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Hannah Ebelthite is a freelance health, fitness and wellbeing writer. With nearly two decades experience in journalism, she has held staff posts on Cosmopolitan, Zest and Healthy magazines, and writes for a wide range of...

Some people claim to be addicted to sugar. If you find it hard to cut down, try these strategies

SOME PEOPLE – such as Jeff O’Connell, author of Sugar Nation: The Hidden Truth Behind America’s Deadliest Habit – are convinced the chemicals released by sugar travel the same pathways in the brain as drugs. Jeff argues sugar prompts the release of dopamine, a feelgood chemical, so we seek to repeat the experience, gradually needing more and more sugar for the same effect.

Some nutritionists say the rollercoaster effect sugar has on blood glucose levels can mimic addiction, because sugar causes an energy boost that’s followed by an energy slump, which leads to cravings for more sugary or starchy foods. But others argue the body is very good at self-regulating and, for most, physiological symptoms are overplayed – a low mood is more likely to be caused by guilt at overindulging than an actual blood sugar crash.

It’s more likely sugar could encourage psychological dependence. ‘Anything that gives us pleasure or security can be habit-forming,’ says clinical hypnotherapist and overeating expert Georgia Foster. ‘Most of us were brought up associating sweet treats with celebration, reward or comfort, so it’s the experience, rather than the sugar, we crave.’

If you believe you have some type of dependence on sugar, the psychological interventions that work for other addictions – counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, hypnotherapy and psychotherapy – may help.

What about children’s sweet treats?

You don’t need to ban sugar. But too much sweetness when we’re young may set up a preference for sweet food for the rest of our lives – which may result in consuming excess calories. Try these strategies:
Get children to eat sweet treats consciously while sitting down, rather than eating them mindlessly while doing other activities.
Watch out for breakfast cereals with high levels of sugar.
Try not to use biscuits and sweets as a bribe for good behaviour.
Encourage them to drink water or milk rather than always offering juice or squash.

Easy ways to cut down

Get baking – if you like the occasional cake or biscuit, make your own so you can control the ingredients (you can normally halve the sugar content without affecting the quality). You’ll find plenty of healthier sweet recipes in our recipes section and in the pages of Healthy Food Guide magazine every month.
Try sugar substitutes – natural products like stevia are sweeter than sugar, with fewer calories.
Use spices for flavour without sugar – try cinnamon, mixed spice and ginger in stewed fruits, porridge and puddings.
Watch drinks – alcohol, fizzy drinks and juices are an easy way to overload on sugar without noticing. Try sparkling water with lemon slices and fresh mint sprigs, chilled herbal teas or diluted juice.
Keep an eye out for hidden sugar in unlikely foods – look for ingredients ending in ‘ose’ on the ingredients label and check out the value for sugars: less than 5g per 100g is considered low in sugar while more than 15g per 100g is considered high (although this value refers to all sugars, not just added ones).
Choose lower-sugar versions of cereals, baked beans, soups, canned tomatoes and ketchup.
Eat fewer processed carbohydrates such as white bread, croissants, muffins, biscuits, cakes, chocolate and sweets. Switch to wholegrains instead.

Hidden sugar

Check out some of the more unlikely products you’ll find sugar in:

30g cornflakes = ½tsp

1tbsp salad cream = ½tsp

1tbsp balsamic vinegar = ½tsp

1 slice bread = ½tsp

1tbsp tomato ketchup = 1tsp

1/3 large tin mushroom soup = 1tsp

2tbsp coleslaw = 1tsp

1/3  jar of salsa = 1tsp

30g branflakes = 1½tsp

125g ready made bolognese sauce = 2tsp

400g lasagne ready meal = 3tsp

400g chicken tikka masala ready meal = 3½tsp