I’m finding a lot of my younger colleagues doing these extreme detox diets. I am 49 years old and I did one once, and found the transition to eating the foods from the list costly and a bit wasteful. Is there a happy medium to wean myself off sugar? Since when did sugar in my diet become toxic? — Jodi Seiflein, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Our body needs sugar to function properly, so not all sugars are bad for you. It’s the added sugars that you have to watch out for. Added sugars are those added to processed and prepared foods (such as fruit juice concentrate, agave, honey, cane sugar and a host of other names). They are not the sugars that naturally occur in fruit and dairy products. Since added sugars are found in most processed foods, from tomato sauce to crackers, we’re suddenly eating a lot more of it thanwe realize. And that’s a problem because too much added sugar can result in weight gain, which can lead to many other medical conditions, such as the development of atherosclerosis, hypertension, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The average American man consumes 21 teaspoons of added sugar a day, while women consume 15, significantly more than the recommended six for women and nine for men, recommended by the American Heart Association. It is possible to wean yourself off of sugar without an extreme diet. But like any diet, it will be a lifestyle change and a commitment. As I always say, “Fast won’t last.”
One way to cut down the sugar is to opt for water instead of sodas, sweet teas and juice. Sodas and sports drinks can yield up to 8 teaspoons of added sugar per 20 fluid ounces. While fruit juice isn’t technically “added” sugar, it’s been stripped of the fiber that slows down how quickly we absorb the sugar from fruit, so researchers tend to lump fruit juice in with other added sugars. Nutrition labels measure sugar content in grams.
Keep in mind that 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams. Your Kellogg’s Special K red berries cereal contains 10 grams of sugar per cup, that’s 2-½ teaspoons of added sugar, almost half of your recommended daily intake. One tablespoon of ketchup has 1 teaspoon of sugar. There’s 2-½ teaspoons sugar in half a cup of tomato sauce. I know, now you’re asking, “Then what the heck can I eat?”
This weaning process may cause your blood sugar to drop as your body recalibrates. It may cause migraines, fatigue or extreme sugar cravings. To avoid appearing like a rabid animal, be sure to eat whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein, which will deliver measured amounts of fuel throughout the day.
Before you reach for sugar while cooking, experiment with adding dried fruit. For my chicken stew, I add raisins for some unexpected sweetness. Replacing added sugars will also force you to expand your cooking repertoire to include some ethnic recipes! And since sugar is harder to avoid at breakfast, embrace a savory breakfast instead. Think about topping your toast with peanut butter, banana slices, avocado or even a soft-boiled egg. If you’re like me and need that sweet ending, have some fruit or 100 percent whole fruit homemade sorbet. Need chocolate? Try an extra dark 70 percent varietal; the taste will linger on your palate.
Lastly, don’t forget to reward yourself, but not with sweets. Set realistic and attainable goals, and progress from there.