After many American families have recently celebrated “the candy holiday” — AKA Halloween — what follows in the next couple months are multiple holiday celebrations of over-indulging in carbs, pie, cookies, cakes, candy, booze…
...all containing lots of sugar.
Sugar is undeniably one of the staples in the standard American diet, and sugar consumption peaks at this time of year for many of us.
Today, the average US citizen consumes 152 pounds of sugar in a year – or 3 pounds per week!
That's a lot.
Sugar can also be one of the most poisonous substances to feed the human body. There is no doubt: chronic sugar intake can wreak havoc on our system.
Our gut microbiome, skin, liver function, nervous system, heart health, immune system function, and many aspects of our health are all impacted heavily or hijacked by excessive sugar intake.
Diabetes, hypertension, and obesity rates are soaring, and the number of adults with diagnosed diabetes has quadrupled over the last 40 years in the United States alone. (1)
Even for the most health conscious of us, sugar cravings can take hold. Recent studies in rats have demonstrated that refined sugar may be more addictive than intravenous cocaine (2), and it can generate a more intense dopamine response than cocaine.
Luckily, there’s hope in this upcoming season of sugar overload for us to take action to address our own health for ourselves and our families!
We already know adopting new habits, beliefs, or traditions (especially around the holidays) is no small feat, but even small steps surrounding sugar intake will reap huge benefits for your health, weight, and overall immune system resilience.
The key is to look for “the next right step” towards possibilities for lowering sugar intake. It isn’t a massive diet overhaul, a super-strict fast, or a fad supplement.
This is about making small intentional steps and choices, in the direction of a better lifestyle.
To help you, I’ve assembled five easy-to-implement ideas for combatting and/or reducing your refined sugar intake. Which one(s) will you try?
1. BOOST INTAKE OF LEAFY GREENS
Spinach, kale, romaine, and chard are all terrific options to add to your next salad, smoothie, or green juice.
A powerful green food from the sea— spirulina— is another great supplement to offset sugar intake. Interestingly, spirulina has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels, and assist with balancing cholesterol levels in Type 2 diabetes patients. (3, 4)
2. EAT THE RAINBOW
Focus on eating a diverse array of produce colors for maximum nutrition.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate up to 800 different varieties of plants! The variety of compounds in each plant supports our bodies in unique ways.
Choose organic, freshly picked, local produce whenever possible. Look for bold, bright colors like purples, reds, vibrant yellows, oranges, and greens.
Vegetables and fruits like red peppers, carrots, broccoli, sweet potato, and rainbow chard are all great examples, as are persimmons, pomegranates, blueberries, watercress, bok choy, and pineapple!
What about trying colorful produce like purple potatoes, acorn squash, and avocado next time you’re at the market?
3. DITCH ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
Splenda, Equal, NutraSweet, and Sweet ‘n Low are popular artificial sweetener additives, but are they good for you?
Synthetic sugar substitutes are made of chemicals to make them 30-13,000 times sweeter than sucrose (5). Many are calorie-free, making them appear to be great options for cutting back on real sugar, while delivering potent sweet taste overload.
Currently, six artificial sweeteners (saccharin, sucralose, aspartame, advantame, acesulfame-potassium, and neotame) are FDA-approved...
...but are they truly better for our overall health than natural sugars?
We know that lab-made synthetic sweeteners disrupt the gut microbiome, and can cause headaches, depression, mood swings, and actually increase your sugar cravings and appetite (5,6).
While controversy about these sugar substitutes is ongoing, at least one study has demonstrated saccharin’s link to bladder cancer.
Another study of over 60,000 women suggests the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes is directly related to the frequency and duration of artificial sweetener consumption (7).
My suggestion is to start watching for these on ingredient lists, and begin removing these synthetics from your daily diet. There are plenty of natural sugar options you can use instead (which your body can actually recognize as real food) like organic pure maple syrup, dates, and coconut sugar.
Try coconut sugar in your coffee instead of Splenda, or use it in your next batch of cookies instead of artificial sweeteners!
4. AVOID HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
You may already know it’s not good for the human body to ingest High Fructose Corn Syrup (or HFCS).
HFCS is a toxic industrial food product, and it isn’t even technically real “food.”
It lurks in many processed and conventional foods today, including ketchup, salad dressings, crackers, breads, applesauce, relish, cereals, yogurts, and more.
Though it often takes time and effort reading labels to find product alternatives that do not contain HFCS, it’s one of the most empowering steps you can take to decrease your sugar cravings, and improve your overall health.
5. STOP DRINKING SODA
Soda is not only linked to a rise in obesity, but countless chronic health conditions.
In fact, some cities have gone so far as to ban/restrict soda sales from schools because of the negative impacts on overall health especially in children.
If you’re struggling with limiting your soda intake, try an experiment to see how your body feels without any kind of soda for just 2-3 days.
Yes, even (and especially!) “diet soda.”
Committing to just 2-3 days of soda replacement may not seem like much, but this small shift could change your life.
Reach for flavored ice water (with simple lemon or lime), sparkling water like Spindrift, or unsweetened iced tea if you need something to satisfy the urge.
After just a couple days, do you still have the cravings? You might be shocked at how your addiction has changed!
Our cravings are often related to certain compounds that are still prevalent in our bloodstream – so, after even just a few short days of discipline, the most intense aspects of cravings can diminish.
When combined with the high levels of sodium and caffeine found in many soft drinks, this direct form of sugar has the potential to make soda very addictive for many people.
According to the CDC, a staggering 63% of youth and 49% of adults in America consume a sugar-sweetened beverage on any given day (8)!
With these five ideas for counter-acting sugar excess, I’d love to hear which step you’ll be focusing on in the coming weeks, and which one might be more challenging!
Remember, you’re only one small step away from massive positive impact to your health, and setting a strong example for those around you.