The Genesis PURE “Kick the Sugar Habit” contest is now underway! Sugar habits can surface in many ways and for a variety of reasons. Joey works construction and relies on his 44 oz. soda, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, to get through his day. In the morning, Jackie is usually in a rush; so breakfast, a frappuccino and scone, are bought at the drive-through on the way to work. When work gets stressful, Monica finds herself raiding the front desk candy jar for a sweet treat. Jerry can think of no better way to unwind in the evenings than sitting and watching his favorite TV shows with a bowl of ice cream. No matter your sugar consuming habits, our challenge to you is to be vigilant this Holiday Season about when and why you consume sugar and eliminate any habits that may be contributing to an unhealthy sugar intake.

As Joey clearly demonstrated, soda is the number one contributor of added sugar in the American diet, accounting for nearly one-third of the calories consumed. There no vitamins, minerals, or fiber in most sodas; so these empty calories – more than 1000 if them in Joey’s two 44 oz. drinks – contribute to the already excessive calorie intake of most Americans, and potentially replace other more wholesome foods. If you are like Joey and rely on soda as a source of energy throughout the day, consider replacing it with fruit, whole grains, nuts, or other nutrient-dense sources of calories. Plain yogurt and granola with a banana for breakfast and a rice bowl with chicken and fresh vegetables for lunch would provide just as many calories, but with added protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, as well.

Processed and fast foods are often a crutch of the busy professional and/or parent. Don’t fall into Jackie’s trap and make shopping and meal planning a priority in your life. It may take a bit of time to develop a list of easy and wholesome recipes. Once you do, however, a one-hour shopping trip each week can keep your pantry stocked with the essentials, and meal prep can be quick and easy. Chopped vegies with a peanut butter and honey sandwich can be prepared in five minutes and a bowl of low-sugar, whole-grain cereal takes no more than 1 minute to pour…maybe add thirty seconds for some sliced bananas or peeling a hard-boiled egg. The website specializes in healthy recipes and even has a free cookbook dedicated to ultra-quick recipes for every meal.

When Monica reaches for a sugary treat to cope with stress at work, she may actually using sugar as a way to self-medicate. Cravings for sugar are a hard-wired response to chronic stress. Numerous scientific studies have documented that stressful situations trigger increased consumption of sugary beverages and sweets. These urges and cues may be independent of actual need for food and could lead to excessive calorie intake and eventually obesity. Perhaps one possible solution for Monica to explore is to proactively manage her stress. A ten minute meditation or walking break, while it may decrease the amount of time she spends at her desk, may do wonders for reducing stress and her cravings for treats. Limiting access to treats may be another helpful solution.

Jerry may possibly be victim of another brain-mediated driver of sugar consumption, pleasure. When sugar is consumed, it increases levels of dopamine and opiates in the brain and, over time, can create hard-wired cravings for sweets. When Jerry relaxes with his bowl of ice cream in the evening, he’s stimulating these pleasure centers of the brain. Jerry consumed enough calories at dinner and yet his body is still telling him to eat, not because of hunger but because of pleasure. Due to the hard-wired cravings, it may take significant time and work before Jerry will be rid of his desire for an evening bowl of ice cream. Exercising in place of watching TV in the evening may be a good alternative. Exercise produces endorphins, a type of opiate that may create similar feelings of pleasure without the extra calories.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting intake of added sugar to no more than 100 calories daily for women and 150 calories daily for men. According to USDA data, the average American is estimated to consume approximately 350 calories of added sugar daily. This is an improvement over the more than 420 calories consumed daily in 1999, but we can do better. Be attentive to how you and your family are eating sugar. Work to reduce the amount you consume, if needed. When you do eat sugar, use it primarily to improve the flavor of nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, nuts, and whole grains rather than eating candy, cakes, or other sugar-laden, yet nutrient-deficient foods.

By Ron Beckstrom, MS, RD, HFS
Genesis PURE Product and Research Specialist

This blog and its contents are provided for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information and topics may not apply to every individual and sometimes are based on alternative healthy philosophies rather than traditional scientific views. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease and should not be a substitution any medical needs or advice.