Discouraged by failed attempts to stop eating so much sugar? Clinical Nutritionist Sharon Meyer of California Pacific Medical Center’s Institute for Health and Healing and Internist Maxine Barish, M.D., of Sutter Medical Group in Sacramento offer up the following suggestions to help improve your diet and reduce sugar intake:
1. Avoid artificial sweeteners
Not only do they contain potentially harmful ingredients, they keep the brain locked into the craving for sweetness.
2. Read labels
Ideally, you should eat unprocessed foods in the their “whole” form. If you find yourself reaching for packaged food, check the labels for sugar, partially hydrogenated fats and, as Michael Pollan would say, unrecognizable “food-like” substances. Try to avoid foods with more than five ingredients.
3. Eat enough fat
Healthy fats like olive oil and nut butters are good for us and help reduce our cravings for sugar and other simple carbs. If you really need a treat, Meyer recommends one spoonful of coconut butter with a few chocolate chips for a highly satisfying indulgence.
4. Get lots of protein, especially in the afternoon
Protein stabilizes our blood sugar and keep us out of the craving danger zone. During the afternoon, our circadian rhythms change as cortisol levels decrease and melatonin increases. According to Meyer, these chemical shifts are the reason we start reaching for the candy jar around 2:30 p.m. Instead, she suggest a low-sugar protein shake.
5. Build a diet around plants
Vegetables also deliver steady amounts of nutrients without creating blood sugar volatility. Try roasting a big batch of different veggies with olive oil, garlic and a little flavored salt. Use those veggies for egg scrambles in the morning or mixed with brown rice at lunchtime.
6. Avoid low-fat products
It’s no coincidence that Americans have gained weight while eating “low-fat” foods. Typically, these products contain high levels of sugars and other carbs to compensate for fat reduction.
7. Try a magnesium supplement
Meyer recommends 200 milligrams, twice a day. Finding a combined calcium/magnesium supplement is also an excellent way to support your bone and muscle health.
8. Keep a food journal
Track your food intake, as well as the emotions you feel before, during and after eating different foods.
9. Reduce your stress
Yes, easier said than done, but the more stress we have, the more we crave instant gratification.
10. Skip the alcohol
Since alcohol is so much like sugar and also feeds those pleasure centers in our brains, it’s important to cut it out while you’re trying to get on top of your cravings. “Once that neuro circuitry has been calmed down, then you can maybe introduce a little bit.”
11. Avoid processed foods
Skip those center aisles at the grocery store where packaged foods reigns. “If people just did that, they wouldn’t need to worry so much about hidden sugars,” says Dr. Barish.
12. Do it with a friend
Whether it’s your co-workers, a fellow group of moms or a best friend, find other women to join you in your changes.
13. Find luxurious ways to reward yourself
Sugar is so satisfying that you’ll need to come up with especially good rewards to take its place. Make a list of the things you love most and try to incorporate those into your life on a daily basis.
Create an online food journal
Use MyLifeStages to create a confidential, easy-to-use food journal, where you can write about your food intake and associated emotions. You can even invite the support people in your life to “subscribe” to your journal, comment on your entries and give you the encouragement you need.