If there’s one excellent thing you can do for better health this week, it’s reducing your sugar intake. The average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons, or 82 grams, of sugar each day, according to the University of California San Francisco. That adds up to nearly 66 pounds of added sugar per person every year.
To put sugar consumption into context, the American Heart Association recommends that women keep their daily sugar intake to no more than six teaspoons, or 25 grams. For men, that’s nine teaspoons, or 36 grams per day.
The dangers of too much sugar in your diet are many. A high sugar intake increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and dementia, plus research shows that it can cause cancer and promote tumor growth and progression.
Is Sugar Really Addictive?
Scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse were the first to report that sugar can cause changes in the brain that are similar to those that occur when you become addicted to cocaine or alcohol.
Addiction is characterized by compulsive substance abuse despite the negative consequences. While researchers argue over whether sugar can produce the same type of addiction that other drugs can, it’s clear that for some people, sugar can be addictive, and it can cause serious problems in their lives.
Like psychoactive drugs, sugar causes a rush of the brain chemical dopamine, which produces feelings of pleasure and wellbeing. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter in the brain’s memory, learning, and reward systems, and continuing to eat sugar can lead to intense cravings that make it extremely difficult to stop.
Some signs that you may be addicted to sugar include:
•Eating more sugar than you intend to or feeling a loss of control over your sugar consumption.
•Experiencing intense cravings for sugar.
•Continuing to eat large amounts of sugar even though it’s causing problems, such as tooth decay, weight gain, or other health problems.
•Finding that you can’t stop eating sugar even though you want to or have tried to.
•Hiding the extent of your sugar consumption from others.
If you think you may be addicted to sugar, taking steps now to reduce your sugar intake can prevent serious health problems down the road.
How to End Your Sugar Addiction
Willpower may not be enough to help you stop eating sugar, just as it often doesn’t help people end an addiction to dangerous drugs or cigarette smoking.
Here are some tips and strategies that can help you reduce your sugar consumption and stay within the recommended daily amounts.
Retrain your taste buds. If you put a lot of sugar in your coffee, tea, or cereal, reducing the amount you use over the course of a couple of weeks can help you re-train your taste buds to enjoy these things without all the extra sugar–or with far less than you currently use.
Replace sweets with fruit. When you have a sugar craving, reach for a piece of fruit, like a banana or a handful of grapes or berries. The natural sugars in the fruit will satisfy your sweet tooth while providing your body with essential nutrients and fiber to help burn off the natural sugars in the fruit.
Make small lifestyle changes. Small, sustainable changes in your lifestyle add up to big success. Cut out a little bit of sugar each week and replace it with something delicious but healthy. For example, if you eat dessert every night, skip dessert every other night, and replace it with something healthier, like low-sugar yogurt, a smoothie, or a plate of fruit. After a few weeks, you’ll be eating less sugar, and your taste buds and brain will adapt to the lower levels.
Eat more protein. Foods high in protein help reduce sugar cravings by digesting more slowly and leaving you feeling fuller longer. Eat a handful of almonds, an egg, or a piece of cheese when you crave sugar.
Exercise. Exercise not only reduces cravings, but also promotes other healthy lifestyle choices. Exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week, and you’ll find it easier to choose a banana over a piece of candy.
Seek help. If you crave and eat sugar when you’re stressed or upset, or if you binge eat large amounts of sugar on a regular basis, talking to a therapist or counselor can help. Stress eating, emotional eating, and binge eating are common, and addressing the issues that underlie your increased sugar intake can help you end your sugar addiction once and for all, while improving your overall quality of life.
Take a daily probiotic. The gut microbiome is a large collection of beneficial bacteria that has far-reaching effects for digestive health, brain function, and immunity. Maintaining healthy gut bacteria helps to reduce sugar cravings, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports. The best way to promote healthy gut bacteria is by taking a daily probiotic supplement, like Stonehenge Health’s Dynamic Biotics. Probiotics help reduce digestive problems that may result from sugar, including gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.