Many people are addicted to sugar, even if they don’t realize it. Sugar is hidden in cereal, bread and sauces. It’s poured into desserts, soda and coffee drinks. It lurks in processed foods in many forms (syrups, cane juice, fructose and turbinado, to name just a few). Consuming all of this sugar increases our desire for it, as evidenced by research demonstrating how sugar activates the brain’s reward systems much the way drugs do.
Not only does our brain drive us to eat more sugar, but we also become desensitized to sweetness in our foods, so it takes more sugar to satisfy that desire. We eat more and more and, consequently, our ability to taste the natural sweetness in whole foods — fruit, dairy and starchy vegetables — is dulled or even lost.
While overcoming this vicious spiral of increasing sweetness is tough, it can be done. Aside from the obvious ideas of cutting out junk food and soda, there are smaller habit changes that can be made (a post by blogger Michelle Madden of The Sweet Beet inspired this one). Here are a few tips you can use immediately to reduce the amount of sugar in your daily routine and return your taste buds to normal.
1. Use Lower-Sugar Whole Foods
Some foods naturally have more sweetness in them and can become lower-sugar alternatives. For example, balsamic vinegar offers a great way to avoid added sugars commonly found in commercial salad dressings. For chocoholics, switching from milk chocolate to the dark variety (70% to 85%) can save almost 1 to 2 packets of sugar per 1 ounce serving. Finally, as a sweetener in recipes or on its own as dessert, fruit can always hit the spot.
2. Use Flavors Your Mouth Associates with Sweet
The idea here is to literally “trick” your taste buds into sensing sweet, even if there’s little or no sugar there. Try replacing sugar with spices you commonly use in sweet foods, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla or coconut:
• Add cinnamon and vanilla in your oatmeal instead of honey.
• Sauté dark, leafy greens with a little coconut oil.
• Mix cinnamon and unsweetened coconut flakes into plain yogurt.
• Replace a packet or two of sugar in your coffee with some cinnamon or nutmeg.
• Try any of these on top of pancakes or waffles instead of (or with less than usual) syrup.
3. Roast and Caramelize to Enhance the Natural Sweetness of Foods
Fruits, vegetables and even meats can achieve greater sweetness when roasted in the oven or caramelized on the stove or grill. That way, you can use less-sugary sauces (consider that just 1 tablespoon of commercial barbecue sauce has the equivalent of about two packets of sugar).
• Add caramelized onions to darn near anything savory for more sweetness.
• Grill pineapple or sauté other fruits (then add some of the spices listed in tip No. 2 to naturally enhance their sweetness further).
• Roast root veggies with some coconut oil and lemon zest. Add some ginger for more kick.
Through his book and blog, Death of the Diet, Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS, empowers people to live the life they want by integrating healthy eating and physical activity habits into their daily routines. You can follow him on Twitter @JMachowskyRDFit and learn more about the book here.