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By Lisa Browdy
"Hi, my name is Lisa, and I'm a sugar addict."
I'm not implying by my little 12-step-meeting parody that sugar is as dangerous a substance as drugs or alcohol, but it certainly is as addictive. And because sugar is everywhere, it is a pretty hard thing to avoid.
Like most American kids, I was raised on a steady diet of sugary treats. I often had a bowl of Count Chocula for breakfast, and the rest of the day wasn't much better. I drank soda, ate candy, and ingested sugar in most of the condiments and processed snacks that I encountered each day.
Though I have improved my diet in recent years, it is still hard to say goodbye to sugar (and its evil twin, High Fructose Corn Syrup). Chocolate is my addiction, and if I don't have some sweet treat each day I find myself getting a little bit cranky.
I'm in pretty good company here. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the average American eats 22 teaspoons of "added" sugars per day (as opposed to the naturally occurring kind found in fruit or milk). Teenagers (with their tendency to drink more juice and soda) ingest even more: A can of Coke has 39 grams of added sugar, which is nearly 10 teaspoons. The AHA recommends that we only ingest 6 - 9 teaspoons a day.
Sugar may taste great, but it feeds the chronic conditions – heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes – that cost us our health and lots of our money. While it makes us feel good for a little while, it saps our energy and makes our bodies age more quickly.
So how to cut down? I ask my health coaching clients to start by considering the calories they drink, because these usually have little to no nutritional value. Energy drinks, fruit (or fruit-flavored) juices, coffee drinks and sodas send a straight shot of sugar to our blood stream and a lot of calories to our waistlines. Artificially sweetened "diet" drinks are no better, because our bodies get a "sweet" message but no energy to back it up, so cravings can get worse.
Sometimes our sweet tooth is simply telling us we are thirsty. Taking a drink of regular or fizzy water will distract you while you rehydrate your body. Another healthy way to curb the sugar monster is to increase your intake of fruit and sweet vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes.
If your sugar eating tends to be in response to stress or depression, you might want to give meditation a try. Even 15 minutes of calm breathing each day can reduce your anxiety and tension, and nourish your soul in a way that sweet treats really can't.
I still love my chocolate, but now I focus on quality and not quantity. A small amount of good, dark chocolate can be pretty satisfying and has some beneficial antioxidants. Life is to be enjoyed, and depriving yourself of something (legal) that can be enjoyed in moderation can be counterproductive. Cutting out the sodas and processed junky sugars will let you indulge in quality sweets with a clear conscience!