24 Ways to Ditch Sugar in 2024 (and Beyond)

O.K, I’m not going to sugar-coat it: sugar is public health Enemy #1. As good as it may taste, sugar, like most things that have the power to addict us, is an extraordinarily destructive substance. People simply eat far too much of it. The not-so-sweet reality is that Americans are eating sugar by the pound — some estimates put the average adult intake at close to 130 pounds of sugar a year – an astonishing amount of any substance, much less an addictive toxin that maims you from the inside.

While plenty of sugar-loving people choose to overlook the danger, with each passing day, more studies confirm what we in the optimal health community have long known: sugar plays a pivotal role in the development of the devastating illnesses we fear most, like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s…the list goes on.

My advice? Make 2024 your year to get a divorce from sugar. Believe me, I understand how tough it can be to let it go– I struggled to kick the stuff myself a while back. But I also know that you can finally can break free of its grip. The future of your health depends on it.

So, how to kick? In honor of 2024, I’ve put together my 24-point list of tips for slaying the sugar monster once and for all. Here’s where to start:

Ditching sugar improves health –  almost overnight.

The first thing to remember is that sugar is highly inflammatory, and consequently its really good at speeding up the aging process of all your major organs, including your largest, your skin. Besides contributing to mounting numbers of wrinkles, it also amps up your risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, neurological decline and other mostly preventable health problems.

However, the good news is that ditching the sweet stuff now can significantly, and relatively quickly, decrease these risks, along with many common complaints, like crappy sleep quality, brain fog, aches and pains. And yes, losing sugar will help slow down or even prevent the development of wrinkles – so no more dreaded ‘sugar face.’ Other benefits that kick in almost immediately when you kick sugar out:

  • Lower blood pressure and fewer of the dangerous cholesterol particles
  • Lower triglycerides, with levels reduced in some cases by as much as 30%
  • Less headache, migraine and menstrual cramp pain, thanks to reduced sugar-induced inflammation
  • Better sleep, because without all that subtly stimulating sugar, you’ll fall asleep faster and your body can rest, instead of working overtime to excrete the excess sugar (meaning fewer nocturnal bathroom visits)  
  • Better mental clarity, as less sugar means less brain fog, and sharper cognitive function
  • Better mental health and mood, thanks to fewer blood sugar spikes and crashes which tend to worsen mood disorders like depression and anxiety, and can increase risk of developing a mental illness.

Breaking up with sugar is a journey – so buckle up.

Patients often ask, why is sugar so darn hard to break up with? In short, sugar is an addictive, but legal, drug that stimulates the same areas in the brain as do cocaine and heroin. It triggers the release of dopamine—the brain’s “reward” hormone—and serotonin, which boosts feelings of well-being, albeit only for a short time. Eat some sweets and when the sugar rush kicks in, you feel elevated and amped up, that is until the inevitable crash of falling blood sugar levels sends your mood hurtling back down to earth. You’re de-energized, tired and depressed. But your body craves the feel-good side of the coin, so it’s back to a few more scoops of sugar and you’re back on the roller-coaster, junkie-style. Keep in mind though, it’s not a personal weakness or failure of will – you’re simply hooked on a powerful, mood-altering substance.

So, how to unhook yourself? Here are 24 ways to help make that happen, starting with tuning in mentally, and then putting everyday strategies to work to help you win the sugar-busting game:

1. Determine your timeline  – As you start the sugar-kicking journey, take as much or as little time as you need. If you’re a cold-turkey kind of person, go for it. If you’re more of a taper-off type, that’s fine too. The actual timeline is up to you. All that really matters here is that you commit to start downshifting your relationship with the sweet stuff and ultimately strip it out of your life.

2. Get your head in the game – To better your odds of kicking sugar for good, make sure you’re in a decent headspace, and ready to battle the beast. Heading into a tumultuous period at work or a chaotic time on the home-front? Maybe take a beat and let life calm down a bit before you suit up. It’s not always an easy path, so you want to be able to focus and take on the challenge with a positive, I-can-do-this mindset.

3. Reframe your sweet attitude – As in, shift how you look at sugar. Instead of a treat or reward, think of the sweet stuff as a stone-cold killer which will, like heroin or cocaine, make you very, very sick, and, over time, may just wind up killing you. It’s the Russian Roulette of food.

4. Break it down– Approach sugar-kicking like you would take on a new project, and break the task into a series of smaller steps. Instead of heaping scoops of sugar into your coffee, over the course of a few days, add decreasing amounts to acclimate to less and less sweetness, and eventually none at all. Tapering off soda? Cut each glass of the sweet stuff with increasingly bigger quantities of club soda, until the club soda is all you’ll be pouring. Anywhere you can shave off a little sugar, do it to help ease the transition away from sweetness.

5. Keep sweet substitutions to a minimum – They’re a crutch. Your mission is to get your tastebuds accustomed to less sweet, not more, and so-called healthier alternatives like coconut sugar or raw honey are sugar, so tread carefully with your teaspoon. If you must have a touch of sweet, try raw stevia or monk fruit, which are safer non-sugar options— but use a light hand here too. And always avoid artificial sweeteners which disrupt your microbiome, have neurotoxic properties, and trigger cravings, setting off a vicious cycle for those trying to avoid sweets.

6. Leave processed foods at the store – For starters, if  you assume that just about everything at the grocery store has sugar in it, it will be a lot easier to avoid. Start by steering clear of processed foods. They’re loaded with hidden sugars, so if you buy as few of them as possible, you’ll instantly delete a big chunk of sugar from your diet in one fell swoop.

7. Keep your eyes open – If the sugar content of any packaged food or drink you’re interested in is more than 4 grams per serving, skip it. And, if sugar or one of its sneakily worded siblings (see tip # 10) is one of the first three ingredients, back away.

8. Do the math – Though food labels list grams of sugar per serving, it’s a lot easier to picture the sugar content in terms of teaspoons, and 4 grams equals 1 teaspoon of sugar. So, that 8 oz glass of orange juice, with its 24 grams of sugar, will set you back about 4 teaspoons – and that’s far too many!

9. Small sources matter too – To effectively lower your daily load, big cuts matter most, but you also need to look for the small doses tucked into the smaller stuff we tend to think less about like condiments, drinks grabbed on the run, and salty snacks. It all counts and it all adds up to bad news for your blood sugar levels – so pay attention to those little non-full-meal extra.

10. Learn the lingo– Sugar takes many forms and is easy to disguise, so if a label includes any of the following, steer clear:

  • ‘-ose,’ – pass on the ‘oses’ like dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose and sucrose
  • ‘-trin’ or ‘-tran,’ – such as maltodextrin and dextran
  • ‘syrup’ – as in high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, carob syrup, sorghum syrup, etc.
  • ‘juice; — as in fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, sorbitol, barley malt and/or caramel

11. Keep it simple – Fresh, whole, organic foods are naturally sugar free (or extremely low in sugar) and loaded with health-enhancing nutrients so it’s hard to go wrong if you make real food your default.

12. Go easy on certain types of fruit – Though they are wholesome, some fruits are better than others when it comes to sugar grams per serving. Though the super sweet ones like mangos, grapes, cherries, pineapples, etc. do have fiber to slow the absorption of their natural sugars, they can still pack as much sugar as a cupcake, which is anything but helpful when trying to cut back on sweet stuff. If fruit is what you’re craving, low sugar fruits like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, in moderation, are your best bet.

13. Rethink breakfast – To start your day right, always go savory – never sweet. To fuel you up for the morning without jacking yourself up on sugar, think good fats and leafy greens, plus protein with unsweetened coffee or tea.

14. Think snacks with benefits – Always on-the-go? Then carry along a container of low sugar blueberries or nuts and seeds to tame hunger pangs and deliver blood sugar regulating benefits. Other portable snacks that won’t trigger a sugar crash: a scoop of nut butter or hummus; cut raw veggies, and hard-boiled eggs.

15. Ditch dried fruit — Give fruit ‘leather’ and dried fruit a hard pass – they’re not remotely healthy, are often injected with extra sugar and nutritionally comparable to a candy bar.

16. Drink more unsweetened everything – Staying hydrated helps keep sugar cravings under control, so drink up. Plain water, organic teas, infused waters and seltzer or mineral water – all will do the trick.

17. Let go of sweet liquids – In particular, fruit juices and sodas which release a tsunami of sugar into the bloodstream and bring health problems with virtually every sip.

18. Lay off alcohol – Alcohol is a toxin, so I am not a fan, but the occasional clear alcohol or occasional glass of wine with dinner isn’t completely off the table. Ideally stick to unflavored tequila, gin, or vodka on the rocks or with seltzer and a splash of bitters or lime/lemon. If you want wine, opt for the driest wines possible and keep your pours to no more than 5 ounces. This will ensure that there’s not more than 1 -2 grams of sugar in your glass. According to Women’s Health magazine, dry reds and whites with less than 1.5 grams of sugar include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz and Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Viognier. The trick is to stop at 5 ounces.

19. Brown bag it – To keep sugar out of your mid-day meal, brown bag it. Making your own lunches puts you in charge of your ingredients and keep meals sugar-free. If you’re short on time and meal prep isn’t a viable option for you, then try a meal delivery service that caters to special dietary requests.

20. Redesign dessert – The fewer after-dinner treats or late night snacks you tuck into the better, especially to extend your overnight fast. But if your late-night cravings won’t be denied, then go with a treat that won’t spike your blood sugar. Here too, berries or mixed berries can help.  Try topping them with cinnamon and apple pie spice for a pie-like taste, or snack on a few slices of low-sugar green apple dipped in nut butter. A decaf cappuccino topped with cinnamon or cocoa powder also makes a simple sugar-free night time treat.

21. Do a sugar and spice switcheroo – Using spice as flavor enhancers – like vanilla extract, almond extract, cacao, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, anise, fennel, etc. – you can will easily amp up flavors while tamping down sugar cravings.

22. Put supplements on your sugar-slashing team – Nutrient deficiencies intensify sugar cravings, so consider adding 3 – 4 supplements to help loosen sugar’s grip: 1) a high-quality multivitamin 2) an omega 3 fatty acids and 3) vitamin D3. For added support, you can also add L-glutamine, a rather ingenious supplement, which effectively tricks the brain into thinking it’s getting fed the glucose (sugar) it loves. When you’re working on your sugar divorce, try a dose of 1,000 – 2,000 mg of L-glutamine every few hours to blunt those cravings.

23. Push back on cravings – Sugar cravings are real, but you have more push back power over them than you may realize. Instead of caving into them, fight back by redirecting your energy. Try a quick 5-minute meditation; do a few deep breathing exercises; take a walk around the block; do some yoga stretches; or step outside to soak up a little sun. By the time you’re done, the craving will have passed, and you can move on to other challenges.

24. Don’t give up the fight – When it comes to divorcing sugar, keep at it. If you slip up and have more sugar than you should, don’t throw in the towel. Just get back on the horse immediately and keep trying. Every ounce of effort is worth it – and by the end of 2024, if not sooner, you will put sugar behind you!

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