Dealing with your sweet tooth

Dealing with your sweet tooth

Contributed by Eve Persak, Nutrition Advisor, MS RD CNSC CSSD

Infants are born with an innate preference for sweetness above all other flavors.   Experts believe that the sweet taste is nature’s way of communicating that a food offers ample calories and that it’s safe to eat. It’s perhaps no accident that a mother’s breast milk (or infant formula) are inherently sweet.  Thereafter, upon trialing new foods, toddlers positively associate sweet-tasting foods with this favored first form of nourishment.  By comparison, newborns react to sour and bitter-tasting foods less favorably.  Why? Foods that are toxic or spoilt possess these flavors. As such, avoidance of these flavors offers evolutionary advantages. 

These built-in proclivities make good sense, but do they justify our insatiable and incessant longing for sweets as adults? Not really.  These are believed to develop and strengthen with repeated and long-term exposure to sweet foods and beverages as we grow up.  Interestingly, current research clearly shows that a nagging sweet tooth has more to do with the mind than with the mouth.  Sugar is addictive – plain and simple.  In fact, neurologists have proven that sugar stimulates the pleasure centres of the brain – at even greater intensit than recreational drugs.  Like narcotics, we’re drawn sweets compulsively and can develop the same dependency symptoms – like cravings, binging and withdrawal.  And in chronic excess, sugars carry their own health consequences --- like increased diabetes risk, weight gain, and inflammation.  Some believe sugar-addiction is even harder to kick, since it’s socially acceptable and readily available.

So, how can we continue to enjoy the occasional treat without drifting into full-blown reliance?  Here are a few tricks to help you moderate your daily sugar intake and keep yourself habit-free.

Try Cold Turkey
Nope, we’re not talking about deli meats.  We’re referring to a trial period of complete sugar removal. It takes approximately two weeks to reset taste buds. When we abstain from sweetness we clean the slate for our palate.  This leaves us able to taste sugars in our foods and drinks more acutely when we slowly reintroduce them.  Ultimately, we’re ale to use less sweeteners, but perceive the same level of sweetness.  Many individuals find that their favorite indulgences become somewhat off-putting – now simply too potent in sweetness.

Often this process also reveals how entrenched a sugar habit has become.  Some people begin to notice sugar’s place in their daily routine – like an automatic cookie with their tea or a candy at the culmination of every meal.  Others recognize emotional cues – like a pull to desserts when stressed or disappointed.  While educational and effective, this option may come with side-effects like headaches and wild appetite as the body re-adjusts to the absence of sugar.

Plan your Pleasure
If excluding all treats (albeit temporarily) seems far to rash, start with self-monitoring instead.  For a day or two, keep a tally of how often your reaching for something sweet. Then, depending on your current intake, set some parameters surrounding your sweet frequency.  Consider limiting yourself to just one mini-treat per day – or every other day – and perhaps one dessert each week.  And rather than grabbing any edible in arm’s length – make your treats special.  Stick to your favorites or splurge on pricier products.

Sidestep Hidden Extras
Oddly enough, studies show that most of our sugar intake doesn’t come from obvious sources like desserts, pastries, candies, biscuits and chocolate.  It’s the sugars tucked into processed foods, such as breakfast cereal, breads, savory sauces – and beverages, especially.  Review the products you keep in your pantry.  Scan their ingredient lists for the word sugar, but also look for other sweeteners.  Names to look for include: evaporated cane juice, can crystals, dextrose, sucrose, and high fructose corn syrup.  Filter these items out of your diet as best you can or save them for every-once-in-awhile consumption.

Streamline your Sweeteners.
If the thought of coffee or tea sans sugar incites a feeling of horror, consider a reduction.  Decrease from three cubes to two or from one sachet to just a half.  These small doses add up – especially if you sip on these drinks daily or multiple times per day.  Take it one step farther and switch to minimally processed alternatives – like coconut nectar, maple syrup, raw honey, or date sugar.  While these have relatively similar glycemic effects, they’ll at least offer traces of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals – lacking in most refined sweeteners.

Use Fresh Fruit
Fortunately, Mother Nature provides her own version of treats and desserts in the form of fruits.  Consuming a single serve of fresh, whole fruit when your sweet tooth plays up can offer hydration, fibres, micronutrients and phytochemicals – that satisfy the appetite and benefit the body head to toe.  Earn bonus points for organics, as you’ll avoid potentially harmful pesticides and chemicals, too.