When humans were hunter-gatherers, having a taste for sweet things encouraged us to eat lots of fruit. This was important because it was one of our most valuable sources of calories and nutrition.
Nowadays, many food manufacturers exploit our taste for sweet things by adding lots of processed sugar to their products. This has many negative consequences for our health. Being vegan eliminates many harmful foods from our diets, but eating lots of sugar can still lead to weight gain and increase our risk of health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. So what's the best way to reduce our sugar intake?
Attempts to cut out sugar all at once are often unsuccessful – many people feel deprived of the foods they love and end up binging on sugary foods further down the line. Instead, it's usually better to gradually reduce the amount of added sugar we eat. But how?
Figure out what you're really craving
Sometimes, we think we're craving sugar when we're actually craving carbohydrates. Eating healthy whole carbohydrates like brown rice, oats and sweet potatoes may help to curb the cravings.
If that doesn't cut it for you, try doing what your ancestors did - eat fruit! Experiment with different varieties that you’ve never tried before to liven things up a bit. Berries are especially good for snacking on. And don't forget dried fruits like dates, which are especially sweet. Or for something more filling, try snack bars made of blended nuts and dried fruit - these are available in most supermarkets, or you can make your own.
Train your taste buds
Did you know that your taste buds are replaced every couple of weeks? You may have noticed that your tastes changed after going vegan, and this applies to other dietary changes too. By gradually reducing the amount of added sugar you eat, you can alter your tastes in a very short period of time. Sugary foods will begin to taste overpoweringly sickly, and it will be much easier to be moderate when you do eat them.
So what's the best way to train our taste buds? Usually, the main sources of sugar in our diets are processed and packaged foods. It's sometimes possible to buy low-sugar versions of these foods, but a better option is to cook from scratch. When you cook your own meals, you can control exactly how much sugar goes into them. This makes it much easier to gradually reduce their sugar content, ideally until there's no added sugar at all in your meals.
This also applies when making desserts. It may not always be possible to eliminate the sugar entirely, but you can reduce it considerably. In cakes and cookies, you can often halve the amount of sugar in the recipe without noticeably affecting the taste. Or try fruit-based desserts - banana ice cream, for example, is completely sugar-free. It may seem like a lot of effort to cook from scratch, but the benefits definitely make it worthwhile.
If you normally drink sweetened tea or coffee, slowly reduce the amount of sugar you add until you get used to unsweetened drinks. When it comes to fizzy drinks like cola, try drinking them less and less often, until eventually, they are at most an occasional treat.
Find alternatives to sugar
If you want to reduce your dependence on sugar, another option is to switch to food and drinks containing artificial sweeteners. However, this should not be your main approach. This is because it won't reduce your taste for sweet things, meaning you may still struggle to resist sugar.
On the other hand, using sweeteners may help you to transition away from processed sugar. If possible, choose sweeteners which aren’t too artificial - some examples are stevia, xylitol, and erythritol.
There are also ways to sweeten your food more naturally. Date sugar, for example, is just grounded dates. It can be used as a direct substitute for sugar in baking. Blackstrap molasses, meanwhile, is a liquid sweetener which is actually very nutritious. And some types of sugar, like coconut sugar, have a lower glycemic index than ordinary sugar. This makes them a better option, though they still aren't exactly healthy.
Look for products in health food shops which use alternatives to sugar. For example, you can buy jam sweetened only with apple juice concentrate. These products are usually more expensive than conventional varieties, but they may be worth it if you're serious about cutting down on sugar.
Changing your diet is never simple, but keeping the long-term benefits in mind can ease your transition. Whether your aim is to lose weight, prevent existing conditions from worsening, or simply to get healthier, stay focused on your goal and you're sure to succeed. Good luck!
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