As we begin the New Year, many of us may have made resolutions to improve our health – whether it was to eat a healthier diet, get more regular exercise, or lose some excess weight.
Perhaps one of the best things we could all do to improve our health would be to go through our kitchen pantry and look for an ingredient hidden in many of our foods without us even realizing it – sugar.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the sweet flavour is understood to help support the Spleen-Pancreas system including digestion, mental focus, and muscle tone.
In ancient times, these nourishing sweet foods took the form of unrefined whole foods such as grains, legumes, root vegetables, and fruit. However, in modern society too much of our food is highly processed and contains various forms of refined sugar which can have completely different effects on our bodies than their whole food counterparts.
A recent article looking at the health effects of sugar cited a study of common everyday food items revealing that more than 2/3 of them contain added refined sugar and that serious chronic health conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are all linked to sugar. Emotional symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, brain fog, and difficulty focusing can also be a result of excess sugar in the diet.
Because sugar can be so addictive, not only on a physical level but also as a temporary emotional comfort, it can be very difficult trying to remove it from our diet. However, small steps can be taken to reduce our refined sugar intake and help to improve our health.
- Read those labels – Sugar takes different forms and may be referred to by many other names, including sucrose, glucose, fructose, and corn syrup. The majority of prepared or packaged foods contain some type of added sugar, so careful label reading and comparison shopping can help us make better food choices.
- Use healthier sweeteners – Less refined sweeteners such as rice syrup, maple syrup, barley malt, molasses, and dates can provide a healthier alternative to refined sugar to help satisfy a sweet tooth but should still be only used in small quantities. It may take some time to get used to their less sweet flavour but eventually the sense of taste will adapt. Note: The use of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame is associated with its own set of health problems so is best avoided.
- Gradual change – Eating more plant-based foods that contain a good balance of complex carbohydrates and protein including chickpeas and black beans, as well as the yellow and orange coloured vegetables such as carrots, yams, and squash can help reduce the cravings when sugar consumption is reduced. Even when it’s difficult to completely stay away from sugar in our diet, it’s good to remember that overindulgence doesn’t have to be permanent and that we can choose to start back up again with healthier eating habits.