This is one of the many things that kept me on a constant and torturous diet cycle. Go sugar-free on Monday, go through withdrawal and battle serious cravings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and dive into that bag of M&M’s and 5 cent candies on Friday. Feel guilty and panicky. Increase the punishing exercise to make up for it, and diet harder starting Monday. Rinse and repeat.
Trying and failing over and over made me feel like there was something wrong with ME – Why couldn’t I just cut sugar out completely? Why didn’t I have enough willpower?
Well, turns out I was doing it all wrong. Cutting sugar out completely sets us up to fail miserably. And it’s not “our fault.”
We all know that there are serious negative health effects from eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars” like in soda pop, candy, baked goods, and many commercially-available cereals.
We all know that eating sugar spikes our blood sugar and insulin, and increases our risk for a ton of health problems. It also makes us feel moody, irritable, and all around miserable. Not only does sugar have no vitamin or mineral content, it also robs our bodies of vitamins and minerals and stops our bodies from absorbing it properly.
So what are we supposed to do? Knowing that it’s terrible for us is one thing. Being able to get it out of our diet is another.
The food industry’s response to the sugar problem has been to create chemical compounds that taste super sweet – artificial sweeteners. The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories and negative effects of sugar. Theoretically, this would help people maintain their body weight, and it was thought that it would help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar.
But this just didn’t turn out how it was supposed to. Let me explain.
All About Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet. They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners,” and include things like saccharin (Sweet & Low), acesulfame potassium, aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and sucralose (Splenda).
Negative effects of artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, and range from weight gain to cancer to heart disease.
The ironic (and disappointing) thing is that artificial sweeteners appear to have the opposite effect on weight than what was intended. Studies show that people who tend to drink diet sodas have a higher risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t. Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.
While the research on artificial sweeteners, weight, and disease is a mixed bag, there is plenty of evidence that these products are not having the beneficial effects that they were meant to have.
How Artificial Sweeteners Affect our Bodies
Would you believe that we don’t know for sure? There are many theories out there that try to explain it, but the reality is that we’re not yet certain about exactly what happens. Here are some of the theories:
- People feel more freedom if they’ve switched to diet soda and therefore end up making even worse choices about what to eat.
- The sweeteners may change the taste preferences so that naturally sweet things like fruit start to taste worse, and healthy things like veggies taste terrible.
- Artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more sweets.
- The sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar; but because we didn’t actually ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings.
- There also seems to be a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.
What Can We do To Rid Our Cravings of Sugar?
It looks like the solution may not be to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners.
Of course, it is important to reduce our sugar intake so that we naturally re-train our palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn’t overly sweet. Try things like this when you’re just starting out:
- Have ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink
- Reduce the sugar in a recipe by ¼ cup
- Dilute juice with water
- Mix regular yogurt with plain yogurt to take the sugar content down
The other crucial thing that most people overlook when trying to end sugar cravings is to improve the overall quality of their diet. If we’re eating a lot of refined carbs (and sugar), low-fat and fat-free products, dieting a lot, or just not eating enough to fuel our bodies, our cravings for sugar are going to go through the roof.