January is in full swing, and the internet is buzzing with detoxes, juice cleanses, gym memberships… the lot.
But almost two weeks in, we all start to feel the pinch. That’s when sugar cravings set in.
Our brains fantasize about sugar when we’re thirsty, hungry, tired, or under-caffeinated – yearning for a quick hit, like a drug.
However, succumbing to the sweet stuff is the worst thing you can do.
Health care officials unanimously agree that sugar is the driving factor for the surge in global obesity rates, now that the myth that ‘fat makes you fat’ has finally been dispelled.
More than two thirds of the US population are obese or overweight, and more than two thirds in the UK.
Sugar can also wreak havoc on your organs.
So how can you keep your diet on track?
Worryingly, added sugars plague many common foods – even some that appear to be healthy.
Why? It’s simple: they extend the shelf life.
Added sugars keep foods like bread, breakfast cereals and even tinned fruit and vegetables in seemingly edible condition for longer.
Plus it helps disguise the blander taste of foods that have had the fat removed and re-branded as ‘low fat’ options.
Therefore, many foods we think of as wholesome – like yogurt, cereal bars, low-fat snacks and fruit-flavored water – may actually contain much more sugar than we think, ultimately causing us to pile on the pounds without even knowing it.
1. MEAL PREP IS KEY
‘It sounds obvious but the only way to know for sure that you are not consuming foods with added sugar in them is to eat “real” food,’ British nutritionist Amie Richmond explains.
‘This means food which are not processed, so start by filling your fridge with fresh vegetables, fruit, lean meats, fish and eggs.
‘Cooking from scratch ensures the only sugars you are consuming are natural sugars from fructose which is found in fruits and vegetables.’
A huge proponent of meal prep, Richmond recommends one in particular, which has worked for her: Bodychef.
It is one of many companies in the newly-booming meal prep business, providing freshly made meals delivered straight to your door, all calorie counted for you.
Richmond said she likes Bodychef for its tailor-made ‘Low Sugar’ plan, which offers meals, snacks and deserts free from empty calories found in refined sugar.
‘It ensures your blood sugar levels stay constant without the peaks and troughs of a high sugar diet,’ Richmond explains.
2. MEDITATE TO STAVE OFF CRAVINGS
Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine, told the Daily Mail meditation is key to keep your mind and cravings in check.
Here is her nine-point plan to banish sugar fantasies.
1. Set time aside to meditate frequently – even if it’s only for a few minutes every day. Short but often is far more effective than long periods you only schedule in occasionally.
2. Aim to meditate at the same time every day.
3. Find a spot away from possible distractions (radio, TV, computers, phones and other people) and sit on a cushion on the floor or perch on the end of the chair and allow your neck, back and shoulders to be relaxed.
Don’t let yourself slouch back or get too comfortable, as you might zone out or even fall asleep, which defeats the objective. A state of ‘conscious alertness’ gives the best results.
4. Set a timer for five minutes.
5. Close your eyes, or keep them slightly open and softly focused toward the floor in front of you, and take a few moments to concentrate on your breathing and settle your mind.
6. When you’re settled, begin by noticing the sensations of the outline of your body, your belly, your hips, your legs. Then turn your mind towards creating this image of yourself at a healthy weight. What does it feel like?
Can you picture yourself slim? What do you look like? How does it feel? Try to notice all of the sensations in this new, healthy body.
Do you walk differently or carry yourself differently? Do your clothes fit differently? Do you talk or interact differently?
Picture yourself slimmer – going through every aspect of a full day. Really visualize all the detail and make a point of noticing everything that feels different.
7. As your meditation ends, write down in a notebook all the positive changes you noticed in the slimmer you – in your body, your mind, your stress levels, your state of health, your relationships, work success – everything.
8. Keep in your mind this image of the slimmer you, and make a point of coming back to it at intervals throughout the day. Hold it in your mind for just a few moments, close your eyes, and think about how you are going to feel.
9. Repeat this meditation every day for a month, and increase your meditation time to ten minutes if you can.
3. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
There are 4 grams of sugar in 1 teaspoon.
According to Richmond, we should all have that figure fixed in our minds.
Guidelines in the US and the UK say we should be consuming no more than 30 grams of added sugar per day in our diet.
But it isn’t hard to reach that limit.
There can be up to 6 teaspoons (24 grams) of sugar in just one bowl of ‘healthy’ breakfast cereal.
A Chobani Bluberry Yogurt contains 15 grams of sugar per serving – more than a scoop of Breyer’s Vanilla Ice Cream.
And a serving of IHOP breakfast pancakes contain a staggering 55 grams of sugar – more than a slice of chocolate cake from the Cheesecake Factory.
Richmond says she cannot stress enough the importance of checking what’s in your food.
‘Read ingredient labels to find out how much sugar has been added to the food you are eating,’ she says.
‘Just because you are not sprinkling sugar on your food yourself, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been snuck in there, so work out where your “hidden” sugars are coming from and avoid them.
‘Remember, sugar can be called many things so watch out for the following as they are all sugars – glucose, sucrose, maltose, corn syrup, honey, hydrolysed starch, invert sugar, fructose & molasses.’
4. WATCH WHAT YOU DRINK
Soda drinks are made with an abundance of added sugar (a 500ml bottle of cola contains the equivalent of 13 teaspoons of sugar).
But even more alarmingly, trendy flavored waters can also have large amounts of added sugar as well.
Flavored water now accounts for 30 percent of all bottled water sales in the UK, with some leading brands containing 9 teaspoons of added sugar in a 440ml bottle.
Again, Richmond warns, it comes down to checking the labels.
Most importantly, however, water is always an option – and more satisfying to your body than you may think.
Often, when your body is thirsty, you crave sugar for a boost. That makes Coca Cola, orange juice, and La-Croix look tantalizing.
Really, your body just needs a bit of hydration.
‘Don’t be fooled by the pictures of fruit on the bottle,’ Richmond warns.
‘When in doubt stick to plain filtered water, ideally at least 2 liters per day to keep you on track and avoid those sugar cravings.’
5. TRY NATURAL ALTERNATIVES
Ideally, stick to as little sweetener as possible.
If you can’t resist a sweet taste in your morning Americano, try some alternatives.
But make sure you know why they are better for you, so you can differentiate between them and make your own choices.
‘If you use sugar in your hot drinks try swapping to Stevia, a plant based sweetener or Xylitol,’ Richmond advises.
‘Made from the Silver Birch tree, Xylitol has a very low glycaemic index (GI) meaning it won’t spike your blood sugar levels like refined sugar.
‘It also has the added bonus of having 40 percent less calories than sugar.’
If you are a syrup or honey fan then try switching to Yacon syrup.
‘With only one third of the calorific content of sugar, Yacon syrup is made from the root of a South American plant and has a GI of just 1 whereas granulated sugar ranks at around 60,’ Richmond explains.
6. DIET DOES NOT MEAN DIET
Billions of people drink artificially-sweetened beverages to avoid the calories of sugar.
But according to a recent five-year study by Purdue University, diet soda is just as likely to lead to obesity.
And even diet soda drinkers who do not put on weight have a significantly increased risk of developing diabetes or heart disease, or of having a stroke.
The study showed that the false promise of real calories confuses the body.
When diet soda drinkers do eat real sugar, their body does not know how to respond.
After enough soda-drinking, sweet-tasting foods do not trigger the natural release of a hormone to regulate blood sugar.
It means the blood sugar will then plummet, triggering hunger and cravings for sweet food.
Beyond that, diet soda also wears down the brain’s ‘reward center’ by constantly triggering a rush of satisfaction.
Like with repeated drug use, the brain eventually gets used to this level of stimulation – causing you to eat more and more in a bid to reach that level of satisfaction.
Richmond echoes these warnings.
‘When looking to lower your sugar intake don’t be tempted to go for zero sugar options,’ she says.
‘These are regularly compensated with artificial sweeteners which some studies suggest may damage your health and in the long term lead to weight gain.
‘Limit your intake of aspartame, saccharin, sorbitol and sucralose.
‘Instead get your sugars from natural sources like fruits and vegetables and check the ingredients of products which are branded “naturally sweetened” or “contains no added sugars”.’
7. GOOD FATS ARE YOUR FRIEND
Unhealthy carbs loaded with sugar can cause blood sugar to rise rapidly and then drop quickly, leaving you hungry and craving unhealthy snacks.
To minimize this rapid rise and fall, Richmond advises pairing protein with healthy fats and fiber in your meals, all of which can slow down the release of blood sugar in your body and keep you full for longer.
‘Opt for good fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds and heart-healthy oils like olive oil, walnut oil, and coconut oil,’ she says.
Still craving sugar? Richmond suggests this fail-safe tip…
‘Add 1tsp of cinnamon to your daily diet to help regulate blood sugar levels and stop that afternoon biscuit craving.’