A Dietitian Explains How to Cut Back on Added Sugar

Wake-Up Call: What motivated you to write this book?

Sugar is one of the drivers of some of the most serious health conditions that we’re facing, like Type II diabetes and heart disease. It also drives mood disorders, like depression.

You have a segment in the book called the “Sugar Hall of Shame,” in which you identify foods particularly high in added sugar. There are some obvious ones, like soda, but can you discuss some foods that may come as a surprise to people?

I think that everyone expects soda to be sugary, but I don’t think they understand how much. For example, I was looking at a bottle of orange soda the other day that you would just get from your convenience store and it had 18 teaspoons of added sugar. So yes, you expect soda to be sugary, but do you expect it to have three days’ worth of added sugar? Potentially not.

You also discuss why we’re wired to crave sugar. What causes that and can the added stress of the pandemic make those cravings worse?

There’s a lot of things that contribute to our sugar cravings. But for one, we’re sort of hardwired to prefer sugar. It’s a natural preference for your body. Reward systems in your brain treat sugar similarly as other addictive substances, so it has some of these addictive properties that nicotine and cocaine have. When you consume it, it’s releasing these feel-good neurotransmitters and is telling you that this is something awesome. And the more you eat, the more you need to trigger that pathway. And because we’re eating it in so many sneaky sources, we’re constantly setting off that reward mechanism.

Can you provide some strategies for fighting cravings and slowly weaning yourself off of added sugar?

The main thing is really retraining your taste buds. For one thing, you want to start using plain versions of yogurt, unsweetened oatmeal, unsweetened cereal, things like that. You can doctor them up yourself with certain seasonings, like unsweetened coconut flakes, or a sprinkle of cinnamon or a splash of vanilla extract. Those are things that remind you of other sweet things without adding any sweetener.

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Katie Couric

Founder, Katie Couric Media. Newscaster: Wake-Up Call. Podcaster: Next Question. Doc filmmaker. @SU2C founder.