Deciding to protect your teeth, your tummy, your heart and your hips from simple sugars is not such an easy decision in this world of cheap sweeteners. It seems as though it is being added everywhere; some places where we would expect it, and some, where we wouldn’t.
Sugar (and its cousins – high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, honey, brown sugar, agave nectar, raw sugar, powdered or confectioners sugar, bakers special sugar, molasses, and invert sugar) makes our taste buds content and our brain chemicals exultant. The taste of sugar releases endorphins that can make us feel relaxed and calm. Have you ever turned to the candy machine or the cookie jar, when you’re stressed? I’m sure that you don’t think about endorphins, but they are activated by sweets. Without understanding these brain chemicals, each of us has learned from birth or maybe even before, that we enjoy sweet and how it makes us feel.
If you add to the biological release of serotonin and the sugar-stimulated endorphin release, the psychological result of rewarding ourselves with a sweet treat – sugar ends up embedding itself as a unhealthy habitual crutch with a double edge sword. We now know that we can’t continue to eat the American per person average of about 22 teaspoons of added sugars per day (according to the American Heart Association), but should move to the recommended 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 for men. (Some even think that’s too high; especially if it’s high fructose corn syrup.) Part of the problem is that most Americans are not touching the sugar bowl. It is coming mixed into the processed foods like soda pop, juice, sauce, yogurt, cereal and bread.
If your sweet tooth is not leashed and under control, you may be looking for some ideas to put a leash on it. I can remember when my children were young, and cookies were almost always in the cookie jar. I was the one going for them. Before long, I’d be eating one after another. Since those days, I’ve developed some new thinking and some new habits.
- I’ve never believed in forbidden foods; but some people find it easier, to say ‘none’ than the decision-making of ‘how much’ and ‘how often.’ For me, forbidding foods seems to give them all the more power – they become even more enticing. I’m better off with a taste or a small serving. Each of us needs to learn what will work for us. I’ve told many friends about my 3 chocolate chips after a meal; it makes my mouth taste like dessert without a lot of calories. But some of my friends have the fear that three chocolate chips will lead to a package of chocolate chips. So if you know that, you probably won’t want to use that technique. Getting away from sugar involves getting to know yourself. Once you know yourself, it may be a good strategy to develop some new habits, like being satisfied with a very small portion, and learning to have confidence that you will stop there.
- Focus on what you’re eating. You may discover some interesting things in food. A couple of weeks ago, I was taking my darling grandson, back to his mother after having a nice vacation with him. We shared the 236-mile drive; and met at a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop. I don’t eat fast food often, so I’m always learning when I get a chance like this one. My meal came with a packet of ‘Honey Sauce.’ I never even knew that honey sauce existed, but now I do. The packet has the list of ingredients: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) (Are we surprised?), then corn syrup, next sugar and finally the honey (They had some fructose, molasses and flavoring in there too.). They advertise that there is actually 7% honey in the ‘Honey Sauce.’ Now I know that honey, is an empty calorie sweetener, just like sugar, but I also know that HFCS is not looking good in many studies that are comparing it to sugar and honey (see the link above). I should mention that I had to get a magnifying glass out to read the label. That HFCS is so dang cheap and so good for profits. They also put in substances like preservative, to drive the profit margins up further. Until the population as a whole demands that corporate ethics go beyond the bottom line of profit, we can’t really sanction them for that, all we can do is read their small print, understand it, and not buy it. Eventually, lawsuits like those that have slowed down the Tobacco industry will bring changes. Meanwhile, this lack of meaningful corporate ethics in the food industry is not working out well for the health of America.
- Regular exercise may help you manage stress better and not be so easily nibbled by your own sweet tooth. Not only does exercise stimulate some of the same endorphins that sugar/sweeteners stimulate, but also it can be a diversion. The out of sight/out of mind technique – remove yourself or remove the troublesome food.
- One of the easiest ways to get the sweet tooth under control is to stop drinking sodas and juice. One idea to try, if you’re a soda drinker, is to limit the amount that you allow yourself each day. Twelve ounces of regular soda pop is often around 150 calories; all the calories are from the sweetener. That single can a day can take you past the goal for the day’s sugar all by itself if you’re a woman; a move to diet drinks will cut you back closer to the sugar guidelines, even before you attack your portions of cookies, candy, or spaghetti sauce. If you’re a man, it will only take 4 more ounces of soda to get you to the suggested sugar maximum in a day.
- Are you wondering why I don’t encourage fruit juice? In short, it raises the blood sugar very quickly. Even if you get real fruit juice (which is not so easy to do) the serving size must be really small; 1/3 to ½ cup depending on the variety of unsweetened juice. Often consumers are drinking 3 or 4 servings of juice and the fiber is frequently removed. One option is to make a decision to eat a piece of fruit and drink water – that way you’ll get all the nutrients and fiber and your blood sugar won’t sky rocket and then quickly crash. This crash stimulates the, demand for another snack or meal. The ups and downs of the soda/juice roller coaster can drive the hunger/over-eating disaster train.
Boston stopped allowing sugary drinks in the schools and learned that the students actually slowed down on the drinks outside of school too. Choosing not to drink soda pop has no disadvantages – try water…maybe add a little lemon juice and/or a little of your favorite zero calorie sweetener if you don’t like plain water.
- Another problem when my children were young was that I’d get the children off to school and then I’d be hungry at about 11:30 am to 12:00 pm; then I’d have lunch. That worked just fine, but the problem started at about 4:00 pm. I didn’t want to eat before dinner; but I was cooking, hovering over delicious food, and with a spoon easily at hand. Or I could grab that small, damaged piece. I finally realized that my body was just doing what it was supposed to do – sending me a signal that I was hungry. After 4 to 4 ½ hours – you can expect to be hungry. Plan a healthy small snack; you may discover, as I did, that the planned snacks were fewer calories and healthier choices than the nibbling/gobbling while cooking (which, of course, also came with a self-depreciating feeling of being out of control.) Don’t set yourself up to be out of control. Don’t increase your temptation by going too long between meals and setting yourself up to turn to the cookie jar.
- Frequently, at bedtime, I have a single square of chocolate with a couple tablespoons of cashews. It’s enough to curb my appetite without a huge load of sugar calories. The idea is that you can mix a little sweetness with some nuts.
- Try filling your mouth with something to keep from eating a calorie-laden sweet food. Chewing gum works for some.
- Get the sweets out of your environment; out of your office desk, your kitchen cabinets, the cookie jar, and your private stash. Stock those same places with healthier choices: fruit (dried or fresh); maybe a whole grain no-added sugar muffin; or nuts, for example.
- Check the label of your cereal – There may be more than a spoonful of sugar. The cereal processors and their trusty marketing groups are confusing not just the children, but the parents too. A Yale study published in the academic journal Public Health Nutrition is trying to get the FDA to reduce the confusion about nutrition claims in the sugary cereals.
Let’s not wait until all the public agencies involved try to regulate the addition of empty calorie sweeteners into our food supply. Let us not wait for the class-action lawsuits. Our health is impacted right now! We can take the steps that can protect our health right now. Once you get away from sugar/sweeteners, you may be as surprised to discover that your sweet tooth has lost its control over you; I was surprised when my ‘sweet tooth from the past’ lost its power over me.