7 Tips for Breaking Your Addiction to Sugar

Soda cans surrounded by sugar
Photo by Evan Lorne / Shutterstock.com

Sugar is an often invisible, but ever-present part of American life. We all know it’s in cookies, candy, soda pop and pastries, but it’s also present in surprising amounts in other foods — spaghetti sauce, catsup, salad dressing, soups, yogurt, coffee drinks, sports drinks and juice, cereals and protein bars, for instance.

How much sugar is too much?

Many people can take sugar or leave it, but some are really hooked despite mounting evidence of its role in serious health problems, including cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, even in people of normal weight.

Many scientists consider sugar a serious health hazard. Two physicians, writing in the New York Times, urge health policy officials to require label warnings and taxes like those on alcohol and tobacco, writing: “If you consider that the added sugar in a single can of soda might be more than most people would have consumed in an entire year, just a few hundred years ago, you get a sense of how dramatically our environment has changed.”

Most American adults eat about 22 teaspoons worth of added sugars a day, the American Heart Association says. Its advice is to limit added sugar, both from the sugar bowl and as ingredients in foods you cook or buy, to:

  • 6 teaspoons (100 calories) per day for women.
  • 9 teaspoons (150 calories) for men.

The association offers tips for cutting back and help identifying how much sugar is in foods. The tips — like substituting alternative sweeteners, using less sugar in baking, tossing out the sugar bowl and giving up soda pop — are useful. But they don’t get to the heart of what makes sugar so addictive.

What works

I asked obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig if science has answers on how to quit sugar. Ludwig is a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and professor of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and has spent a career treating, researching and writing about adult and childhood obesity. In his recent book, “Always Hungry: Conquer Your Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells and Lose Weight Permanently,” he recommends a high-fat, low-carb food plan that includes dropping, at least for a time, sugar, potatoes and highly refined carbohydrates.

Low-carb weight-loss diets like The Zone, the Atkins Diet and paleo diets have been around for decades. Ludwig’s is a less-restrictive low-carb plan. It includes fresh fruit and, after a two-week kickoff, whole grains and starchy vegetables.

Most weight-loss programs, however, regard all foods as equal when it comes to weight loss and so they are based on eating fewer calories than you burn.

Ludwig says that’s an outdated approach. Whether controlling sugar intake or losing weight, research shows that sugar, potatoes and highly refined carbohydrates alter the body’s chemistry, creating cravings and causing cells to store fat, he says.

Willpower can work in the short term, but old habits and cravings usually regain the upper hand, causing dieters to regain weight and sugar addicts to backslide. What’s required, he says, is making friends with your body’s metabolism to interrupt the cycle.

Here are seven tips to break the chains of your unhealthy relationship to sugar:

1. Change your metabolism

Fat doesn’t make us fat, he says. Rather, sugars and carbs do that by triggering a flood of insulin, a hormone that turns fat cells on and off. High insulin levels in the blood stream tell fat cells to pile on fat and store it. Lowering your insulin lets your fat cells release fat, suppressing appetite and cravings and shedding body fat.

Sugar can trigger addictive responses, Ludwig says. It hijacks the brain’s pleasure and reward systems, producing intense, addiction-like cravings. Potatoes and highly processed carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta and refined cereals and snack foods have similar effects: They digest quickly into sugar, raising insulin, calorie for calorie, more than any other food.

Ludwig’s research lab scanned the brains of overweight young men four hours after they’d drunk milkshakes sweetened with corn syrup and found that the drinks activated their nucleus accumbens, the brain center stimulated by addictive substances like heroin, cocaine and alcohol.

To loosen sugar’s grip, Ludwig advises replacing it and high-carb foods with fats to satisfy hunger and quell cravings. Get the fat from nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocados, unsaturated oils, whole-fat (unsweetened) dairy products and — for a treat — dark chocolate that’s at least 70 percent cacao (or cocoa, which is cacao in its roasted, ground form).

Saturated fat raises the body’s LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, Ludwig acknowledges. However, “it also potently raises HDL (‘good’) cholesterol, so the all-important overall ratio of bad to good cholesterol remains largely unchanged. And unlike carbohydrate, saturated fat lowers triglycerides, another important risk factor.”

2. Avoid trans fat

Stay away from even small amounts of one type of fat: trans fat. Read labels and avoid foods with “partially hydrogenated oil,” an industrial oil made by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oil to make it harden. It’s common in fast food, fried food and commercially made cakes, cookies, crackers and snacks, including some microwave popcorn. Even small amounts add up, so try to avoid eating it at all. For more detail on the subject, and what products to avoid, check out:

3. Avoid artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners make it hard to quit sugar as they keep your sweet tooth active, depriving you of the chance to let go the cycle of cravings and taste the subtler natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables. Try cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice to highlight sweetness in some fruits, tubers, squashes and even meats.

4. Avoid low-fat and nonfat foods

When food manufacturers take out the fat they typically add sugar. One example:

  • Jif Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter Spread has 12 grams of fat and 4 grams of sugar.
  • Jif Regular Peanut Butter has 16 grams of fat and 3 grams of sugar.

5. Move

Exercise alone has been largely discredited as a weight-loss tool. “Physical activity is crucially important for improving overall health and fitness levels, but there is limited evidence to suggest that it can blunt the surge in obesity,” says the International Journal of Epidemiology, and researchers found that members of a hunter-gatherer tribe burn roughly as many calories as the typical city dweller despite their vastly different levels of activity, according to a report in the New York Times.

But there are many other reasons to move, among them reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Exercise boosts your sense of vitality and vigor. It replenishes your sense of well-being and pride.

6. Get enough quality sleep

When you’re weary and pushing too hard you’re vulnerable to setbacks and emotional eating. Treat yourself with special care and give yourself credit when you’re giving up the undeniable pleasure of sugar. Take a warm bath before bed, read a good book, indulge in a cup of (unsweetened) herbal tea, get a massage and get plenty of healing rest.

7. Get the lowdown on sugar

Learn more about sugar and its effect on health:

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
12 Products to Keep Your Car Clean and Organized
12 Products to Keep Your Car Clean and Organized

These items will help put your vehicular mess to rest — and each is available for less than $20 on Amazon.

It’s Worth Paying More for These 7 Things
It’s Worth Paying More for These 7 Things

Sometimes, the difference in quality makes it worthwhile to open your wallet a little wider.

Never Put These 8 Things in a Microwave Oven
Never Put These 8 Things in a Microwave Oven

A microwave can be a busy cook’s best friend. But heating certain things in a microwave can cause disaster.

Grow Your Savings in 2020 With These 5 Tricks
Grow Your Savings in 2020 With These 5 Tricks

Saving money doesn’t have to be painful. Here are some ways to game yourself into stashing more cash.

5 Renovations That Can Impact Your Home Insurance
5 Renovations That Can Impact Your Home Insurance

Home improvements can affect your home insurance policy for the better, the worse or both.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

Do This in the Car If You Want to Avoid COVID-19
Do This in the Car If You Want to Avoid COVID-19

It takes just seconds to take this simple preventive measure.

15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It
15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It

Discover some must-have products on Amazon that you didn’t even know you were missing.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare
14 Things That Are ‘Free’ With Medicare

These services could save you money and help prevent costly health problems.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.