Cutting Down On Sugar Without Sacrificing Sweetness

Social activities, sexual intimacy, certain drugs, and sugar have something in common. They all activate the reward center in our brain.

If our reward response becomes over-activated it can trigger cravings, and loss of control. Drugs such as heroine, alcohol, and nicotine can over-activate our reward response, and though it’s less harsh, so can sugar.

Easing Off The Sugar

It’s hard to resist sweet treats that raise glucose levels when our brain is demanding the pleasurable, rewarding rush that sugar provides.

The trick for many of us is gradually weaning our sweet tooth (brain) from its yearning for sugar, as we increase our intake of naturally sweet foods. There are many ways to do this; here are a few:

  • Sweet Five. Keep the five sweet-tasting spices on hand - coriander, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom - and look for sauce, dressing, meat, rice, or hot veggie recipes that include them.
  • Half n’ Half. If you’re a fan of sweet drinks such as soda and juice, keep seltzer on hand, and dilute each cup of sweetened beverage with a half cup of the seltzer. After doing this for a month, dilute each cup of sweetened beverage with a cup of the seltzer.
  • You might choose to continue the half-and-half ratio to reduce sugar intake, or decide to dilute further and further—until sugary beverages are no longer missed.

  • Subtle Sweetness. While diluting your favorite sugary drinks with seltzer, you could look for replacement beverages with a naturally sweet taste. For instance, The Republic of Tea (link below) offers a black tea that’s enhanced with the sweet essence of Korean Hydrangea serrata leaf. Even if this subtly sweet drink is not “your cup of tea,” another herb sweetened beverage might be.
  • From Scratch. Pick one frequently purchased ready-made food, such as pasta sauce, or salad dressing, and commit to preparing this item at home. A basic red sauce is easy to make on the stove, or in a slow cooker, and even if we add a teaspoon of sugar the sauce will be far less sugary than most jarred brands.
  • Salad dressings also tend to have excess sugar or high fructose corn syrup. By finding just three easy dressing recipes, and keeping the ingredients on hand, we will always have a few low, or no sugar dressings to choose from.
  • Craving Crusher. Melt a bar of dark chocolate, stir it into a jar of creamy organic, no-sugar-added peanut butter, and put the mixture in the fridge to cool. Then, when a sugar craving arises, let one gooey spoonful slowly and deliciously dissolve in your mouth. It will contain about 4.5 grams of sugar, plus a boost of protein.
  • Jam It. Switch to jams (or jelly) made without added sugars, or artificial sweeteners. They may cost a bit more, but it’s an investment in good health, and we can stock up when there’s a sale. These jams are plenty sweet so there’s no sacrifice in pleasure, only in grams of sugar.
  • Besides flavoring breakfast toast, a tablespoon of this jam can liven up a chicken or turkey sandwich, while satisfying our yen for something sweet.
  • Sweet Garnish. It’s easy to add the sweetness (and fiber) of whole fruit to many familiar dishes: a few berries in a green salad, some chopped red grapes in chicken salad, apricot pieces in rice, or pineapple chunks with chicken.

Maybe the best part about eating less sugar is getting reacquainted with the essential sweetness of many whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, some veggies, and spices. A food's natural sweetness is not as intense as sugar, but it is exquisite.

Sources: Science Alert; Republic of Tea; Dr. Oz; Huffington Post; Be Well
Photo credit: darwin Bell

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