Life is not sugar: how to stop dependence on sweets

Hey! I am Katya and I have a sweet tooth. It doesn’t sound scary at all, but addiction to sweets is not at all harmless.

According to WHO recommendations, the share of sugar should not exceed 5-10% of all calories that we consume during the day. At the same time, a large glass of caramel frappuccino contains 300 kcal and 48 g of refined white sugar. And that’s not counting the whipped cream caps.

Let’s figure out why a lot of sugar is bad, how to replace harmful sweets and how to stop reaching for “this last” cookie.

Bad sugar vs. good sugar

In fact, our body is a sugar machine: glucose is its main fuel and the fastest way to get energy. Every time you eat foods that are naturally high in carbohydrates, they are immediately converted to glucose. It is absorbed into the bloodstream, which carries it throughout the body, providing energy for metabolism.

At the same time, about a quarter of glucose is consumed by our brain. Therefore, any interruption in the supply of glucose is immediately reflected in mental performance, and a sharp drop in blood sugar can even lead to loss of consciousness.

Keeping glucose at a stable level is critical to brain function.

What’s wrong with sugar?

The fact is that when we talk about “sugar” we often imagine products of simple refined sugar and products containing it – conventional candy bars. Yes, such food leads to a sharp jump in blood sugar and a person feels a surge of energy. But simple sugar is absorbed very quickly and after the surge of energy a sharp decline follows, we feel lethargic, fatigue and go for the next portion.

Riding sugar slides is bad for your health. The hormone insulin regulates blood sugar levels. It is produced in the pancreas when we eat foods high in sugar. Insulin helps cells and tissues metabolize this sugar for energy, while at the same time removing excess sugar from the bloodstream.

If you often eat sweets (especially refined white sugar), the pancreas will be in constant tension. As a result, insulin sensitivity can be completely lost. When the pancreas is not doing its job, blood sugar levels remain elevated despite the amount of insulin secreted. This can lead to insulin resistance – the body produces it but is unable to use it effectively. If a person has insulin resistance, blood glucose rises, disrupting the body’s overall metabolism. Potential consequences: increased fat accumulation, damage to brain health, risk of diabetes.

In general, being a sweet tooth is not at all great.


Helpful Sources of Glucose

Lisa Mosconi, author of Diet for the Mind, recommends focusing on foods that are low glycemic and high in fiber.

Glycemic index

A good help for those looking to track their sugar intake is the glycemic index. It is a metric that helps classify foods based on their ability to raise blood sugar. If sugar from a product quickly enters the bloodstream, it is assigned a high index, and those products that slightly raise blood sugar are assigned a low index. In addition, it is important to know the glycemic load. This indicator reflects not only how quickly sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, but also how much fiber it contains (the more, the better, since it reduces the time that sugar remains at a high level).


Foods that quickly increase sugar levels and are poor in plant fiber are the worst things we can eat. These include sugary drinks, fruit juices, pastries and sweets, as well as white flour dishes such as pasta and pizza. But complex carbohydrates and starchy foods rich in fiber are harder for the body to digest, so sugar enters the bloodstream more slowly. These include sweet potatoes, fiber-rich berries and fruits (cherries and grapefruit), and vegetables (pumpkin and carrots). Legumes will also provide stable sugar levels while simultaneously supplying the brain with glucose. In other words, if you have a sweet tooth, fiber is your salvation.

70% cocoa

If you’re not ready to give up sweets entirely, don’t despair. Some foods that until recently were considered harmful have a low glycemic load. These are, for example, dark organic chocolate (70% cocoa and above) or popcorn.

But if it were so easy to replace unhealthy foods with useful ones, you would not start reading this article 🙂

How do we get on the sugar slides

When we can’t refuse tea candy or ice cream with our favorite flavor, we demonstrate one of the most ancient learning processes known to science today. In the book The Dependent Brain, the basic principle of this process is described as follows.

We see food that is attractive to us. The brain signals: “These are calories, your survival depends on them!” And we eat. If we like the taste (especially when it is sweet), the body sends a signal to the brain: remember what you eat and where you found it. We fix the process in memory, remembering the experience and location (in professional language this is called context-sensitive memory), and we learn to reproduce it over and over again. We see food. We eat. We feel good. We repeat again. Trigger – Behavior – Reward.

After a while, our smart brain says, “Hey! I can not only remember where the food is. Why don’t you eat something yummy next time to feel better? ” We thank the brain for a great idea, bring it to life and quickly realize that ice cream or chocolate eaten in a moment of anxiety or sadness really improves well-being. This is the same learning process, but with a different trigger – for example, feelings of sadness, which acts as an emotional signal instead of a signal of hunger.

Forming a healthy habit

Sean Young, author of Habits for Life, divides people’s behavior into three types: automatic (unconscious), burning (desires that are difficult to control) and ordinary (what we do periodically and consciously).

Constant sugar cravings refer to burning behaviors, along with other addictions such as smoking or constantly scrolling through social media feeds.

To curb burning behavior and replace a bad habit with a good one, the author of the book advises using the following principles: ease, fun and habit.

  1. Ease. A simple and effective principle: keep harmful sweets out of the reach, and healthy ones next to you. The minimum plan is to throw a bag of sweets on the highest kitchen cabinet, and put a basket of fruits and vegetables in the center of the table.
  2. Fascination. Checklists, trackers – any form where you can mark progress. Ideal – to keep in front of your eyes, for example, hang over your desk. And promise yourself a cool gift if you last a certain amount of time. Only, mind you, not a cake or a bucket of ice cream.
  3. Habit. We’ve already learned that sugar cravings can be triggered not by hunger, but by emotions, such as sadness or boredom. Snacking here and there, we may not realize how much sugar we eat. Keeping a food diary helps to take control of food – just write down everything you eat during the day in a special app or diary. I use LifeSum, the free version of the app is enough.

Two principles to follow: be honest – every cookie and every caramel (even a very small one) should get into the diary, be kind to yourself – stand in the position of an observer and do not scold yourself if you find that you are eating much more junk food and sugar than we thought.

This habit will help you develop awareness and understand what factors are pushing you to choose unhealthy foods.

Based on the books “Diet for the Mind”, “The Dependent Brain”, “Habits for Life.”

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