There’s no way around it — Americans are addicted to sugar.
The average American consumes about 20 teaspoons, or 80 grams, of sugar a day. To put that into perspective, the American Heart Association suggests the average woman should eat no more than 25 grams of sugar a day, and men should limit their daily sugar intake to no more than 36 grams. And reaching those daily sugar limits is all too easy — a single 12 oz bottle of soda contains about 65 grams of sugar.
An excess of sugar has been linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In fact, non-alcoholic liver disease is the most common form of chronic liver disease in the United States, affecting about 80 to 100 million people.
But for many people, quitting sugar isn’t that simple — previous studies have shown that excessive sugar consumption increases dopamine levels in the brain in a similar way drugs like cocaine do.
However, there is hope to kick your sugar addiction. Here are some simple steps you can take to remedy your sugar addiction.
- Don’t Have It in the House
This is a simple and effective first step — just don’t keep tempting sugar in the house. If things like chocolate cupcakes and other snacks are not in your home, you are far less likely to mindlessly eat them while watching TV, for example.
- Retrain Your Taste Buds
Yes, you can actually retrain your taste buds to enjoy things that aren’t so sweet. Start small by cutting out one sweet food from your diet a week and using less sugar in your coffee or tea. If you keep this up, and slowly begin to exclude more and more sugary foods from your diet, you will lose your need for that sugar taste over time.
- Go for Low Glycemic Treats to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
Sometimes, your craving for sweets is just too strong to ignore, so instead of reaching for a chocolate bar, try eating something a bit healthier that’s low glycemic. For instance, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are all great alternatives that will satisfy your sweet tooth. By being low glycemic, these treats produce little sugar in your blood and won’t trigger your addiction to sugar.
- Eat More Protein
Adding more protein to your diet is an easy way to stop those sugar cravings before they even start. Your body digests protein slower, keeping you full longer. Protein also doesn’t make your blood sugar levels spike the way sugar and refined carbs do. However, it’s important to pick lean protein like chicken, salmon, Greek yogurt, eggs or nuts.
A 2013 study from the University of Missouri found that eating protein can lessen the response of the reward center in your brain, which is often triggered by high-fat and high-sugar foods that you would typically crave.
- Eat More Fiber
Similar to protein, eating more fiber can also keep you more full throughout the day. High-fiber foods also give you more energy without raising your blood sugar levels, so there’s no crash that you’d normally get with sugar. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are rich in fiber.
- Keep an Eye Out for Hidden Sugars
You may think you’re doing well on cutting down on your sugar consumption, but there are lots of foods you may be eating that are loaded with hidden sugar. Barbecue sauce, granola bars, certain fruit yogurts and dried fruit may seem healthy, but they’re all loaded with sugar.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.