9 Ways to Cut Back on Sugar
If MS symptoms like pain and fatigue are bothering you, here's a simple strategy that may help: Cut back on sugar. According to Susan Blum, MD, author of The Immune Recovery Plan, sugar in the blood stimulates your immune cells to release inflammatory molecules that travel throughout your body, causing damage and irritation. To Jennifer Caudle, DO, a family medicine physician, reducing sugar may not be a cure for MS, but it's a great way to stay healthy. While you can't avoid sugar completely -- it occurs naturally in beneficial foods like fruit and milk -- you can limit daily intake to 25 g for women and 38 g for men. For perspective, a small apple contains about 15 g of sugar.
Get to Know Sugar by All Its Names
Sugar by any other name is just as sweet -- and just as problematic when you have MS. Foods with added sugars are less nutritious than foods with naturally occurring sugars, like raw fruit. Read ingredient labels to catch added sugar in all its forms. Spot anything with the "-ose" suffix? That's a sugar. So is anything identified as "syrup." Here are some names (other than sugar, brown sugar and raw sugar) to look for: corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses and sucrose. Remember, the higher it is on the list, the more there is in the food.
Beware of Hidden Sugar
Inflammation-boosting sugar can hides in less-obvious places, like fruit juice (unless it's 100% fruit juice) and fruit-flavored yogurt. Many savory products contain surprising amounts of sugar. The ketchup you put on a turkey burger? You'll probably find that a single tablespoon has 3 g of sugar. Sports drinks, barbecue sauce, mayo, pasta sauces and salad dressing all contain sugar unless they specify they're sugar-free. Why would sugar be in these foods? To balance acidic or salty flavors -- and to make you crave them more. Making your own condiments, salad dressing and tomato sauces will give you control over sugar. They'll taste better, too!
Break the Soda Habit
Soda and other sweetened drinks deliver -- get this -- one-third of all added sugar Americans consume. Every 12-ounce can of your favorite sweet soda has about 135 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar, usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. If you drink just one can a day, by the end of the year you'll have sipped 32 pounds of sugar and more than 49,000 calories! That's bad news if you have MS, since all that sugar can kick-start inflammation and make it hard to maintain your weight. That can worsen pain and fatigue. Get off the hard stuff and go with a sugar-free version. Better still? Switch to water.
Reduce Sugar Gradually
What's your weakness? Take a look at the sugar-laden treats you crave and create strategies to slowly wean off them. Love chocolate? Switch from sweet, fattening milk chocolate to a small (1-ounce) piece of dark chocolate. Trade sugar-sweetened sodas for carbonated mineral water with a dash of 100% fruit juice. If you add sugar to your coffee or tea, switch to a milder blend so it's easier to skip the sugar. Whenever you do eat something sweet, enjoy it mindfully so you truly appreciate the pleasure it gives you. You won’t need so much, your palate will adjust to crave less sugar, and you'll gradually go from needing a daily fix to savoring an occasional treat.
Fight Sugar Cravings with Protein and Fiber
“Each meal and snack should contain protein, healthy fats and fiber," Dr. Blum says. These nutrients digest slowly to prevent you from crashing -- and craving a sugar fix. Smart sources of protein include skinless white meat poultry, low-fat dairy, eggs, nuts and legumes. Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Start your day with a poached egg on whole-grain toast and an apple. Snack on dips made from cooked beans, such as a low-fat chickpea hummus or steamed edamame. Make a lettuce or kale wrap with turkey and avocado. Whip up a smoothie with low-fat yogurt and fresh fruit. These choices will help keep energy up and cravings down.
Go Easy on Natural Sweeteners
When you're cutting back on sugar, it's tempting to reach for natural sweeteners, such as agave nectar, honey and stevia. But they have their own set of issues, says Dr. Caudle. Agave is four times sweeter than sugar, so you need less. But it’s still a refined sweetener. Honey is all natural and packed with antioxidants, but it has more calories than sugar. Stevia comes from a plant, and it’s 200 times sweeter than sugar, but there is still some uncertainty about how safe it is in large amounts. As with other forms of sugar, use these natural sweeteners sparingly. Instead, retrain your taste buds by slowly giving up sugary foods.
Chew Gum to Satisfy a Sweet Tooth
Chewing gum isn't a modern phenomenon. Humans have been chewing gum since ancient times -- just in different forms, like tree sap. The American Dental Association points out that chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after a meal can help prevent tooth decay. It also can help you beat your sugar cravings. Look for gum sweetened by non-cavity-causing sweeteners, like sorbitol or mannitol.
Discover the Natural Sweetness in Food
Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she gave us fruit. It has the sugar we crave, plus anti-aging vitamins, minerals and other beneficial plant nutrients. The natural sugars in milk and other dairy products make them more enjoyable so that we can take in their calcium and other nutrients. Blend fruit and low-fat yogurt with ice to make a naturally sweet smoothie. Freeze bananas and berries for a treat to replace ice cream. As your palate adjusts to less sugar, you'll find these natural treats offer all the sweetness you need.
Walk Away from Sugar Cravings
Is your sugar craving driving you to distraction? Is the office candy jar or the cookies your mom baked for the kids overpowering your willpower? Walk away. Sugar cravings tend to last between 10 and 20 minutes. In that time you can take a short walk and escape from the demons while burning some calories. Even better, take a short stroll with a friend. The movement and social interaction will distract you from the craving. When a sugar craving hits, be mindful. “Take a couple of deep breaths and check in with your emotions,” advises Blum. “Perhaps you’re craving something else besides sugar, like human connection.”