Though we already talked about reducing your sugar intake as a part of the Ditch the Junk challenge, today I want to talk about healthier alternatives to sugar and share 5 tips to keep your sweet tooth in check. For Lent this year, I gave up Twix minis and I’ve tried to curb my general craving for chocolate. It hasn’t always been easy and there are days that I want nothing more than to just devour a dark chocolate bar. But, I’m doing my best to maintain my self control throughout this challenge. Who knows what will happen after Lent is over, but I’m hoping that with these changes in place, I can make this a long term change.
Sugar is hard to avoid because it can be found in almost everything that we consume. Some are far more obvious than others. So how then, does one go about reducing their sugar intake and keep their sweet tooth in check? For me this was quite the daunting task. Though I was already cutting back in some areas, I knew that there was more that I could be doing.
But, whether we realize it or not, many of us end up addicted to sugar.
Why is that?
Sugar releases endorphins in our brain and we feel great and happy – called the sugar rush. As our body quickly releases insulin to consume the simple carbohydrates, it usually releases too much too fast, so we start experiencing the sugar crash. But the more sugar we consume, the more insulin we need to produce. This could eventually lead to Type 2 diabetes or other health problems.
So how do we keep our need for sugar in check?
– Don’t deny yourself sugar. Your cravings will eventually win. Instead if you feel the need for some sugar, limit yourself to a small fun-size candy bar instead of a big one. Try to keep this snack to 150 calories or less. Just don’t do what I used to do and consume four or five of these mini or fun size candy bars. It’s really not reducing much of anything.
– Chew a piece of gum. Research has shown that many times chewing gum will quell the desire for sugar. Be sure to read the ingredients if you can.
– Eat a piece of fruit. The natural sugar will satisfy your craving for sugar, but you will also get the benefit of some fiber and nutrients – both of which are good for you.
– Eat more often. Yes you read that right. By eating five or six small meals throughout the day, your craving for sugar will diminish. Some of what you eat will have added sugar so it will satisfy your sweet tooth. Just make sure your total caloric intake stays within your goal for the day by making smart healthy choices each time you eat.
– Last but not least, quit cold turkey. This is tough to do, but since sugar is an addiction, it can work just as it does well as it does for other types of addictions. The first 48 to 72 hours will be the toughest. Once you get past that, it gets easier and eventually your craving for sugar will be almost gone. If you’re going to do this, be sure to keep a food journal. That way you can keep track of what you’re eating and when.
If you still can’t shake the sugar completely, and believe me that’s a personal decision to make, then here are are three healthier alternatives to sugar for you to consider.
Made from the leaves of the stevia plant, it is recognized as the safest artificial alternative to real sugar. Japan has used Stevia as a sweetener for over 30 years, but because it is not FDA -approved in the U.S, you’ll find it listed as a dietary supplement and not a sweetener.
There are a couple of drawbacks to using Stevia though. Because it is 250 to 300 times sweeter than real sugar, many people tend to use too much of it until they get used to using the right amount. Besides coming in granular form, it also comes as a liquid; many people prefer the liquid better. And right now, Stevia doesn’t work well when used in baking as it doesn’t caramelize as does real sugar.
The second safe artificial sweetener are the ones made from fermenting corn or sugar cane. You will see them in the stores under the names xylitol, sorbitol and erythritol. While they have more calories than Stevia, they have far less than real sugar. On the plus side, they tend to leave your mouth with a cool refreshing taste and have been found to reduce cavities, a common problem with real sugar.
On the negative side, some people report gastrointestinal distress if they ingest too much of it. Also be sure to keep xylitol away from your dog as even a tiny amount is toxic.
While somewhat controversial, this artificial sweetener is made by combining saccharin with maltodextin and chlorine, although the FDA has not found its use associated with any health problems. Unlike Stevia, Splenda® can be used in baking, however, when used as a one-for-one replacement for real sugar, it can leave a different taste after eating food made with it. It is best used as a half Splenda/half real sugar blend.
Two Artificial Sweeteners to Avoid
Aspartame is commonly found in many of the low-calorie diet sodas and in other low-calorie foods, however, some people report getting headaches after eating food made with it. Once broken down, one of its by-products is formaldehyde.
The second one is Saccharin, marketed as Sweet-N-Low®. It is 300 times sweeter than real sugar and is made from petroleum.
Stevia, the sugar alcohols and Splenda® are three safe alternatives for people trying to lessen their dependence on real sugar or trying to cut down on the number of carbs they eat.
I’m trying Stevia in my tea instead of using sugar and I’m trying to get Kyle to try Stevia with his coffee over the weekends. So far, we’re doing good and since we don’t do too much baking at the moment, we haven’t had to worry about finding an acceptable sugar substitute for baking just yet. Of course I do enjoy baking and once I really get into it again, I’ll have to find a solution that works for me.
Reducing the amount of sugar in my life hasn’t been easy but I have definitely noticed the difference. I feel as though I have more energy during the day and I’m not constantly relying on sugar for a quick fix.