Some of us have some serious sweet teeth. I’m not talking about a pristine dental job. Rather, a strong preference for all things sweet. Whether it’s in our DNA or related to habits – the desire for sweet treats for some people can seem out of control.
The strong desire for sweets is hard to deny. In fact, sugar elicits a response in the brain similar to cocaine. Though not an addictive drug, per se, we can build up a tolerance and “need” more sugar to achieve the same pleasurable response. Sweet treats are pleasurable. They are pleasing to our taste buds and oftentimes are enjoyed in joyful social situations. In our culture, we have ample access to added sugar along with sweet treats so our sugar intake is much too high to be considered healthy. The average American takes in about 19.5 teaspoons of added sugar per day. That’s 66 pounds of sugar per year, according to University of California San Francisco’s Sugar Science department. Insert the “wide-eyed” emoji.
Please note – I’m not here to tell you how to ban sugar from your life. That would be unbalanced because sweets do have a special spot in our lives. Cold ice cream on a hot day, s’mores by the fire when camping, and birthday cake are a few memorable ways we enjoy sugar. However, when the day starts off with sweetened coffee, sweetened cereal or oatmeal, a sticky granola bar after SLAM, sweet tea with lunch, sweetened yogurt afternoon snack, and dark chocolate before bed…that’s a little too much of the sweet stuff.
So, how do tame that strong desire for sweets? There are a couple of ways to go about it. Cutting out the sweet stuff entirely, weaning off the potent additive, and changing habits are some ways to reset your palate and wrangle in that need to have something sweet.
Research and most dietitians recommend against going cold turkey – but it can be a way to eliminate some of the added sugars. Abstaining from any food oftentimes leads to binging and can create an unhealthy association with food labeling it “good” or “bad.” However, you can cut out added sugars that are unnecessary for flavor. You can start by checking out labels and not buying foods with added sugar. (Here is a list of all the many names of sugar) Pasta sauce, sausage, brats, breads, nut butters, chips, snack foods, and condiments are a great place to start cutting out added sugars. Eliminating liquid sugars too – sodas, diet sodas, juices, flavored milks, some flavored waters, coffee, and protein shakes – will stop that continuous flow of sugar into your body. Your taste buds will become more sensitive to sweetness after cutting out the liquid sugars; you’ll likely notice that other foods taste sweeter to you than before.
After cutting out some of the unnecessary sugars, start weaning yourself off the other sources of added sugar. Measure the amount of sugar or source of sugar (honey, agave nectar, stevia, etc.) you add to your coffee, cereal, and oatmeal. Decrease that amount every week. Your mouth will get used to the decrease in sweetness and pretty soon you’ll be able to enjoy those foods and beverages without the sweetness. Switching to “natural” nut butters and plain yogurt can be quite a reach for some people. The unsweetened products oftentimes have a different mouth feel and flavor profile that just doesn’t jive like the sweetened products. Try mixing the two together and slowly decreasing the sweetened addition. This worked for me personally with peanut butter and plain yogurt. I still remember gagging when I tried plain yogurt. Now, though, you could not pay me to eat sweetened yogurt or peanut butter. It doesn’t taste right to me anymore.
Utilize different ways of adding flavor to your foods rather than adding sugar. Try vanilla or cinnamon in your coffee or oats. You could even have your oatmeal savory by adding butter, cheese (or nutritional yeast!), cumin, and a poached egg on top. Rather than suffering with plain coffee or unsweetened yogurt – find ways to spice up your favorites in a completely different way. Try a different roast of coffee and maybe a fuller fat yogurt with mixed berries and a little peanut butter.
And finally, be selective in the sweets you do enjoy. Are you really enjoying that cookie while you’re herding kiddos into the car or driving down the highway? Or are you just eating it because it was offered to you while leaving a friend’s house? Focus on the quality of the sweet treat rather than the quantity. Get a small scoop of delicious ice cream and savor it rather than overfilling the bowl with semi-okay ice cream covered in a stream of cheap chocolate sauce. When at a party, survey the dessert offerings and pick one amazing item you know you’ll love. Then, enjoy it!! And by enjoy it, I mean enjoy it. Take it in. Smell the aromatic brownie. Linger over the chocolate chip bread pudding. Let the flavors stew in your mouth as you really enjoy the sweet treat you’ve chosen. Enjoy the experience rather than trying to cram in as much sugar as you can. Quality over quantity.
Curbing your sweet tooth takes time and effort. Reading labels, replacing flavors, choosing different foods, and learning to enjoy the flavors rather than the amount all takes time. You’ll have a ton of decisions each day where you can choose to consume sugar or not. The more you employ balance into your day when it comes to sugar, the easier it becomes!
If you’re looking for ways to add sweetness to your day without dabbling in the sugar, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Lara Bars (without the chocolate chips)
- Fruit! Drying, baking, and freezing heighten the sweetness of fruit
- Dried fruit (without added sugar)
- Dried mangos are the bomb dot com
- Raisins are a sweet treat that pair well with almonds or cashews
- Roasted sweet potatoes
- Good carrots – we have such sweet carrots in Alaska but I know other carrots can lend sweetness too!
- Plain yogurt mixed with ripe berries or the perfect cantaloupe
- Plain applesauce
- Fruit leather made with applesauce (in the dehydrator)
- Cherry tomatoes
- LaCroix sparkling water
- Roasted sweet corn