and natural health coach offer healthy, easy ways to cut back on sugar.
Americans devoured about 130 pounds of sweetener per person in 2011, increasing risk of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure—and making nutritionists cringe. Here, experts from different fields explore sugar’s effects on the body and offer real-life tips for cutting back.
1. Ease stress levels.
Everyday stressors such as work deadlines spur adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol spikes blood sugar levels in preparation for the primal “fight or flight” response. Chronic stress exhausts adrenals, making them unable to produce enough cortisol—leading to brain fog, lethargy, and sugar cravings.
2. Protect your immune system.
Eating too much sugar also can spur the release of cortisol, which in excess can stimulate inflammation, triggering prostaglandins (immune messengers). When you are sick or tired, you crave sugar. Break this cycle by consuming no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day, and avoid excess caffeine and alcohol, which further stimulate your appetite for sugar.
3. Eat small snacks every two to three hours throughout the day; in each one include protein and fiber, which slow sugar’s release into the bloodstream (as does fat). Make easy-to-prepare snacks: rolled turkey slices with celery sticks, brown rice cakes with almond butter and blueberries, or minimally processed fruit-and-nut bars. Avoid sugar-loaded fruit juices—any kind of sugar (even honey, agave, or maple syrup) raises blood sugar levels.
Holly Lucille, ND, drhollylucille.com, Los Angeles
4. Trust the science.
Our recent study published in The Journal of Physiology showed that when rats ate a steady fructose diet for six weeks their learning and memory abilities diminished. Researchers believe that sugar consumption can cause insulin and fructose to cross the blood-brain barrier, provoking a type of metabolic syndrome in the brain. This insulin flood may cause receptors to grow resistant, leading to memory problems down the road.
5. Add omega-3s.
According to our research, DHA, ALA, and EPA fatty acids protect the brain against fructose’s effects. Eat cold-water fish like salmon two to three times per week, or take 1,000 mg of omega-3s daily.
6. Use sugar substitutes.
Rather than snack on candy or refined carbohydrates (which the body metabolizes like sugar), keep on hand healthy, low-sugar options that satisfy your sweet tooth. Plain Greek yogurt has significantly less sugar than flavored; eat with blueberries and raspberries. Dark chocolate (65 percent cacao or higher) is a great choice, too.
Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles
Natural health coach
7. Understand the sugar-yeast connection.
When people have a tough time dropping pounds, they’re often harboring excess yeast—also called candida. Yeast lives primarily in the digestive system and feeds off sugar, producing the alcohol-like byproduct acetaldehyde. When in the bloodstream, acetaldehyde can cause chronic fatigue and muscle soreness.
8. Reduce salt intake.
In Chinese medicine, it’s believed that salt dehydrates the body by contracting and tightening body tissue. Sugar does the exact oppose: It expands and relaxes tissues. When you overindulge in salty foods, your body seeks equilibrium via sweets. Limit salt by reading labels while shopping: Only buy products containing less than 200–250 mg of sodium per serving.
9. Value vegetable sugars.
When you eat processed sugars in candy, white bread, or baked goods, your body tries to metabolize the sugars all at once, leading to a flood of insulin and energy variations. Instead, eat vegetables like tomatoes, onions, and sweet potatoes; they contain natural sugars and ample fiber, which slows the sugar’s release into the bloodstream.