Things are admittedly a little different in COVID time, but typically, an estimated 600 million pounds of Halloween candy is purchased in the U.S. each year – that’s roughly two pounds per person.
Sure, much of it is doled out to kids for some version of Trick-or-Treat, but much of it is nibbled away in the weeks leading up to Halloween.
And why does it seem to take the will of a gladiator, as someone mentioned to me, to pass up even the candy that’s not even all that fantastic?
Part of the answer lies in the influence of sugar on our brains. When it’s combined with fat, sugar can trigger the release of feel-good hormones and stimulate the same areas of the brain that are also activated by addictive drugs.
At times, cravings for sweets can be so powerful that it feels like we’re actually addicted to the stuff.
And there’s no question that consuming excess sugar isn’t good for us. It’s linked to an increase in belly fat and sharp energy crashes, plus it can even accelerate visible signs of aging, including the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.
A high sugar intake has also been shown to raise cholesterol and triglycerides, and is linked to obesity and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories of added sugar per day, and men not more than 150 calories – that’s about what you get in one or two fun-size packs of candy.
To help curb your cravings for the sweet stuff, try these six sugar slashing strategies:
Go cold turkey. Sugary sweets and other white, processed carbs are absorbed into the bloodstream almost immediately, causing a rapid rise then crash of blood sugar, insulin, and energy. The result: We’re looking for more sugar for a pick-me-up. Nixing the sweet stuff altogether may seem extreme (or even impossible), but for many, that can be what it takes to get sugar cravings under control. Be patient, though; it can take days or even weeks for sugar cravings to diminish.
Watch out for sugar fake-outs. Even seemingly healthy foods can be loaded with sugar. Whole grain breakfast cereals, flavored Greek yogurt, granola bars, 100% fruit juice, frozen yogurt and ‘diet’ products like Slim-Fast shakes and Special K Meal Bars can easily pack in the equivalent of four to eight spoonfuls of sugar.
Minimize artificial sweeteners. There’s a lot of debate about whether or not artificial sweeteners (think aspartame, sucralose and saccharin) help or hinder weight loss efforts, but there’s very little question that consuming these highly concentrated sweeteners on a regular basis can essentially train our taste buds and brains to become acclimated to intensely super-sweet foods and drink.
To reset your sweetness threshold, cut back on or eliminate these artificial sweeteners altogether. Limit or eliminate diet soft drinks. Dilute beverages like sugar-free lemonade, or even better, just add a little lemon juice to pure water. Add fewer and fewer packets of artificial sweeteners to your food and drink, until you don’t need any. The goal is to get to a point where things like coffee and yogurt actually taste like coffee and yogurt, not syrup and candy.
Make an extra effort to incorporate protein (especially with breakfast and snacks). Instead of focusing on what you can’t have (sugar), keep the emphasis on what to get more of.
Getting enough protein at lunch and dinner usually isn’t a problem for most people, but many of us skimp on protein at breakfast and snack time. Incorporating enough protein – particularly at breakfast – can help to curb cravings, burn more calories, and consume fewer calories throughout the day.
Add in plenty of vegetables along with some healthy fats, striving to incorporate a small meal or snack every three or four hours throughout the day to build a solid foundation that will help to squeeze out the time and space for sweet cravings.
Stay hydrated. One of the first signs of being even slightly dehydrated is fatigue, and when that sleepiness hits (think afternoon energy dip), it’s easy to turn to sugar for a quick pick-me-up.
To ensure optimal hydration, aim for a minimum of half of your body weight in ounces of fluid, keeping in mind that any non-alcoholic fluid counts, including the liquid that we get from foods like soup, smoothies and yogurt (ideally plain Greek yogurt), and even coffee and tea.
Get enough sleep. Studies have consistently shown that sleep deficiency can negatively impact hormones that regulate our appetite and blood sugar levels. Most of us need about seven or eight hours a night, so if you’re always on the go and skimping on zzz’s, all of that productivity just might be sabotaging your best efforts with diet and exercise, not to mention contributing to your raging sweet tooth.
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans, and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit restaurant initiative. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s articles + TV segments at www.mollykimball.com.