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Princeton Doc: “The Average Woman Unknowingly Consumes 22 Tsp. of Sugar a Day” — How to Cut Back & Lose Weight

“You’re going to see extra energy, more mental clarity, movement and weight loss,” says Dr. Avena. It worked for Virginia!

Darn those good intentions… We grab a healthy snack bar or yogurt cup, hoping the low-calorie, low-fat foods will help us lose weight. But then we’re hungry again 45 minutes later. So we reach for another snack, then another, unable to curb our cravings. Why can’t we stop eating? New research reveals that hidden sugars are driving our eating habits. We spoke to the world’s leading authority on sugar addiction to learn exactly how to cut back on sugar so we can shed unwanted weight. Neuroscientist and renowned researcher Nicole Avena, PhD, reveals, “It’s really easy to be overeating sugar and not realize it, even when you think you’re eating a low-sugar diet and making healthy choices.” Read on for all her sweet wisdom.

Most of us are eating more sugar than we realize

“At least 75% of us are consuming more sugar than we should,” asserts Dr. Avena, author of Sugarless. She reports that over the years, the average American has gone from consuming 4 grams of sugar per day to an average of 92 grams (22 tsp.) — that’s a 2,100% increase!

Most so-called “healthy” packaged foods also contain loads of added sugar. And these items— like yogurt, salad dressing and granola — drive hunger. How? “They don’t satisfy chemicals in your brain that promote satiety,” says Dr. Avena, who has authored more than 100 research papers on the subject. Her Princeton University research on sugar addiction is legendary among scientists.

How excess sugar harms our body

In the ’70s, manufacturers began to sneak sugar into products to mask lost flavor from the low-fat, low-calorie craze. But our bodies and brains couldn’t handle all that sweetness! Read on to learn the downsides of excess sugar.

Added sugar harms the brain

The brain’s appetite-control regions were meant to recognize sweetness only found in nature, like in wild berries. Dr. Avena says, “Now our brain is being blasted multiple times each day with the effects of 10 times that amount of sugar.” As a result of all this hidden sugar, our brain’s reward centers became overactive, making it tough to resist binges. “These foods hijack our system and set our pleasure-seeking into overdrive,” says Dr. Avena. We then build up a tolerance, requiring more and more sugar to achieve a prior level of satisfaction, much like what happens with drug addiction. Dr. Avena says, “Slowly but surely, hidden sugar is a silent killer, much like cigarettes.”

Added sugar drains energy

“We’re taught sugar is energy, but it’s really the opposite,” says Robert Lustig, MD, author of Metabolical. Consider sugary energy drinks. “Any benefit you think you are getting will be quickly reversed by the energy drain from the sugar crash you’ll experience soon after drinking one,” explains Dr. Avena.

Added sugar drives metabolic dysfunction and belly fat

“Gaining weight is one of the side effects of being addicted to hidden sugar,” explains Dr. Avena. Indeed, women’s health expert Sara Szal Gottfried, MD, describes sugar as a “hormonal calamity” for menopausal women. And in animal studies, rats eating a high-sugar liquid developed 43% more belly fat than rats that didn’t get the sugar.

Cutting back on sugar promotes weight loss

The good news: When you reduce sugar you automatically shed weight. A study in Obesity shows that limiting sugar, without limiting calories, reverses a host of metabolic diseases. “You’re going to see a domino effect: extra energy, more mental clarity, movement and weight loss,” says Dr. Avena, who has seen women lose 5 pounds in a week. Joan Bjornsgaard lost 73 pounds and eased her joint pain and anxiety. “The concept that this was a brain thing and not a moral failing was big for me.”

How to overcome a sugar addiction

Dr. Avena says, “slowly identifying, replacing and reducing sugar will help you break your dependency.” The goal, she says, is to de-sweeten your diet. The daily recommended allowance of sugar for women is no more than 25 grams (about 6 tsp.), although Dr. Avena says, “Below that is really the sweet spot: then you’re Super Woman.”

The doctor advises making small changes that are sustainable. Her mantra is: “Replace. Don’t remove.” Keep reading to learn the perfect foods to eat while cutting back on sugar. And keep scrolling to read how one woman lost more than 100 pounds when she kicked her sugar addiction…

10 foods that crush cravings

Research shows when you eat the right foods, they have a huge impact on cravings. In one study at Case Western Reserve, folks who did so experienced a 210% increase in the hunger-suppressing hormone leptin. So Dr. Avena identified which foods are proven to quiet an overactive brain and naturally control hunger. When hunger strikes, reach for one of her 10 “craving crushing” foods:

1. Pistachios

refined sugar: Pistachios

Like meat, these nuts are “complete proteins.” Dr. Avena explains, “Protein’s amino acids can build up the pathways in our brain that stop sugar addiction.” Plus, cracking the shells slows down eating.

2. Berries

refined sugar: Blueberries and strawberries on the plate

“Fiber is your best friend when trying to avoid sugar cravings,” says Dr. Avena. And the fiber in these gems blunts their natural sugar. Plus, they contain inflammation-reducing polyphenols and antioxidants.

3. Avocados

refined sugar: Woman holding halved avocado

“We don’t crave something sweet when we are nourished by monounsaturated fats,” says Dr. Avena. These fats boost satiety hormones in the brain and cut hunger.

4. Chia seeds

refined sugar: Chia seeds spilling out of a glass jar on a blue-yellow background. Healthy food concept, superfood, dietary supplements.

These seeds are “high biological value” (HBV) foods. Dr. Avena says, “HBV proteins are easier for our body to absorb and utilize, and therefore control sugar cravings.” Our pick: FGO Organic Chia Seeds (buy on Amazon, $19.94).

5. Chickpeas

refined sugar: Raw chickpeas in a ceramic bowl on a wooden kitchen board on a black bachground

Their soluble and insoluble fiber are great for boosting the diversity of bugs in the gut. This helps improve the gut-brain connection to stop cravings at the source.

6. Whole oats

refined sugar: Oats, rolled oats or oat flakes in wooden bowl and wooden spoon. Top view. Healthy grains, low carb diet food

“Fatigue is one of the leading causes of sugar cravings,” says Dr. Avena. But this complex grain boosts energy with slow- and fast-digesting carbs. Plus, its beta-glucan fiber slashes post-meal blood-sugar spikes, breaking the cravings cycle.

7. Olives

refined sugar: Different kinds of olives in olive oil with herbs on a wooden background with olive tree branches

When eaten with complex carbs, the polyunsaturated fatty acids in olives regulate the balance of blood sugar entering our bloodstream and the insulin needed to handle it. Says Dr. Avena, “This fights insulin resistance, a common condition among those who eat too much sugar.” Our fave: Pearls Simply Olives (buy on Amazon, $33.48)

8. Sweet potatoes

refined sugar: tray of oven baked sweet potato chips in closeup. Baked with paprika, rosemary and salt. Homemade cooked sweet potatoes with spices and herbs on oven-tray.

These spuds are rich in carotenoids, a form of vitamin A that rewires our sugar-affected brain over time, according to the North Carolina Sweet Potato Council.

9. Greek yogurt

refined sugar: Healthy breakfast with Fresh greek yogurt on background

This rich protein keeps you full and promotes sleep, preventing bedtime binges. Our pick: Yoplait Lite Greek Yogurt, at grocery stores.

10. Spirulina

refined sugar: Spirulina powder, spirulina nutritional supplement.

This green powder, made from algae, is packed with vitamins and minerals that curb appetite. Add to smoothies and yogurt. One to try: Vimergy Spirulina Powder (buy on Amazon, $35.15) Click through for delicious spirulina powder smoothie recipes!

Sugar detox success story: Virginia Connolly, 61

before and after of Virginia Connolly, who lost weight when she learned how to cut back on sugar
Grace Cavarra

Standing for just 5 minutes at the kitchen counter was agonizing for Virginia Connolly. I’m only 55, she thought. Why do I feel like an OLD 85-year-old?

In addition to mobility, Virginia struggled with a decades-long battle with diabetes. Her sweet cravings were so strong, she admits, “I would treat sugar lows with candy.”

Cutting back on sugar was the secret

Then Virginia skeptically tried a low-carb keto diet, which is basically sugar-free, at the urging of her doctor. She cut her daily intake to 20 grams of carbs or less. She fueled up on protein-rich meals and enjoyed hunger-­satisfying foods like yogurt, seeds and berries. She swapped potatoes for mashed kohlrabi. Taking one day at time, things got easier. She learned sugar just wasn’t good for her system. Her advice: “Pretty much anything in a package has sugar. Check your ingredients. Sugar can be hidden by 100 names on labels.”

In all, Virginia shed 116 pounds and erased acid reflux, joint pain and high blood pressure. Best of all, her A1C dropped from 7.2 to 5.2, reversing her type 2 diabetes. She says, “My medical expenses went way down!” Her husband even lost 35 pounds and improved his arthritis.

Now, Virginia says she feels 45. “Freedom from sugar is a blessing. It’s life-changing,” she says. “I call it the #2 miracle of my life. Getting sober 22 years ago was the first!”

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

For more ways to cut back on sugar, keep reading:

Top Doctor: *This* Sweetener Dials Down Blood Sugar to Make Weight Loss Effortless

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