How to quit sugar – for good!


Are you a slave to the sweet stuff? You're not alone. Studies have shown people can become as addicted to sugar as they can to cigarettes!

Sugary foods or drinks release the feel-good hormone dopamine, which is the ultimate reward signal, says Dr Nicole Avena, an American neuroscientist, expert on nutrition, diet and addiction, and author of Why Diets Fail.

Read more: The secret’s out – SA to get a sugar tax

“When dopamine is released, we feel good about what we just ate, and our brain tells us we want more,” she says. “However, overeating sugar overstimulates dopamine hot spots in the brain, similarly to drugs of abuse. Putting the reward system into overdrive, either from sugar or drugs such as cocaine, nicotine and alcohol, is what leads people to constantly seek the high they get from dopamine release.

"In terms of sugar this feedback cycle can lead to loss of control when eating and craving.”

Read more: I quit sugar for one month – here’s what happened

The same effect applies to refined carbohydrates such as cakes, biscuits, pasta, white bread, pretzels and crackers.

“When you eat carbohydrate-containing foods, they’re easily converted to glucose, which is our essential fuel source for all our bodily functions,” says Kelly Schreuder, a Cape Town dietician. Read more: Cut down on sugar for a good sleep “However, when you eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates at one time, your body produces a lot of insulin to regulate the effects on your blood-glucose levels, leading to more sugar cravings. This can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes if done often.”

Are you addicted?

  • Rely on carbohydrates to treat a daily energy slump.

  • Never feel satisfied when you eat healthy food. S Feel grumpy when dieting, and constantly crave carbohydrates.

  • Binge, during which time you rapidly consume unusually large amounts of food in a short period of time.

  • Eat carbs even when not hungry just because you crave them.

  • Worry about needing to cut down on carbs but struggle to do so.

  • Overeat, which leaves you feeling sluggish. S Keep eating the way you do despite the fact it’s affecting your work and social life.

  • Need to eat more and more carbs to get the temporary feelings of pleasure.

Want to cut out sugar? Here’s how

  • Check nutritional information on packaging, jars and bottles and choose products with less than 5 g of sugar per 100 g.

  • Skip sugary drinks and juices in favour of tea and water flavoured with lemon, strawberry, cucumber or fresh mint.

  • If you drink alcohol stick to those with few carbohydrates such as 25 ml of whisky or vodka, with water or sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon or lime, or dry wines.

  • Many low-fat yoghurts contain about the same amount of added sugar as regular dessert.

  • Cut down on portion sizes when you have carbohydrates.

  • Make your own marinades and sauces rather than eat sugar-filled store-bought types. Or use herbs and spices instead.

  • Sugar is usually added to takeaway and other convenience foods so severely limit them.

  • If you feel dependent on sugar, stay away from even the odd sweet treat as this might lead you straight back into addiction again.

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables and protein. Protein won’t give you the bloodsugar spike carbs do so you shouldn’t feel the need to crave or binge.
  • Use exercise to beat cravings.

Cutting down on sugar – a typical day

Breakfast Scrambled egg on a slice of low-GI bread and black coffee with one teaspoon of xylitol

Total carbohydrates: 5 g of which 1 g is sugar

Snack Handful of strawberries and a teaspoon of cream

Total carbohydrates: 7 g of which 5 g is sugar

Lunch Chicken with vegetables

Total carbohydrates: 12 g of which 2 g is sugar

Snack Handful of nuts

Total carbohydrates: 5 g of which 1 g is sugar

Dinner Fish and coleslaw

Total carbohydrates: 7 g of which 2 g is sugar

Snack Low-GI hot chocolate made with water and one teaspoon of xylitol

Total carbohydrates: 2 g of which 2 g is sugar

Total carbohydrates for the day: 38 g, of which 13 g is sugar

Extra sources:,,,,

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