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Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar

The average American consumes 57 pounds of added sugars a year, which is approximately 17 teaspoons every day (SugarScience). Imagine sitting down at your kitchen table right now and throwing back 17 spoonfuls of sugar. It's probably not going to feel too great.

Though spreading consumption out throughout the day will limit the stomach ache, consuming sugar in these quantities is creating havoc in the body.

It is wildly known that increased sugar consumption is associated with a higher risk of developing certain health issues, including diabetes, inflammatory diseases (like irritable bowel syndrome and auto-immune disease), and obesity. So why does the average American still consume 17 teaspoons of sugar a day?

The simple answer is cravings.

Americans crave foods laden with sugar. And most products on the shelf today have some form of sugar preservative in them to increase shelf life, satiety and fuel the underlying addiction to this sweetening molecule. Manufactures can add sugar to make the food sweeter and more appealing, almost guaranteeing you'll come back for seconds.

To understand how to stop eating so much sugar, we will address why the typical person would be driven to consume such a high quantity of this product. First, though, let's look at what sugar is and some ways to stop eating so much sugar.

What is sugar?

At its most basic level, all carbohydrates are formed by three individual molecules: glucose, fructose, and galactose. These individual molecules then bond to each other to create all other forms of carbohydrates.

Table sugar is a form of carbohydrate known as a disaccharide and is technically referred to as a sucrose molecule. Sucrose is a bond between the two individual molecules, glucose and fructose. It can be found naturally in fruits and vegetables and can also be synthetically created in a lab as a cheaper alternative for manufactured foods.

Other forms of sugar, such as those found in milk, are also disaccharides (a bonding of 2 single molecules) and are known as lactose and maltose. To see a full breakdown of how carbohydrates are classified and formed, check out this article by sugar.org.

When discussing excess sugar consumption, sucrose is usually the main culprit and will be the focus of the remaining of this discussion. Sucrose, in the form of table sugar and naturally occurring sugar (as in fruit), has been a leading factor in the increase of chronic disease nationwide. Understanding that we need sugar in limited forms and how to cut unnecessary sugar consumption can provide life-long health benefits.

Are there benefits to eating sugar?

When consumed in moderation, and in a naturally occurring form, sugar can provide energy to cells in the body. The singular molecule known as glucose is the source of energy for cells in the body; when sugar is consumed, the body can break it down into glucose molecules and use a limited amount to fuel bodily functions.

When consumed in excess, however, the leftover sugar (in the form of glucose) is stored for later use. The first place the body looks to store glucose is in the muscles and the liver, but these too can only handle a limited amount. Once these storage areas are at full capacity, the body converts the remaining sugar into fat for long term storage. Consuming sugar to this extent regularly is when we start to see an uptick in body fat percentage and chronic health issues.

To preserve your health and stop eating sugar in excess, try these tips.

Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar

Sugar is addicting. Scientists are linking sugar consumption to the release of certain hormones that form addiction in our brains. This addiction can be broken though and here are some ways you can stop eating so much sugar

  • Increase Fruit Consumption

Though fruits do contain sugar, they also contain fiber. Fiber is a partially non-digestible carbohydrate that attaches itself to the sugars within the fruit and limits the amount that can be absorbed by the body. This is a natural way to limit sugar consumption while still satisfying the craving to eat something sweet.

Be wary of dried fruits, however. Manufacturers like to add sugars and syrups to dried fruits to improve their flavor. If you are a dried fruit fan, look into dehydrating fresh fruits to create your own healthy snacks. 

  • Chew Fennel Seeds

These small seeds are naturally sweet but contain zero sugar. Keep a handful close by for when the sugar cravings hit, or make them your go to snack before the cravings kick in.

As an added benefit, fennel seeds are a natural appetite suppressant and can aid with hunger control as well.

  • DIY Foods

With the emergence of the Paleo and Keto diet, there are numerous websites dedicated to clean cooking. A simple Google search can return thousands of low or no sugar alternatives to some of your favorite foods. Restaurants and food manufacturers use sugar as a preservative in most foods (check the back of your canned vegetables, there's probably added sugars); by cooking from home you'll be able to cut your sugar consumption drastically.

  • Go Natural

For staples like nut butter or bread, go with the most natural form. If you're unable to make them yourselves, try to get as close to real ingredients as possible. This means getting whole-grain loaves of bread, all-natural nut butters (the ones with oil atop the jar), plain oats, and organic alternatives.

  • Buy Unsweetened

Making drastic changes to diet is a tough thing to do. This tip is a more introductory way to cut sugar consumption. When shopping for food, opt for the low or no-sugar option. Word of caution: when choosing these check the ingredient list for sugar substitutes, we'll touch more on this in a bit.

  • Change Drinks

We all know sodas are high in sugar, but did you know sports drinks and fruit juices can contain just as much if not more sugar per serving? One serving of soda contains 39 grams of sugar while the same amount of a regular sports drink contains 36 grams. Though the sugar in fruit juice is natural, juices don't have the same amount of fiber to limit sugar absorption and can be just as harmful as the sports drinks or pop.

Some tasty and beneficial alternatives include black coffee (or coffee prepared the bulletproof way), unsweetened or fermented teas, and of course, water (add in a few slices of cucumber, lemon, or some berries to give it a natural flavoring).

  • Balance the Cravings

Often times, sugar cravings can be curbed by eating savory foods. This is because savory foods better satisfy the body's needs for nutrients. Once the stomach is full, the cravings tend to go away. Indulging in a savory breakfast, such as cheese and veggie omelet, first thing in the morning can help curb cravings throughout the day.

  • Get More Sleep

Two hormones regulate hunger and satiety. These are ghrelin, which signals hunger, and leptin, which the brains use to indicate satisfaction in food consumption. Repetitive studies (such as this one) have shown that getting less than a full night's sleep, 8 hours, will increase ghrelin levels and decrease leptin levels, leaving you hungrier throughout the day and less satisfied by food choices.

  • Learn About Ingredients and How they Affect the Body

The number one way to cut how much sugar you are eating is to educate yourself on what sugar can do to the body. As the paleo and ketogenic diet gain traction, more and more scientists are delving into the harmful effects of sugar consumption on long term health. As you start to learn about this harmful ingredient, start checking the ingredients list on packaged foods before buying.

Like we mentioned earlier, most packaged foods have some form of sugar to increase shelf life. Read carefully because sugar can be disguised with many different names such as corn syrup, high-fructose syrup, dextrose or dextrin, xylitol or many other chemically derived products ending in "-ol".

If you use these tips to stop eating so much sugar, you can also get cravings in control and start to change the foods you crave. We will discuss exactly why this happens and how you can begin the process next.  

What are cravings?

If consuming excess sugar is so harmful to the body, then why do we crave it?

Chris Kresser M.S, and co-director of the California Center for Functional Medicine, defines cravings as a combination of social, cultural, psychological, and physiological factors that produce a desire for certain foods (p.2).

Typically, when we crave a food, it is because we are either programmed (by social and cultural means) to have the item regularly or because our body needs a nutrient and knows the last food it was able to pull that from. For example, a person craving milk with breakfast may have this craving because American's have created a social norm of having a glass of milk with our meals or because the body needs calcium and understands that milk is a good source of that.

If a craving is just a matter of breaking social norms or eating different foods, why is it so hard to stop eating so much sugar?

What is the microbiome?

Within our gut are millions of small bacteria commonly referred to as the gut microbiome. In recent years scientists have started to unveil the relationship between gut biome and cravings. This connection has now been termed the gut-microbiota-brain axis.

The nerves integrated with the gut are known as the enteric nervous system. This system connects directly to the brain stem via the vagus nerve, which is the main form of communication between the gut and the brain. The vagus nerve is unconsciously controlled and responds directly to signals coming from the gut and its microbiome.

How the microbiome affects the brain

We have an entire article on the gut-brain connection here, but for the sake of this discussion, we will explore how the gut-brain connection and food consumption play a role in producing cravings.

When food is ingested and passes from the stomach to the intestines, it is the microbiomes' job to breakdown foods into their chemical components (carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, etc.). As with any process, there are byproducts of breaking food down into its parts. These byproducts are what the gut bacteria consume to preserve their lives and colonies.

In his TED talk on gut bacteria, Warren Peters discusses how there are various strains of gut bacteria living within us, and the strains that thrive are determined in part by the foods we eat. That's right, certain foods allow certain bacteria to thrive in our intestines. This is a significant factor in controlling cravings.

The bacteria that thrive within us is directly correlated to the type of food we eat. These bacteria also have a direct line to the brain telling the brain what they want to eat, and in turn, they are able to produce cravings to signal to us what to eat in order to feed themselves along with our body.

How can the microbiome be changed?

The good news about the gut microbiome is that it can be changed. If there are colonies of bacteria currently thriving off sugar within your gut, depriving them of this food source will shrink or eliminate that particular strain. Along with this, eating natural non-processed foods can allow the "healthy" bacteria colonies to flourish. Here are some additional tips to help change your gut microbiome

  • Increase Fiber Intake

Fiber is a form of carbohydrate that is partially non-digestible. This means the body cannot break it down entirely, but this is beneficial. The portion of fiber that the gut can break down, produces short-chain fatty acids, which fuels the healthy bacteria we are aiming to increase. In addition to this, fiber is known as a natural cleanser. The non-digestible portion can attach itself to the harmful components of digestion (bacteria and other food products) as it is eliminated from the body.

  • Eat Whole Foods

The benefits of eating whole foods are endless. To begin, when eating whole foods, you know exactly what is being put in your body- eating an apple results in consuming the nutrients an apple contains. Compare this to boxed items that contain ingredients that not even the smartest scientist can pronounce without hesitation.

Whole foods are also easier for the body to break down. Chemically engineered foods often present problems to any gut bacteria strain because ingredients are in unnatural forms. This unnatural form leads to less nutrient absorption; eating whole founds will increase the amount of vitamins and minerals your body can absorb. 

Lastly, whole foods are cost-effective. Looking at the price tag under a cart of apples may not appear economically beneficial. Still, a bag of apples will go further to provide nutrients and satiety than a carton of applesauce.

  • Eat the Rainbow

When consuming whole foods, aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables. A good rule of thumb is to "eat the rainbow"; this means consuming at least one fruit or vegetable correlating to each color of the rainbow each week. Each fruit and vegetable have a different nutrient profile and offers various vitamins and minerals the body needs to perform optimally. Eating at least one of each color each week will provide a healthy spread of nutrients to minimize cravings as well as deficiencies.

  • Consume Probiotics

As the name alludes to, probiotics are good (pro- in favor) bacteria (biotic- cellular microbe). Probiotics can be found naturally in fermented foods. The most popular of these are plain yogurts, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir. Each food can provide a different naturally occurring strain of healthy bacteria, so try to incorporate as many forms of these foods as you can. For the particularly adventurous type, kimchi and kombucha can easily be made at home when following the right recipe.

To learn more about probiotics and how they can help change your gut microbiome, check out our article on food versus supplemental probiotics here.

Sugar is a powerful molecule that has become a prevalent "staple" in first world countries. Addiction to this molecule is just one of the many harmful side effects one can experience when consuming excess sugar. Use our tips to cut sugar consumption and regain control of your health.

Cutting sugar can help increase energy, metabolism, lead to better body composition, and lower the risk for several major illnesses. Taking this step can also change your gut microbiome in a way that will jump-start your health and nutrition journey.

Just remember the gut desires what we feed it. So, using these tips to cut sugar consumption and change the bacteria in your gut works for as long as you are feeding the body healthy foods. Increasing sugar consumption in the future will lead to a lapse in gut bacteria, and the cycle will need to be restarted.

Cut the sugar and stay healthy.

Summary

The gut contains millions of bacteria that break down food into the various nutrients our bodies absorb. The foods we eat directly correlate to the strains of bacteria present. By cutting sugar consumption, increasing whole food, and fiber consumption, we can increase the number of healthy bacteria in the gut.

 Aside from changing the gut bacteria, aim to cook foods from home making the low- or no sugar forms of your favorite recipes; indulge in savory foods and fennel seeds, both of which help keep hunger levels under control; and keep fruit close by to satisfy your sweet tooth with natural food. Don't forget to get a full night's sleep, as this will also help to regulate the hormones that control hunger and satisfaction. Last but not least, switch your sports drinks and fruit juice for coffee, tea, or water since sports drink and juice can contain just as much sugar as a serving of soda.

References

Kresser, C. (2019, May 28). Do gut microbes control your food cravings? Retrieved from

https://chriskresser.com/do-gut-microbes-control-your-food-cravings/

Peters, W. (2016, Jun 27). Microbiome: Gut bugs and you. Retrieved from

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDqMB6C1uys

Taheri, S., Ling, L., Austin, D., Young, T., & Emmanuel, M. (2004, Dec 7). Short sleep duration is

associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLOS Medicine, 1(3). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535701/

University of California San Francisco. How much is too much? SugarScience. Retrieved from

https://sugarscience.ucsf.edu/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption.html#.XX6c6ihKiM8

Other Sources

Breakdown of Sugar

https://www.sugar.org/sugar/what-is-sugar/

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