Sweet Tooth, Meet Boss.
Let’s start by admitting that you like sugar. Truth. Maybe you really like sugar. You might be sugar-hardcore and into skittles, lemon drops, and the like, or maybe you’re a less conditioned consumer who just won’t let a brownie/cookie/doughnut pass you by. The rarer birds claim to not have a sweet tooth, but we all know they’re lying. Even these prodigal sons and daughters can wrap their tastebuds around a cloying teriyaki or barbecue sauce. But you, sugar lover, have an issue at hand: your January resolve to let not a granule cross your lightly chapped mid winter lips. The reality is that stone cold deprivation has yielded temptations of running your index finger into the stale, powdered corners of December’s cookie tins. The reliable comfort of your morning coffee has been hijacked by the unanswerable question of if and what you can sweeten it with. Take caution and be gentle with yourself. It’s not your fault. You are drawn to sugar by brain and brawn; once you start eating it neither your mind or metabolism make it easy to hold the reins, and the chemistry of your greedy, archaic cells wants nothing less than to demand for more-More-MORE. Herein lies most of your problem with shedding fat or otherwise feeling good inside your new years skin. Sugar, like that last guest at a long-ended party, won’t easily take a hint and go home.
I’ll half-step back before we push this conversation forward because sugar is a nuanced concept. The sugar you have most tried to un-invite to your January table is sucrose. Its chemical structure breaks down into 3 simple compounds: glucose, fructose, and galactose. When consumed in reasonable amounts your body likes them much the same. But sugar by definition is an overarching term, like cancer, or to use a less inflammatory example, plate. Take the idea of a dinner plate: there are many different types of plates, and whether the function of said plate is supported by plastic or porcelain, and whether it’s made in a Chinese factory or a local kiln, every plate in the end does its job much the same. So goes sugar. Whether it’s bargain/bleached/white or fancy/organic/brown the typical sugar you add to your food and beverage will be processed by your body much the same. From a metabolic perspective granulated white sugar varies little from brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup.
There would be no need to talk of sugar, or your sweet-toothed devotion, except that in your community there is an issue more pressing than repenting the sins of a December past. Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity that once showed up late in life are now are making friends with young kids and rapidly gaining influence on the population at large. Mending this problem is not as simple as the promises of 100-calorie snack packs and diet versions of soda. Even though science has made clear that daily intake of sugary food and drink hurts both you and your neighbors, for the past century your western tribe of humans has been consistently increasing the volume of their sugar consumption to unprecedented levels. Insert here: the first generation of youth whose life expectancy will be shorter than their parents. This is 2017.
Despite its reputation, sugar is not all bad, and, like most things worthy of desire, the issue is complicated. Pleasure of plate and health need not be mutually exclusive, so before you fully denigrate your sweet tooth heed first this PSA: the only award for an astringent diet is a life less lived. Knowing this, change is called for, and change it must be. Since truthfully you’d prefer a cordial relationship with sugar versus full embargo, how much and how often can you safely consume before drifting into the saccharine waters of uncontrolled submission?
Let’s parse out an important principle here. Sugar makes its way to you through food and drink, but does so via two significantly different ways: naturally occurring and added. Where sugar occurs naturally is as obvious as it sounds: in foods closely associated with their natural source, untouched by aggressive processing or manufacturing. Think of naturally sweet ingredients like fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, and animal milks. You can enjoy these naturally occurring sugars with reasonable abandon thanks to the fiber and fat compounds with which they are intertwined. Due to Mother Nature’s structural knitting it takes a lot more time and effort for your gut to access/digest/absorb these naturally occurring sugars, and without a lengthy biochemistry lecture we’ll just understand that these organically woven structures make naturally sweet foods quality daily choices. Where sugar is added is the rabble rouser. Foods with added sugar come less in the form of a singular ingredient and more likely as prepared products. You won’t need introduction to the bountiful list of cookies, pastries, and commercially processed goods that employ added sugar, which include most shelf stable sauces, flavored yogurts, cereals, and pretty much anything marketed as a “snack”. The trouble here is that added sugars lack that natural knitting with fiber and fat making this source of sweet structurally suited to flood your veins with the unhealthy volumes of glucose that can fuel sugar cravings and disease. This said, a couple of reasonable indulgences a week is nothing at which to snub your nose. Remember: you like sugar. That’s okay.
The earnest trouble with added sugar lies at the intersection of cost and access. Thanks to gas stations, fast food vending, and newer services like Amazon’s PrimePantry, we have convenient 24 hour access to cheap, poor quality calories, much of which is sourced from added sugar. Ease of acquisition incites habit, and, in time, metabolic demand. Alongside this fact, added sugars have increasingly found their way into foods where they never belonged, like sandwich bread and pasta sauce. As an aggressively popular manufacturing favorite, added sugars can skew super deceptive with the common foolhardy claim, natural sugar added; advertising speak for “concentrated plant sugar that has been added to this product to increase acceptability, palatability and addict-ability.” This misleading labeling is especially important to grasp if you have the responsibility of feeding a small child or are an adult with the dietary persuasions of one. Despite the moral ineptitude, most foods commercially marketed to and for children contain significant amounts of added natural sugar. Fruit snacks as gateway drug. Quite grim.
So where from here? Let’s resume play on the healthful foods you enjoy, and carve a few guidelines to begin a reasonable fresh start with your sweet tooth:
1. RULE OF THREE. If you are battling a sincere sugar addiction your body is caught in a metabolic game of cat and mouse. To get back to a power position of take it or leave it you will have to go bold. Three hours, three meals, then three days: no food or beverage with added sugar. I’m not going to lie, friend. This sucks. However, you will regain control over the mental I want it…I can’t…but I want it…I can’t. For at least the first day you’ll need to cautiously pacify your hormonal sugar cries; when you crave sweets you will instead eat dried fruit. (Read labels: dried fruit must have no added sugar/fruit juice, and if you are considering fruit roll-ups as an option please begin again at the top of this page.) You can eat fresh fruit until you pop. Frozen grapes can lesson the blow. Drinking milk helps. Yippee; I know. But you must and will for at least three days, or even a few more if necessary.
2. LIMIT YOUR ACCESS. Evaluate your lifestyle, then draw a shifting line in the sand. If your Monday through Friday requires incessant attention to work/family/home these may be good calendar days to clamp the cookie jar. Relentless weekday toil leaves little time for buying/baking delectables worth your sweet tooth. Establish upfront what type of sweet is allowed, and don’t change the rules mid week. A daily hit of dark chocolate or a morning coffee with honey need not find its way to the guillotine. Another option: after one sugar indulgence you abstain the following three days. Whatever you choose, be decisive and begin.
3. GO BIG OR GO HOME. Or, better yet, go eat only what sweets you absolutely love. Be discriminating and emboldened of choice to find treats worth your insulin. What do you really want to eat? I’m the fruity-creamy-tart type. Side of puddings and jams. You might be crunchy-cookie-cake or chocolate-or-bust. Choose well, and avoid the mystery candy in the office break room.
From today forward rest assured: you’ve got this. Get to the market, stock pile the supplies, and get started. Sweet tooth, meet boss.