“Actually, I think all addiction starts with soda. Every junkie did soda first. But no one counts that. Maybe they should…” – Chris Rock
True story, I used to be a junkie. Diet 7Up was my soda of choice and I was addicted. A.D.D.I.C.T.E.D. I drank the stuff like it was water. Because once you start with one… the sugar in the bottle naturally makes you want MORE. My friends would caution me, “you really need to get rid of that stuff Caroline.” but I blew it off. I didn’t want to part with Diet 7Up. I wasn’t ready yet. Until the day came when I was. I was tired of spending so much money, dehydrated in need of water, and ready to give up the fake stuff. And then I did it. I beat my addiction to diet soda. I can’t tell you it was easy. But I can tell you it was worth it.
Since 1950, soft drink consumption per capita has quadrupled from about 11 gallons per year to about 50 gallons in 2003.
Sugar is a common term used to describe a variety of sweet substances. There are naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in whole fruit and dairy products (lactose). And there are “added sugars”, which aren’t naturally found in food but rather are added to foods when we cook or bake, or during the processing of packaged and industrially prepared foods.
Over the last several decades, American consumption of added sugars has climbed to an all time high, and unfortunately, research has shown that this increased consumption is significantly contributing to disease and health issues in America. High consumption of added sugars are associated with the rise of obesity and with the increased risks for high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, inflammation, and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Further, regularly consuming refined sugars can cause insulin resistance and raised blood sugar levels (both of which can set the stage for type 2 diabetes), weight gain and fat storage, decreased immune system and endocrine function, constipation, moodiness, premature aging, and the list goes on.
The American Heart Association suggests that women should consume no more than 100 calories (about 25 grams or 6 teaspoons) of added sugars per day, while men should consume no more than 150 calories (about 37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons) each day. This is a drastic contrast to the 22 teaspoons consumed on average today.
When we explore where we get most of our sugar, sweetened beverages are overwhelmingly the most to blame. Sweetened beverages account for over 40% of “added sugar” in the American diet. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, soft drinks alone account for 33 percent of consumed added sugars, with the sweetened fruit drinks trailing a distant second at 10 percent. It’s no surprise: one twelve-ounce can of soda contains over nine teaspoons of sugar, while the more common twenty-ounce bottle contains seventeen teaspoons!!
Other foods definitely contribute to our sugar intake as well, but not at nearly as high of a rate. Candy and cake come in a 5 percent each, ready to eat cereal compromises 4 percent of the total, and then comes table sugar and honey, cookies and brownies, and syrups and toppings.
With so many added sugars attributed to sweetened beverages, it’s safe to say that eliminating sweetened beverages from your diet can drastically reduce your daily sugar consumption and improve your health.
If giving up sweetened beverages seems painful, I’m here to tell you it will get easier after a few days. The more we feed our addiction to sugar, the more we crave it. When you break the cycle, however, your body begins to crave less sugar; and in a few weeks, you won’t miss it so much. After being clean from diet soda for years, when I taste the stuff it blows me away by how sweet it is! It brings awareness for how much I had lost sensation to sweet when I was a diet soda addict.
** A note on beverages and ARTIFICIAL sweeteners.
Its best to avoid beverages that are sweetened with artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin, and Sucralose. These are highly processed, chemically derived, zero-calorie sweeteners that are used to intentionally reduce calories in otherwise high-calorie foods and beverages. Although artificial sweeteners may seem healthier in the short-term, many studies have shown that they can increase cravings for sugar and carbohydrates, and can potentially negatively impact your metabolism. Further, they may cause dizziness, hallucinations, and headaches, among other health issues. As a result, it is best to cut out artificial sweeteners from your diet and avoid drinks or foods that contain them (yes you Diet 7Up).
Sip smarter and reduce your intake of sugar with my “Better Beverage Check List”
Survey Your Consumption. Keep track of the sweetened beverages you consume. Note how many grams of sugar are in each beverage, and add up your total at the end of the day. Make sure to include all types of sweetened beverages, including soda, juice drinks, flavored waters such as vitamin water, Gatorade, sugar added to your coffee or tea, or anything else that has added sugar in it. If you consume beverages that have artificial sweeteners, write them down as well. Each day of the week, continue to write down how many grams of sugar you are consuming as you make attempts to cut back your intake. I find using an online food journal is an easy method of keeping track of your diet for better body / health benefits. Click here for my tips on keeping a helpful food diary.
Reduce your intake. Consuming sugar in liquid form makes it easy to ingest a ton of empty calories very quickly. Further, these beverages have little to NO nutritional value and cause large spikes in blood sugar. Reduce your sweetened beverage consumption with these tips:
- Soft Drinks. One of the best ways to eliminate soft drinks from your diet is to substitute them with club soda and a slice of lime or lemon. For a less drastic change, you can make a mixture of three parts club soda with one part 100 percent fruit juice. Dilute the mixture with a little more club soda each day until you can drink it with just a splash of juice, or even better just a splash of lemon or lime. Also, be sure to choose club soda or seltzer that is sodium free. A second way to reduce your soda consumption is to wean yourself off of it. For example, if you normally drink a twenty-ounce bottle of soda a day, drink only sixteen ounces on day two and substitute the other four ounces with water or club soda. On day three, cut back to twelve ounces of soda and eight ounces of water or club soda. Continue to reduce your intake each day so that by the end of the week you’re consuming little to no soft drinks with added sugar or sugar substitutes.
- Flavored Water and Other Sweetened Beverages. One of the easiest ways to reduce your sugar intake with drinks like Vitamin water, Gatorade, lemonade, sweetened iced tea, etc, is to dilute them with water. Start with a mixture of three parts of the flavored drink and one part water. Each day increase the amount of water until you are consuming little to none of the flavored drink. Ultimately, work down to plain water or sodium free club soda with lemon or lime. Read more on the myths of sports beverages (propel, vitamin water, gatorade) in this interesting Fox News article.
- Cocktails. It is easy to overdo it on alcohol calories and often cocktails can have more sugar than an entire bag of candy. While the occasional cocktail won’t hurt you, it’s smart to read up on how to make the best choice when you are out on the town. Click here to read my “Think Before You Drink! Conscious Cocktail Choices.” article and use these tips to enjoy your night out without too much damage.
- Juice. Although juice contains plenty of vitamins and minerals, its high in sugar and low in fiber. This includes juice made with 100 percent fruit. Even though the sugar found in fruit juice is natural, it can still have similar impacts to your blood sugar as added sugars. Instead of a glass of juice, eat a piece of fruit. You’ll get all the healthful benefits from the fruit along with some fiber, which will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable, make you feel more satisfied, and help you reduce your overall sugar intake.
- Coffee and Tea. Many coffee and tea drinkers add sugar to their caffeinated beverages. Unfortunately, caffeine can cause ups and downs in hydration and blood sugar, potentially fueling sugar cravings. If you sweeten your coffee or tea, try replacing sweeteners with low-fat or non-fat milk. They contain natural sugars (as opposed to added sugars) and protein, creating a more nutritionally balanced beverage. If you like iced tea, choose unsweetened green or herbal tea. You may also want to add a drop of stevia – a natural sweet herb – for sweetness. Finally, since caffeine can contribute to sugar cravings, you may want to limit consumption of caffeinated beverages and move toward decaffeinated options instead.
Drink Plenty of WATER.As we have talked about several times on the blog, drinking plenty of water is important to your health. Lack of hydration can cause us to feel hungry or even feed our sugar cravings. If you feel like you are craving a sweetened beverage, have a big glass of water and see what happens. If your craving subsides, there is a good chance you are dehydrated.
If you have already eliminated sweetened beverages from your diet, you can look to start reducing added sugars in other areas like these:
- Minimize processed foods. Whole foods never have hidden sugars. Whole foods are those foods you can eat right from nature and don’t require any processing. Foods that are packaged or processed, however, tend to have a lot of hidden sugars. For this reason, when you are craving a sweet food, try to limit yourself to those that are naturally sweet, or more specifically whole fruit and sweet vegetables, like carrots and tomatoes.
- Eliminate “Fat-free” and “Low-Fat” Packaged Foods. Many low-fat and fat-free versions of goods are loaded with extra sugars. If you want to indulge, its almost better to have the full-fat version which will satiate your cravings more because of the fat content, then to reduce yourself to the high-sugar, low fat option. Remember when we talked about the 80/20 rule of healthy eating? This is a good strategy here.
- Experiment with Spices. There are many spices that provide sweetness to a dish without the extra calories of sugar. Sweeter spices to try: cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, coriander, ginger, cloves, and cardamom.
- Stop adding Sugar to meals. Just as you can add spices to recipes, you can stop adding sugar to your meals. Adding sugar on top of fruit, cereals, and other foods that are already sweet is excessive. When you stop adding the sugar for a few days, you should see a decline in your cravings for it.
- Read Nutrition Labels. The ingredient list on product packages help you spot hidden sugars such as high-fructose corn syrup and other added sweeteners. Also, pay attention to the carbohydrate section of the Nutrition Facts panel to understand how much sugar a product has. Ideally, you want to keep the number of grams of sugar as low as possible and the number of the grams of fiber as high as possible.
Have you ever been a sugar or soda addict? What was your secret to breaking the habit? Leave your thoughts and comments below!
I am a believer that knowledge is power. The more informed you are, the more you can make the right choices for you. I hope this post inspired you, lets TOAST to your health and a long life together 🙂
Other Things To Check Out This Week:
- January 1st is 54 days away. Thanks Jae Berman Nutrition for this great post!
- Looking for healthy eating meal plans and menus? Check out one of my favorite sites, eatingwell.com
- IT Band Stretching Video. Free online 10 minute flexibility routine.
Information for this post provided by 52 Small Changes: One Year to A Happier, Healthier, You by Brett Blumenthal. Great read, check it out!