Linked to weight problems, joint problems, heart problems, bone problems, brain problems, and immunity problems — too much sugar is not just about cavities anymore. The real problem, however, is that sugar has managed to penetrate its way into nearly everything we eat, from pasta sauce to baby food to … let’s save some time … whatever we buy processed is likely to be sweetened with refined sugars and a lot of it.

The World Health Organization recently proposed a revision to its guidelines, now suggesting five percent (or preferably less) of our calorie intake come from sugar. In plainer words, about 25 grams a day is the cut off, meaning one can of soda — generally about 40 grams — puts us well over the limit. The word is out, and it’s time to cut back.

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First, though, let’s remember: sugar is not the devil. Let us not fall into the pit of misdirection in which all things sweet or all things containing sugar belong in the same lowly, disreputable category. The problem is not sugar, for sugar is in things we legitimately need to be eating: whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit. The problems are those manufactured poisons big ag has been feeding us: refined, white sugar and high fructose corn syrup, to mention but two omnipresent toxins.

When “quitting sugar,” it’s important not to condemn the sweet stuff. We should be open to small, regular portions of things like genuine maple syrup, dates, and agave when the tooth is tickling. We should not turn our backs on fruit. The difference will be that, by avoiding those daily overdoses of agri-candy in cans and cardboard, real food will be sufficiently sweet and nutritious without being too abundant.

Make no mistake: the way we now receive processed sugar is addictive, and not in a cutesy “she loves her sweets” way, but in a national health issue way. Initially, it’s important to try to preempt those inevitable cravings, especially in the waning weeks, and to plan alternative solutions. Fortunately, as Maia James says in her Huffington Post article, “How to Quit Sugar” does not necessarily mean grabbing “an apple when you want chocolate.”

In fact, there are several methods for curbing cravings before they happen, including sleeping enough, adequately hydrating, and filling up on appropriately carbohydrate-d stuff, all those pulses and whole grains people keep talking about. And, there are things to tamper the fire when sugar is all that matters: Yes, whole fruit (not juice) is an option, but so is a quality dark chocolate truffle or a healthy, sugar-free treat—visit One Green Planet’s closet of recipes.

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Quitting sugar is much less about a spoonful in coffee and much more about realizing its prevalence throughout the modern diet. Processed foods are really the culprit because, rather than seeing that hulking heap of sugar going in (or the 10 hulking heaps), we eat a can of vegetables or health bar and ingest more sugar than we’d ever consciously add. The first thing to do when quitting sugar for good is to stop eating processed food — plain and simple.

Getting off processed foods — the bulk of the sugary stuff —  is the major step, and after that, it’s fairly easy. Choices with moderate, natural sweetness, such as sweet potatoes or carrots, will cut off cravings before they start. There are great sites of sugar-free cooking, with tips from those who’ve ditched sugar already and survived. By eating healthy, fresh food, made at home rather than in a factory, we control the amount of sugar we ingest.

Those of us already cooking for ourselves, using vegetables as opposed to cans and jars, we are but a step or two away. For those of us still relying on companies to make our spaghetti sauces and drinks, it’s time to get out the cookbooks (or websites) and take control because quitting sugar for good starts with knowing firsthand what we are eating and drinking.

 Image source: Romain Behar / Wikimedia Commons

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