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Going sugar-free isn’t boring, but it is hard. Not because of the withdrawals and cravings, but because almost every product on the shelf contains sugar. Companies have gotten more and more clever about sneaking sugar into the products of their consumers while keeping it incognito. Sugar, also known by 56 other names such as high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar, coconut sugar, raw sugar, fruit juice concentrate and so on, can hide in just about anything. Companies have discovered that by using a different name for sugar, consumers will sometimes overlook the ingredient because they don’t recognize it or they just don’t take the time to read it. If the product is higher in sugar than their competitors’ product on the shelves, they might use 3-4 different names for the ingredient to make it appear lower in sugar than it actually is. Sneaky right?!
In the book, “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michel Moss, the author mentions the term ‘The Bliss Point.’ This is the amount of an ingredient, such as salt, sugar or fat which optimizes tastiness. Howard Moskowitz, the man who coined the term, shared the secret that food manufacturers use to make their products cravable and addictable. Over time, consumers become less sensitive to the salt, sugar and fat and need to consume more of it to get the same dopamine rush. If they don’t, they experience intense withdrawal symptoms along with fatigue, irritability, feelings of distraction or inability to focus as they are constantly fighting their brain to cave and consume the food that they are desiring. Companies have taken this bliss point and used it to create foods that used to never have sugar in them to make them more appealing to their consumers. Take the following foods for example: pickles, yoghurt, ketchup, mustards, spaghetti sauce, crackers, chips, granola bars and even bread - these are only a handful or foods that have been adapted to make you want not only want to eat more of them, but to eat them more often.
The human body was designed to function on protein, healthy fats and a moderate amount of slow digesting carbohydrates. Those include fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. Over time, the food industry has created products that produce different mouth feels such as crunchy, buttery, crispy, airy… we could go on, but you get the point. They’ve infused sugar into food products that we used to be able to live without, but now we can’t eat our french fries without a side of sugary ketchup - another example of the bliss point combination of foods! When we consume food, the amount of sugar in our blood rises and are shuttled off to our muscles and liver to be stored. Once those reserves are full and there is nowhere else to store them, our body turns to our adipose tissue to hold onto them for later. Sugar not only puts you at a greater risk of diabetes, it also places unnecessary strain on your heart causing the walls of your arteries to become inflamed and forces the heart to pump harder to circulate blood throughout the body. As problematic as this is, your brain also reacts to sugar in a similar way to cocaine. Consuming sugar causes your brain to release dopamine and serotonin, feel good hormones that give us a temporary high and then like a roller coaster, we come plummeting down until we take our next trip on the sugar ride. Over time, our body craves sugar more, in higher volumes and when we do eat it, we struggle to stop. It feels like you have a push pull relationship with sugar, and every time you try to quit it just reels you back in.
It feels like you have a push pull relationship with sugar, and everytime you try to quit it just reels you back in. Say goodbye to your old relationship with sugar and say hello to this healthy, maintainable relationship with sugar-free alternatives.
Tip #1: Stevia
The stevia plant has been used for more than 1500 years by the individuals of Guarani in Brazil and Paraguay. They call it the “sweet herb.” Stevia is a sugar-free, zero calorie plant based extract that is almost 200 times sweeter than sugar. A little goes a long way when it comes to stevia and its potency. Our bodies process stevia in a unique way which allows it to be a calorie-free solution. As our bodies process the sweetener, the stevia leaf extract passes through our digestive tract without being broken down for calories. This is far different from the way that we process sugar which involves a more complicated process in which the sugars are absorbed into our bloodstream. What does this mean? We can make our cake and eat it too, as long as it's made with stevia to keep our blood sugar levels in check! Any beverage, dessert or dish that you would make that calls for sugar, replace it with stevia, modify the amount and voila, you have a sugar-free alternative!
Tip #2: Find Alternatives
This tip is crucial for making your life easy when grocery shopping or trying to find food to eat in a pinch! Instead of heading for the known condiment aisle in your grocery store, head over to the health food section. There are healthy, sugar-free or stevia sweetened condiment, sauce and yogurt alternatives that you can easily replace with your sugary products at home. Spend some time looking for brands that you like, remember their name and then the next time you are in a pinch and want to run in and out without playing the role of a sugar detective, you can grab a bottle and run because it is a brand that you can trust!
Tip #3: Make Your Food From Scratch
This tip, as obvious as it is, is always overlooked. We are always looking for the easiest, most convenient way out of a problem and want the solution that requires the least amount of effort. Yes you can choose to eat the healthy salad at the restaurant, but did you know that they added sugar to the dressing, added a ½ cup of dried fruit to your salad and sweetened the “iced tea” you are drinking alongside of it? Likely not. The best way to guarantee that your meals are genuinely sugar free, is to make them yourself. The dishes and recipes you make do not have to be complicated or worthy of a michelin star to be enjoyed. It can be as simple as a piece of toasted sourdough bread with smashed avocado, chili flakes and a squeeze of lemon. Don’t over complicate your meals and snacks - keep it simple, skip the sugar or use your stevia alternative, and always make sure you are using whole foods.
Sugar-free doesn’t have to be boring. It will be frustrating at first trying to find sugar-free alternatives to your favourites, but once you do, it’ll be smooth sailing as you become a professional sugar hunter and at-home chef whipping up the tastiest of sugar-free creations in your home!
-By Lindsay Mustard. Lindsay is a Holistic Nutritionist, firefighter-in-training and recipe-wizard with a burning passion for health and fitness. In her nutrition practice, Lindsay works with clients to craft a unique plan that is tailored to their specific health goals using a natural, whole food and supplement approach.