It’s time to call sugar out for what it is: A heartbreaker, a big-tummy maker, and a health-food faker. We’re not talking about the sugar that comes in fruit (because a lot of Americans aren’t getting enough servings of the healthy food, as it is), but the refined stuff, such as high-fructose corn syrup, that sneaks into everything from ketchup to coffee creamers.
To help you quit the white stuff, we rounded up 18 experts to share their favorite sugar-ditching tips.
1. Avoid double agents, says Tasneem Bhatia, MD, former FDA commissioner and author of What Doctors Eat. If you think your oatmeal and yogurt are health foods, time to turn the package over. “Flavored instant oatmeal is often a vehicle for sugar, with about three teaspoons of added sugar in each little packet,” warns Dr. Bhatia.
Yogurt is another sneaky sugar food. “The sugar-filled stuff is candy in disguise,” she says. Yogurt does have naturally occurring dairy sugar and, if sweetened with fruit, the fruit has sugar too, but these aren’t the culprits. “Fruit and flavored yogurts often contain added sugar in the form of sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup.”
2. Love your liver, advises Frances Murchison, HHC, AADP, author of Heal Your Whole Body. Your liver does more than filter out your body’s toxins—it also plays a vital role for your sugar cravings. “A healthy liver plays a key role in regulating blood sugar levels,” says Murchison. “High blood sugar levels can leave you hungry, unable to concentrate, confused, emotionally volatile—and absolutely craving sugar.”
3. Feed your good gut bacteria, suggests Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN, CHN, author of Digestion Connection. Your gut bacteria play a surprising role in setting off food cravings, so keep them happy with the right foods. “Honey is a good prebiotic food,” says Lipski. “Other foods with probiotics include asparagus, bananas, eggplant, garlic, kefir, sugar maple, and yogurt.”
4. Eat more chocolate as a way to stay satisfied, says Will Clower, PhD, author of Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight. Chocolate is a great tool for taming your sweet tooth. “Teach your tastes to like the healthier options—like dark chocolate,” says Clower. “In neuroscience, this is called ‘gustatory habituation.'” He likens it to making the switch from whole milk to skim—at first skim tastes like water, but after a while, you wonder how you ever drank milk that now tastes like cream.
Chocolate is a great way to train your brain to prefer less-sweet foods because there’s a wide variety of chocolate sold, from milk chocolate to upwards of 85 percent dark. “As your preference moves toward darker chocolate, your tastes will be sculpted so that you won’t even want your former faves.”
5. Eat fat, says JJ Virgin, CNS, CHFS to help break the sugar cycle.Indulging your sugar cravings will only set you up for more failure later. Virgin explains that high-sugar foods cause blood-sugar spikes, leading to insulin imbalances. Follow this down the rabbit hole and you go into a nasty downward cycle of cravings, spikes, and more sugar.
Instead, satisfy your cravings with healthy fats. “Fat doesn’t raise your insulin levels,” says Virgin. “Insulin doesn’t acknowledge fat, and that’s just the way you want it.” She recommends having two to three servings of healthy fats, like avocado, ghee, or olive oil, at every meal.