Health and Well-being Diet and nutrition

Nine steps to stopping your sugar addiction

As a registered dietitian, Bridget Reiter (MS ’12) knows a lot about the dietary dangers lurking in people’s pantries and refrigerators. But there’s one culprit she tries hardest to avoid: added sugar. “The sugar addiction is real," she said. "It’s also very hard on the body, so you’ll get a blood sugar spike and then it drops, and then you want more because your body has pumped all that extra insulin. That process is very tiring on your organs. The body is a great regulator, but you can abuse it.”

Reiter knows firsthand the powerful temptation of sweets. “If I have a bite of cake in the morning, I know I’m going to be intensely craving sugar later in the day,” she said. After watching the documentary Fed Up she took the film’s 10-day challenge of going sugar free and immediately noticed how much better she felt; now she advises her patients to do the same.

Since graduating from Loyola, Reiter has worked in Mobile, Alabama; she got her first job at a hospital there thanks to a connection she made during her dietetic internship in Chicago. She spent some time working with patients on dialysis to help optimize their diets and now works with a private nutrition counseling company called The Delicious Dietitian. Reiter finds her geographic location provides additional challenges in giving dietary advice.

“The South is an even more difficult place to work as a dietitian because they really do love their Southern food here,” she said.

Reiter offers some of her expert advice on reducing your sugar intake:

Read the label

Sugars sometimes hide in foods you don’t expect. Processed foods such as spaghetti sauce, bread, and yogurt can hide shockingly high levels of added sugars. Sugar can also be disguised under dozens of different names, including sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, among others. “Read the ingredients really carefully,” said Reiter. “Labels are tricky because there are a lot of label loopholes.” If you don’t recognize an ingredient, look it up.

Eat whole foods in their original form

Most American adults don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Shop more from the produce department than from the processed-heavy middle aisles of the grocery store. Aim for five to nine servings of produce a day, and fill up half your plate with vegetables at mealtimes.

Out of sight, out of mind

Banish that desktop candy bowl and keep healthier snacks handy for when hunger strikes. “If you’re craving a cookie, offer yourself a piece of fruit instead,” she said. “If you do not want that piece of fruit, you are not truly hungry.” If you want to make a healthy snack more satisfying, Reiter suggests pairing fruit with peanut or almond butter, or snacking on a few chocolate-dusted almonds.

Watch what you drink

Sodas, juices, and fancy coffee drinks might taste great, but they’re often loaded with sugar. “I usually tell people: do not drink your calories unless it’s something that has other nutrition, like dairy milk or soy milk.” But watch out for plant-based milks, which can also be sweetened; look for labels that specify “unsweetened.” If you’re in the mood for something warm, consider sugar-free cocoa or herbal tea without added sugar.

Beware reduced-fat products

“Fat is a flavor enhancer,” Reiter explained. “When something that enhances flavor is removed or reduced from a food, the manufacturer has to replace it with something else—oftentimes sugar and/or salt. Therefore, the regular version of something in a small amount is often better than modifications.” The exception is reduced fat milk and yogurt, which simply have fat removed.

Start small

“Little swaps are more sustainable changes,” Reiter noted. Instead of adding sugar to your morning coffee, try using just a little half and half, which contains naturally occurring sugar, or culinary coconut milk, which is naturally sweet.

Explore alternatives

“If I have to use some kind of sweetener in a recipe, I often use Stevia,” Reiter said. Monkfruit, maple syrup, honey, and molasses are also natural sweeteners, though make sure you’re using pure maple syrup and not a processed imitation. “Anything that comes from nature is going to be better for you,” she said. Not all sweeteners can be equally substituted without throwing off the recipe, so Reiter recommends searching for a low-sugar or no added sugar version of your recipe before you start experimenting.

Reset your taste buds

Reiter recommends starting with the 10-day challenge to avoid added sugar. “Once you get your taste buds adjusted to eating without the extra sugar, they become very sensitive,” she said. “I can bite into whole wheat bread from a restaurant and tell if they used sugar.”

Moderation is key

You don’t need to go cold turkey. “Even dietitians eat dessert,” Reiter said. “We just usually share it.”

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