Birthday cake. Sugary cereals. Easter candy. Sugar is popular, playing a prominent cultural and social role as a form of celebration, a reward system and as an everyday sweetness fix. With recent research showing the toxic and addicting effects, some are declaring independence from sugar.
Once known for her cakes and pies, Bountiful resident Rhiannon Lawrence learned in 2009 she was gluten intolerant and pre-diabetic. Out of necessity, she embraced a new way of thinking about baking and cooking.
After experimenting with recipes for years, she shared what she found by writing the book "Eat free: No Gluten. No Sugar. No Guilt." Lawrence works with several non-profit organizations and is an advocate for health and nutrition.
Do you get "Feed me NOW or I'll kill you" moments? These reflect exhaustion of your adrenal stress handler glands. Instead of drinking a soda (which has 3/4 tsp. of sugar per ounce) which will put you on the sugar roller coaster, just put 1-2 tic tacs (or 1/2-1 packet of sugar) under your tongue, then eat a high protein snack (e.g., eggs, meat, fish, cheese, nuts). The sugar in two tic tacs is enough sugar to break the attack without putting you on the sugar roller coaster.
Another advocate for avoiding sugar — Paul Stout of Kaysville, Utah — used to get headaches every day. A decade ago when he won a week's worth of milkshakes, he noticed the direct correlation between sugar and his pain. It's been 10 years since Stout gave up sugar, and he hasn't looked back.
"I tell everyone, and it's true: I feel better today at 53 than I did at 43, when I was still eating sugar," Stout said.
Lawrence and Stout offer tips for those who want to cut sugar from their diet:
1. Make the commitment
"It takes two weeks to get it out of your system before the cravings stop. If you feel overwhelmed and can't seem to give it up, that's because sugar is addicting." said Lawrence.
Dr. Mark Hyman confirmed the addicting nature of sugar in a 2011 Huffington Post article.
"The science demonstrating that people can be biologically addicted to sugar in the same way we can be addicted to heroin, cocaine or nicotine is clear. ... In fact, most recovering alcoholics often switch to another easily available drug: sugar," Hyman wrote.
It will be hard, but giving up sugar is possible and provides long-lasting health benefits.
2. Focus on how you feel
"Think about how you feel and compare that to how you felt eating sugar. If you focus on that, you'll stay off sugar. But if you focus on what you're missing, then you're looking for trouble," said Stout.
He explained the huge difference in how he felt when he consumed sugar compared to when he didn't. Now, he says, "I feel better in many different ways. I'm able to recuperate faster after exercising. My joints don't hurt as much. I have more/constant energy throughout the day." He also says he has fewer mood swings, is more happy and sick less often.
Lawrence cut sugar out of her kids' diets, too, and notices a difference.
"They are better able to focus, and we've been able to manage a lot of symptoms for my son, who is diagnosed with ADD, by changing his diet," said Lawrence.
Both Lawrence and Stout want to prevent diabetes and see their sugar-free diet as a way to improve their chances of avoiding it.
3. Enjoy what you do eat
"What I do eat is more important than just avoiding sugar. For me, a great offense is better than just a good defense," said Stout. "I start the day with oatmeal with nuts, buckwheat and raspberries in almond milk for breakfast, sweetened with stevia. I find a good breakfast makes the rest of the day much easier. If you start bad, your body feels empty and tries to make up the volume later on. I eat lots of vegetables and fruits, nuts, beans, complex carbs and not too much meat."
Lawrence says if sugar cravings are unbearable, "just a small piece of dark chocolate can do wonders." She recommends dark chocolate with 70 percent or higher cocoa, which can be found at stores like Whole Foods or Sunflower Market.
4. Check food labels
"Sugar is in almost everything. I check ingredients, and if it's the first or second ingredient, I don't eat it," said Stout. "You just have to figure out where to draw the line. I avoid juice drinks unless I'm having it later in the day and with a meal, otherwise my body reacts to it like sugar."
Lawrence warns that high fructose corn syrup "does a number on blood sugar" and is found in products ranging from condiments to canned soups to baked goods.
5. Substitute healthier sweeteners
"Refined sugar is a toxin, but fruit or dates are naturally sweet," said Lawrence. She prefers to use coconut sugar, stevia and agave in her baking recipes.
Stout prefers stevia and says he finds it much sweeter than sugar. "I try to avoid fake sugars as much as possible," he said.
A recent article on Blisstree offers tips on a selection of sweeteners like raw honey, truvia, xylitol and others.
6. Get 7-8 hours of sleep
Hyman's Huffington Post article encourages getting enough rest, as "research shows that lack of sleep increases cravings."
7. Increase protein intake
"When you crave sugar, often it's because you need protein," said Lawrence. She gives her children protein shakes in the morning, sweetened with stevia.
Crystalee Beck is a writer, marketer, and traveler who lives with her husband in Ogden. She recently went six months without sugar. Follow @Crystaleelee on Twitter or email firstname.lastname@example.org