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Sugar Addicts Anonymous-How To Stop the Cravings

 By Julia Califano

There's no doubt about it: Americans have a problem with sugar. At one
end of the spectrum, there are those of us who still crave our favorite
childhood foods, such as Cocoa Puffs, Twinkies and Mars bars, but beat
ourselves up each time we succumb and bring some of the sweet stuff home.

Then there are those who are straight-up sugar junkies, like Naomi Burton
Isaacs, 45, who used to begin each day with orange and yellow Chuckles.
"I was under the illusion that I was getting vitamin C by eating lemon
and orange flavors," says the New York City professional. Isaacs' lunch
consisted of a bag of Hershey's miniatures. "I convinced myself that if
they were small and I had to unwrap them, somehow I was burning
calories," she explains. And dinner? A bag of licorice Allsorts. Yummy.

According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), there is no
conclusive evidence as there is with nicotine that humans can become
addicted to sugar. However, registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer, author
of "Food and Mood," says that recent studies may change current thinking.
"There is interesting evidence that the taste of sugar on babies' tongues
releases endorphins, a morphine-like substance," she says. According to
Somer, as with other addictions, sugar fiends often find that going cold
turkey and cutting sugar out of their diet virtually ends their cravings.
This worked for Burton Isaacs, who quit candy completely after 25 years
and has been "clean" for four years now. "It takes three whole days
[before the cravings stop], but it does work," she says.

Of course, most of us aren't eating Snickers bars for breakfast, but we
are eating more sugar than we think or should. Many of the foods we eat
on a regular basis, including granola bars, cereal, muffins and even
canned pasta sauces and ketchup, contain sizable quantities of hidden
sugars in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, sucrose,
fructose and dextrose. All that sugar, on top of the healthy-but-sweet
servings of fruit and juice that we consume, can cause a serious sugar
overload. "Americans consume twice as much simple sugar as they should,"
says ADA spokesperson Julie Walsh, a registered dietitian. "And when you
over consume sugar, that can lead to weight gain."

Aside from obesity which is linked to increased risk of heart disease,
high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers the main hazard of
excess sugar consumption is tooth decay. Sugar also fills the body with
empty calories, which can lead us to skimp on foods we really need,
namely vegetables, grains and proteins. Research shows that the average
American ingests approximately 24 teaspoons of sugar each day; your goal
should be to slash that amount in half. Here are four sugar-busting

1. Eat breakfast. "People who eat breakfast are less likely to have
[sugar] cravings," says Somer. When your body wakes up, it wants the
instant energy boost that carbohydrates provide. If you don't fuel up in
the a.m., that chemistry comes back to haunt you: "By afternoon, you're
hungry, and the carb you should have had as oatmeal you're now eating in
the form of a chocolate chip cookie," says Somer. Filling up early in the
day will make you less likely to overeat or binge on junk when lunchtime
rolls around. Prime low-sugar breakfast choices include eggs, unsweetened
whole-grain cereal and fruit with unsweetened yogurt.

2. Dilute drinks. Consider diluting soda, juice and other sweet drinks
with water, suggests Walsh. Also, try to make water your drink of choice.
Not all waters are created equal: "The new vitamin water drinks on the
market are loaded with sugar," Walsh cautions. Aim for eight glasses of
tap or mineral water a day.

3. Go halfsies. It's easy math: To reduce your sugar intake, eat half the
amount of the sugary foods you usually have. Drink only half a glass of
soda, or cut up that muffin. Eventually you can wean yourself down to a
quarter of the amount. For many sugar lovers, this is a better strategy
than going cold turkey, since caving in just a little to your craving can
be enough to satisfy it, while restricting yourself completely may only
ratchet up your desire. "For many people, the pendulum can quickly swing
from abstinence to bingeing," Somer explains.

4. Test your cravings. Sometimes your desire for sugary foods isn't as
straightforward as it might seem. Before you cave, figure out what role
your body wants the sweet stuff to fulfill. If you think you're craving
ice cream, have a tall glass of ice water instead. Somer says many of her
patients find that what they were actually craving was something cold or
wet, so ice water does the trick. And sometimes a piece of fruit will
give you the energy boost you're hankering for in the form of a candy bar
plus, the fruit will provide you with some much-needed vitamins. It's
up to you to channel your cravings in a healthy direction.




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