I love bubble gum, Swedish Fish and most chewy candies. A lot. When I was young my friend and I would ride our bikes to the convenience store where we bought all sorts of candy. We’d then park our bikes, sit down and eat our entire bag of goodies in one sitting! I was one of those children who never hoarded any Halloween candy, and I have the dental fillings to prove it. When a co-worker has an always full candy dish on his or her desk, I find myself having difficulty controlling my sweet tooth.
Today, there is increasing discussion on sugar “addiction” and its potential role in the increase of obesity in this country. Studies done in both rats and humans show that addictive behaviors, and brain activity related to cravings, are seen with intake of sugar. As this research continues to emerge, some officials are pushing for sugar restrictions for the public in an effort to impact not only obesity, but other chronic diseases such as diabetes. While this debate goes on, dietitians are faced with working to help clients understand the importance of eating less sugar. Some points can include:
1. Excess sugar means excess calories. Sweetened beverages, desserts, cakes and cookies are high in “empty” calories. When counseling someone who drinks half of their daily caloric intake from sugared beverages, I encourage them to start by reducing the amount they consume. Even cutting out 40 ounces of regular soda daily can lead to eye-opening weight loss. When people equate the weight loss with cutting back, they are often motivated to make other healthy changes.
2. Eat natural sweets. Having ¼ cup of trail mix or a piece of fresh fruit still allows your body to feel as if it has satisfied its need for dessert. Other good choices include cookies or muffins made with natural sweeteners such as applesauce.
3. Eat regularly. Many people who struggle to lose weight are meal skippers. Encouraging protein-containing meals and snacks every three to four hours allows the body to stay fed. This avoids the blood sugar fluctuations that can often lead to cravings and overeating of sweets and other high-fat foods.
4. Discover whole foods again. Many who consume too many calories from sugar often don’t regularly eat fruit or vegetables. Some blame the business of daily life for eating more processed foods. Helping clients begin to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes helps people feel better about taking an active role in their efforts at disease prevention.
5. Just say no. Out of sight, out of mind. If you know you are tempted by having candy or cookies in the cabinet, don’t buy them. If you are in a social setting and sweets are abundant, eat a small portion, preferably after a meal, or skip altogether. Sometimes avoidance helps the most.