Over and over my clients tell me that their sweet tooth prevents them from healthy eating.
Just what is a sweet tooth? According to the Oxford Dictionary, a sweet tooth is simply a liking for sweet foods. We’re actually born with a preference for sweet foods, which means that all of us naturally have a sweet tooth. How we choose to satisfy our desire for sweets plays a major role in our health.
Naturally concurring vs added sugars
Naturally occurring sugars are present in our foods without us adding anything. Many people manage their sweet tooth by reaching for naturally sweet fresh fruit. Freezing fruit intensifies its sweet flavor: try munching frozen blueberries or grapes instead of reaching for a candy bar. Lactose in milk is another natural source of sugar, yet most of us would not classify milk – unless we’re talking chocolate or strawberry milk – as sweet. Foods that contain naturally occurring sugars are packed with vitamins and minerals. Fruit is a good source of fiber and phytochemicals that promote good health; milk is a good source of calcium and protein.
Added sugars are the real problem because they add calories without any important nutrients. When we fill up on cakes and cookies instead of fruit or reach for sweetened ice tea or lemonade instead of milk we’re depriving our body of the essential nutrients it needs for optimum health.
The major sources of added sugar are:
– regular soft drinks
– sugar that we add to our foods and beverages
– fruit drinks
– ice cream
– sweetened yogurt
– sweetened grain foods such as cinnamon toast, honey waffles or sweetened breakfast cereals
You can have your cake and eat it too
I do not advocate completely avoiding added sugars, and instead recommend figuring out how to enjoy smaller portions of sweet foods less often. A good guideline is no more than 100 calories (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for women, and no more than 150 calories (or 9 teaspoons) of sugar per day for men. Start by identifying the sources of sugar in your daily food choices by keeping a food log. Note which foods and beverages contain added sugar, and then make a choice:
– You might choose to drink unsweetened herbal ice tea instead of sweetened tea.
– Include a piece of fresh fruit for dessert at lunch instead of ice cream.
– Instead of flavored (and sweetened) oatmeal for breakfast, choose plain oatmeal topped with fresh or frozen fruit
– Go for a walk outside instead of relaxing at the end of a stressful day with a cookie.
Make enjoying a sweet a pleasant, relaxing experience. When we mindlessly eat jelly beans while working at our computer, or work our way through a bag of cookies watching TV, we’re not noticing the taste of the food. Try this experiment: Sit in a quiet, comfortable location with no distractions. Take one small piece of dark chocolate and place it in your mouth. Without chewing, let the chocolate melt in your mouth. Notice the changes in texture and flavor as the chocolate melts, and focus in on the sweet taste. Give yourself at least 5 minutes to thoroughly enjoy the chocolate.
Guess what? You’re satisfied with the one small piece of chocolate and you’ve banished your sweet tooth.