Sweeten it, naturally
I recently conducted a survey of my virtual community to learn more about you, and one of the requests that came up most frequently in response to my question about what you want more information on was how to kick the sugar habit—which can become increasingly desirable if you have realized that sugar is a major trigger for hot flashes.
I wrote about the why and how extensively in a blog post titled Cure the sugar blues, so I thought I might direct you there, then add some more thoughts.
quit it—cold turkey
There are people who can quit habits cold turkey: most of us are not these people.
And the tricky thing about quitting sugar cold turkey is that sugar lurks everywhere in our world.
For this to work, you really need to understand where sugar is hiding—you need to become a label detective. Sugar hides in processed foods under a lot of nicknames: anything that has the word “syrup,” “malt,” “juice,” “concentrate,” or ends in –ose, among many others.
If you want to try this method, I recommend that you start by cutting out one type of sugary food—say candy—then, once you have that sorted, move on to soft drinks, bottled juices, cookies, cake, breakfast pastries, cold cereal, then … well, you get my point.
If you are successful at this experiment, you’ll end up eating whole foods cooked from scratch at home.
One person who responded to the survey asked for information on a “sugar detox”—I’m not a huge fan of detoxes (a topic for another day) and I recognize that they can indeed work for a certain type of individual.
How do you know whether you’re that kind of person? Well, one good indication is that you’ve managed to give something up cold turkey—and for good.
The danger of detoxes is that they become a silver bullet: we make poor nutritional choices, we feel miserable, we detox … and we go right back to making poor nutritional choices because we can always do another detox.
Done right, a detox is a reset button for your food choices—and their biggest failing is that they are not sustainable. That said, you’ll never know if you’re the kind of person who can force a radical change on yourself and sustain it in the long term unless you try it.
If you decide to try one (now that the “sugar holidays of Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day are past and Easter is a few months away), I would make the following recommendations:
- Look for one that is based on whole foods cooked from scratch at home. (Please tell me you’re recognizing a theme here.)
- The plan should include recipes, menu plans, and grocery lists—but not for loads of expensive ingredients and foods and supplements you wouldn’t normally buy.
- The plan should not involve a huge amount of work (i.e., daily juicing, smoothies, complicated food prep).
One of the principles of Integrative Nutrition® is adding in better food choices rather than limiting poor ones with the idea that eventually, the better ones crowd out the poor ones.
If you are used to downing a few soft drinks with a meal, drinking a glass of water before each meal will crowd out at least one of them—assuming you’re paying attention to how full you feel and how thirsty you really are.
If you tend to eat French fries with your sandwich, eating a green salad before your meal will fill you up so that you might leave some of those fries behind.
Notice you’re not cutting out the poor choices—soft drinks and fries—and you are reducing the amount you ingest.
Every. Baby. Step. Counts.
Now, if we could just figure out what to do with that “dessert pocket” most of us have—you know, that little space that is never filled up by sound nutritional choices and is always available for a little bit of pie or cake or ice cream….
My husband would immediately suggest fruit. Yeah … NO. Not the same.
But I digress.
If you are interested in trying the crowding out method, consider what foods have a lot of natural sugar in them and add some of these into your daily food choices—in moderation!
- Fruit: If you don’t eat a lot of fruit, eat a whole fruit as a snack—I recommend including a portion of protein and fat with it to slow down the sugar hit you’re getting. Think banana + peanut butter, apple + cheese (my Vermont is showing)….
- Root vegetables (onions, beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes) are often naturally sweet and get sweeter with cooking.
- Winter squash (butternut, delicata, acorn, pumpkins) are also naturally sweet.
- Whole grains are a lovely nature-made package that balances natural sugar with lean protein and beneficial fats—cooked whole grains make a lovely hot or cold breakfast porridge to crowd out the boxed stuff.
- Sweet spices: try adding cinnamon, cardamom, allspice to your porridge in place of sprinkling it with sugar.
- Dairy: always controversial, always full of a lot of natural sugar.
- If you want to crowd it out, try replacing it with a nut or seed or oat milk: if you’re buying it, read the label and buy the types without added sugar. You’ll still be getting a lot of emulsifiers and preservatives, so homemade is best. (Yup, that horse I’m beating is really dead now. You definitely got the theme, right?)
- If you are okay with dairy, try to eat cultured/fermented products such as yogurt—a lot of the natural sugar is digested in the processing (it’s still considered minimally processed at this point). Remember, though, that if you’re choosing anything other than the plain, you’re getting a ton of added sugar. Don’t like plain? Start by mixing it 50/50 with a sweetened variety and tip the scale in favor of plain over time—you can train your palate to like it. You can also buy plain yogurt and mix in a tablespoon of preserves (still less sugar than the flavored varieties) or 1/2 cup of some fresh or frozen fruit. Don’t forget to sprinkle on some cinnamon!
make the connection
Another principle of Integrative Nutrition® is that of primary and secondary foods: the primary foods that nourish us are made up of everything in our lives (beyond what we put in our mouths) that nourishes us … or doesn’t.
It’s where my tagline comes from: It’s the food. And it’s more than the food.
And it’s a connection I try to make clear as often as possible, particularly when we start to go down the rabbit hole of “if I could just fix my diet….”
In this case, put simply, we sometimes crave sweet foods because they are a quick substitute for the sweetness that is lacking in our relationships, careers, spiritual practices, etc.
Figuring out where sweetness is lacking in our primary foods and sweetening that area of our lives takes some time and can require some external support, and yet there is a way to start immediately.
You may be familiar with the idea of the 5 Love Languages—Gary Chapman now has a long list of books in this series. I recently saw a wonderful twist on this: the 5 Self-Love Languages!
If you haven’t read the book or taken the quiz, I recommend it! You’ll learn what your primary and secondary love languages are—words of affirmation? acts of service? receiving gifts? quality time? physical touch?
What’s the twist? Rather than waiting for someone else to step up—whether you’re in a relationship or looking to be in one—start speaking your own love language to yourself!
- Crave physical touch? Give it to yourself in the form of a massage, curling up in a cuddly blanket or with a pet, get a facial, move your body….
- Love acts of service? Schedule or arrange something for yourself, declutter your physical environment, make a date with a friend, make an appointment for a haircut….
- Want quality time? Spend it with yourself doing something you love—take a walk in nature, devote it to a hobby, “masturdate”—take yourself to dinner or a show or a movie!
- Is receiving gifts your thing? Indulge yourself in some small way.
- Live for words of affirmation? Talk to yourself—sweetly and gently rather than accusingly and judgmentally as we normally tend to do.
If you’re struggling with getting sugar out of your diet, how do you think you might approach it after reading this? Let me know in the comments—then keep me posted on your progress!
Looking for some support on your health journey—whether it includes kicking sugar to the curb or not? Schedule a YOURstory session, and let’s talk. The call is free … and pitch-free.