Do you have a sweet tooth that just can’t be satisfied? Do you have a hard time passing up that piece of cake (carrot cake in my case) or adding a little extra sugar to your coffee? While our sweet preferences have been positive forces throughout human evolution, helping our ancestors identify more nutrient and energy dense foods, they are now a driving force behind many of the weight problems and chronic diseases we see today. Diabetes is at an all-time high, with about 35% of Americans in the pre-diabetic range, 12% with diabetes and 35% classified as obese! Furthermore people with diabetes are at a fourfold greater risk for heart disease! With these scary statistics aside, why do you have the sweet preferences you have and how can you manage a sweet tooth?
The science behind sweet preferences
Our taste receptors for sweet flavors are found in both our mouths and intestines; when stimulated, the ultimate result is a feeling of pleasure that has some overlap with the brain’s response to addictive drugs. Sweets even have pain reducing qualities, easily seen in babies who drink something sweet following painful stimuli. Since sweets help reduce both pain (e.g. from PMS or even a heart break) and stress, they have been coined as ‘comfort foods’, with good reason.
While the factors for sweet preferences are multifactorial, they begin as early as in utero, with the influence of the mom’s diet. Newborns have obvious sweet preferences and will notably consume more fluid if it’s sweetened. Sweet beverages will help a baby relax in the face of distress and also help a stranger win over a baby’s affection in the future. Children base their food choices largely based on familiarity and, if exposed to sweet foods early on, are more likely to have a sweet tooth later in life. About 16% of the caloric intake of children 2-5 years of age and 19% for 6-11 aged children were estimated to be accounted by sugar, mostly from flavored milk, juice and pop. This is a big problem that is making it harder on our future generations to maintain a healthy weight and sugar intake. While some of us choose to opt for low-calorie sweeteners to replace sugar, this may actually make matters worse and heighten a sweet tooth and risks for becoming obese.
While it’s clear that our sweet preferences are largely associated with our upbringings, that certainly doesn’t mean that all hope is gone once you reach adult hood. By making some shifts in your diet and sticking to your guns, a sweet tooth can be overcome, setting you on your way to a low-sugar, clean and healthy diet.
With all of that in mind, here are 3 simple steps to manage a sweet tooth!
3. Take the 30 day added-sugar free (or reduced) challenge!
While the first few days are sure to be a challenge, within a week of hard dedication you’ll notice that your cravings for sugar have subsided. I find that the best way to kick a sweet tooth is to eliminate it completely so that your body has a chance to become more accustomed to a lower sugar diet (largely attributed to the bacteria in your large intestine). While naturally sweetened fruits are okay during this stretch, try to avoid foods that contain added refined sugar in their ingredient list. Now I know that is a daunting task for most people, so just try your best! Slowly reducing the sugar in your diet is another option, but again, completely zapping the sugar from your diet will be the fastest way to manage your sweet preference.
2. Eat more protein rich foods!
Protein rich foods are a great way to boost your satiety after a meal, making it easier to say no to those sugary dessert items. Great vegan sources of protein include nuts, seeds and legumes, which can amp up just about any recipe. Still looking for an after-meal treat? There are some incredible vegan protein supplements that are not only delicious and satisfying, but also healthy! My two favorites are the Sunwarrior Vanilla Warrior blend, which uses all raw ingredients with the addition of coconut oil to really boost its nutritional value and taste, and the Vega One French Vanilla shake. The Vega One shake is not only a great protein source, but also contains 50% of your daily vitamin and mineral requirements with additional power foods like the energy boosting maca root. Both shakes can be incorporated into some pretty tasty smoothies! The Warrior blend can even be baked with to make some protein rich cookies, bars, muffins, or whatever your heart desires!
1. Eat more vegetables!
Vegetables are not only a great source for vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, but are also invaluable contributors to our daily fiber requirements. Fiber, like protein, is another excellent way to boost satiety. Furthermore, fiber helps reduce blood sugar, enhance insulin sensitivity, reduce risks for diabetes, reduces inflammation, reduces LDL cholesterol and heart disease risks and helps keep a healthy intestinal tract, improving regularity and reducing risks for diseases such as colon cancer. Eat the rainbow in terms of vegetables (and fruits) and you’ll be on your way to a healthy, low sugar diet!
With the obvious implications of a high sugar diet, don’t wait to kick your sweet tooth to the curb! There’s no reason like the present to show your body the love it deserves in the form of a low-sugar, clean and healthy diet!
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