One morning, long ago, I shuffled drowsily into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Standing on a chair, bare except for his diaper, my two-year-old had beat me to the coffee counter and was spooning something into his mouth. “Morning, Grant, whatcha eatin’?” I inquired. He looked at me with a smile as sweet and mischievous as the contents of the spoon, “Sugah Wugah!”
My li’l guy had already been caught in the snare of America’s biggest addiction.
The average American eats over 152 lbs. of sugar/caloric sweeteners every year. (USDA) That’s crazy! I think most people are like I was and don’t realize how much sugar is in the food they eat, or the damage that sugar is doing to their bodies. We all know sugar isn’t good for us, but I didn’t realize just how really bad it is! I learned that sugar spikes insulin, which can lead to all kinds of trouble in the body–over eating, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, leaky gut, and fatty liver disease. It messes with your hunger hormones, making you feel hungrier sooner, and it’s addictive so you want to eat more sweets. I learned that sugar weakens your immune system while feeding the bad bugs that can make you sick. Sugar even feeds cancer!
But kicking the sugar habit is HARD!
Sugar is EVERYWHERE! Have you ever tried to find cereal with no sugar? There about two. There are over 60 names for sugar and you can find them on the ingredients lists of 74% of processed foods, even so-called healthy or all natural ones! (SugarScience) It’s found in sauces, soups, salad dressings, and frozen dinners, places you wouldn’t expect to find it. Learning the names and looking for them on the food in your pantry, fridge, freezer and shopping cart, you will be astonished at how frequently you find sugar.
Kicking the sugar habit for myself had to be cold turkey. I was strongly committed to my fast, and that helped me say no to temptation. It was very hard at first. but as time went on it became easier. My body stopped craving sugar–it was amazing! If you can become completely committed to giving up sugar for good, it’s the way to go. Cutting back is great if you’re not ready to do without just yet, but if you still eat some sugar, you will probably continue to crave it. I would encourage you to do your own research, so that you can become motivated to kiss sugar good-bye for good. My husband wrote a really good article to help you understand how the foods you eat affect your body, especially sugar. If you haven’t read it, go do it now. I’ll wait… Did you read it? Does that help you understand why kicking the sugar habit is important?
Helping your family kick the sugar habit is even HARDER!
It’s one thing to make a major diet change in your own life. It’s quite another to get your family to change, and if you can get your family to go cold turkey with you, please tell me how! Family food habits are tough to break, and since sugar is addictive, kicking the sugar habit is even harder. We have made a lot of changes in the right direction, but we are still fighting the sugar monster at our house. If you are the grocery shopper, you have an advantage, of course. And it helps a lot to have your spouse on board. Getting kids to change is challenging but not impossible. Teaching your kids (and sharing with your spouse) the things you’re learning, helps them understand why things are changing, and may even get them excited about it. I’ve been surprised at how my kids will make changes on their own after learning something new.
Start with sweet drinks
Though I was a Coca Cola addict, I knew enough not to let my kids have soda very often. But if soda is a regular in your household, that would be a good place to start. In addition to loads of sugar, there are numerous other ingredients that negatively affect health. Don’t replace it with diet or low-calorie soda though. That’s no better, as artificial sweeteners are bad news. A great option for an afternoon pick-me-up is iced tea, not the sweetened bottled kind, but the kind you brew yourself. There are many kinds of fruity and spicy teas you can make into iced tea, some with green or black tea, some herbal. We put two tea bags in a quart jar, add about 3/4 cup of hot water, let steep, then fill up the jar with cold water. Serve over ice and enjoy.
Matcha is my favorite afternoon drink. Matcha is specially grown green tea that is powdered, so you benefit from the entire leaf. It contains many more times the nutrients and antioxidants of regular green tea. If you need a touch of sweet in your tea, try a drop or two of pure stevia.
Kids drinks are full of sugar too, even 100% fruit juice. Most fruit juice is “from concentrate” which means they remove most of the water and add back some, resulting in much higher sugar levels. Even a glass of fresh squeezed juice contains more fructose than would be in a serving of the same fruit. I used to give my kids juice ALL DAY LONG. Although I did water it down 50%, just to save money, the amount of juice I gave them was way too much. I still buy juice, but now it is organic unfiltered apple juice, and I allow my kids a small amount (about 1/4 cup) mixed with water once a day if they ask for it. And some days they don’t!
Replace sugar-y treats and snacks with fun healthy ones
I used to allow my kids a small piece of candy if they’d finished their lunch. Now I buy “special” fruits for that purpose, like berries, mangoes or juicy pears. Sometimes we’ll make small smoothies for a lunch “dessert.” Another sweet treat our little girls like to make, they call “Chocolate Swirl.” For two servings take two frozen ripe bananas, a tablespoon of cocoa powder, and a tablespoon of collagen protein powder and swirl it up in a food processor. You can also add a tablespoon of nut butter for a healthy fat.
Fruit yogurt cups were a regular snack at one time in our house. Those things are loaded with sugar! We still enjoy yogurt, but now I buy plain organic yogurt in a big tub (costs less per oz.) and we add our own mix ins. One of my kids’ favorite ways to eat yogurt is with a sprinkle each of cinnamon and nutmeg, a few drops of vanilla and a smidgen of maple syrup or honey. They love it!
Instead of fruit leather or “fruit snacks,” which have high concentrations of fructose, the kids have other snack choices, like apples, bananas or carrots. I always encourage my kids to eat some protein and good fats with their snacks too, like nuts, nut butters and cheese. This helps them stay full longer. (And if you read that article I told you to, you know why!)
You can do it!
Kicking the sugar habit is one of the BEST things I did for my health, and it will be for you too. You and your family will feel better, get sick less often, be more fit and have more energy. Say good-bye to sugar crashes and cravings and say hello to better health.