Almost everyone can agree: cutting sugar sucks.
However, we can all also agree that cutting out artificial and processed foods is one of the most essential steps to not only improving our physique, but also maintaining our overall health.
It’s a catch-22 of the pain of curbing a pleasurable addiction (of which sugar definitely is, affecting the brain in a very similar way as hard drugs like heroin) versus the feeling of being consistently healthy and energized.
Because this choice can be so hard, I’m going to outline steps you can take to cut sugar in the most effective way, so there’s less chance of you rebounding after going cold turkey. And, if you’re doubtful you may ever be able to give it up completely, keep reading: the effects it’s having on your body may definitively change your mind.
Why Cut Sugar?
To put it bluntly: sugar may taste like a dream, but the effects it has on your body and mind are anything but dreamy.
Studies show that excess sugar consumption plays a major role in the development of diabetes, cholesterol, and obesity, as well as neurological disorders like depression and other cognitive deficiencies. [*]
And that’s just the tip of the ice berg.
One of the reasons why sugar is so damaging to your body is due to its ability to drive up widespread inflammation, which, according to a new(er) theory of disease, is the root of almost ALL diseases.
Dozens of studies show that sugar in several of the most popular forms (sodas, breads, pastries, candy, etc…) are directly linked to increased inflammation, and that same inflammation as a whole has been linked to everything from chronic asthma and ALS to lung cancer. [*]
Aside from the disease factor, sugar is practically destined to keep you from your physique goals. When we consume it, it spikes our blood sugar levels like no tomorrow. Now, keep in mind that all forms of sugar do this; however, foods from nature contain natural fibers and enzymes that blunt this spike.
What makes processed sugars so dangerous is that they don’t.
When these sugars hit our bloodstream, our body releases the hormone insulin to remove it before high blood sugar levels can cause damage. If we have just completed a very intense workout, these sugars may be used for restoring energy or fueling more activity; however, if there are any excess sugars in our blood stream (which is highly likely to be the case considering there are often more sugars in one serving of a processed food than we should consume in a week) they will be stored as fat.
Once in a while, this isn’t really an issue. The problem comes in when we’re continuously spiking our blood sugar to the point of steadily storing the excess as fat. This is one of the reason low carb diets have taken off, since they minimize the amount of sugar in your blood stream that can be stored and – alas – they minimize fat gain.
When our body is constantly releasing insulin, our cells can also become “resistant” to its effects. This is where insulin stops lowering our blood sugar levels to a safe level, resulting in potential inflammation and damage, as well as setting the stage for diseases like diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
To add another layer of weight gain danger, sugar’s damaging effect on insulin levels can wreak havoc on the hormone leptin, which governs our energy regulation. If leptin becomes resistant and stop doing its job, our appetites and also become chronically increased.
How to Cut Sugar Effectively
At this point, cutting sugar is simply disease prevention. Before we get into how to gradually phase it out however, let’s get really clear on what I mean when I say “sugar,” since you probably envision candy and things like cake or ice cream. While those certainly qualify, here are some other hidden sources:
• Breads, pastas, cakes, muffins, cookies, etc … (even if gluten-free. The only exception are those baked with almond or coconut flour with minimal natural sweeteners like honey and stevia).
• Fruit juices and dried fruit
• Fast foods like burgers (bun), french fries, hot dogs, etc …
• Sweetened and flavored yogurts
• Ice cream, chocolate, and candy
• Flavored lattes and other drinks
There are also other hidden sources of added sugar, such as in granola bars, and even supplements in the form of “gummies.” The goal is to start looking at labels careful and making sure the “sugars” or “added sugars” section is, ideally, zero, or in a very low single-digit range.
1. Step One: Choose Natural
The great news is, I can’t think of a better time in history to be phasing out sugar. The amount of natural, healthier substitutes for common “naughty” foods is astounding.
You first step to phasing out sugar should be to replace sugary items you normally consume with a healthier version. Here are a few suggestions:
• Swap agave and maple syrup for raw honey
• Swap candy bars for 70% or higher cacao chocolate
• Purchase unsweetened yogurts and things like lattes and add stevia or monk fruit to sweeten
• Swap regular ice cream like Ben and Jerry’s for a coconut or almond milk-based ice cream sweetened with only cane sugar
• Swap fruit juice for whole fruits
• Swap salad dressings for olive oil and balsamic
• Bake using almond and coconut flour, and use 1/2 the amount of sweetener and make it honey or applesauce
2. Step Two: Limit Quantity
If you’ve successfully swapped over to natural sweets, after a week or two, begin to reduce your frequency of consuming them. For instance, instead of having a muffin everyday, swap with eggs or something with no sugar three times per week. Make pancakes or other treats a weekend treat. Have 2 squares of dark chocolate rather than 4. Have one glass of wine or one beer instead of 2-3, etc…
3. Step Three: Choose Natural No-Calorie Sweeteners
You should be noticing after a few weeks of substitution and minimizing your sweet consumption that your cravings won’t be as intense as they were at the outset. Because of this, it will be easier to limit your sugar consumption even further by making one day per week (say, Sunday’s) a “cheat” day where you cheat with one of the healthy substitutes from Step 1. Throughout the week, you can use stevia and monk fruit powder to bake with, without adding any pure sugars like honey. You can also sweeten lattes and other daily sweets with stevia, lowering your intake even further.
I find knowing you’ll have a healthy treat waiting for you on the weekend is a huge motivation to sticking with no-sugar throughout the week. It also gives you something to look forward to; plus, it will most likely be a celebration, since the scale or inches will be moving.
Have you ever given up sugar completely? If you have any extra tips, shout them out below!