A sweet tooth can be hard to shake, especially when it requires more than quitting a gummy bear addiction or passing on the cookies and cakes. Sneaky sugar sources hide in the most seemingly healthy packaged foods, like granola bars, yogurt, peanut butter and even toothpaste. Those grams of sugar may look harmless, but they quickly add up. And the consequences on your health sure aren’t sweet.
“A sugar like fructose, for example, may increase blood pressure, increase heart rate and boost myocardial oxygen demand (basically, how much oxygen your heart needs to function). It may also contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance and overall metabolic dysfunction,” David Zinczenko, co-author of the bestselling book series Eat This, Not That!, discusses in his new book, Zero Sugar Diet: The 14-Day Plan to Flatten Your Belly, Crush Cravings, and Help Keep You Lean for Life.
What Is the Zero Sugar Diet?
In the book, Zinczenko helps you strip away a serious sugar addiction through a two-phase plan. The first phase lasts 14 days and resets your diet to help your body detox, balance hormone levels and shed pounds. During this phase, you’ll eat plenty of fiber-rich foods to help curb sugar cravings.
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“Fiber doesn’t sound sexy, but it can make you look and feel sexy — and live longer — because it prevents fat from forming inside your belly,” Zinczenko, editorial director at Men’s Fitness, says. “I’m a big fan of fiber-rich peas, lentils, black beans and Brussels sprouts.”
Zinczenko calls phase two the Zero Sugar Sustain program, which puts you on the path to healthier eating. This phase helps you rewire your brain to start eating fiber-rich foods instead of sugary ones. Sounds too good to be true? The book comes with meal plans to help you plan out each dish, healthy options at your favorite fast-food joints and a list with sneaky names for sugar.
Retraining Your Brain
“From the moment we try sugar as a young child, our brains are forever wired to crave it. But you can rewire your brain following the Zero Sugar Diet,” Zinczenko says. “Our test panelists found that when they gave up added sugars for 14 days, they stopped desiring them as much. And no sugar cravings means no sugar crashes, either.”
Zinczenko also warns against artificial sweeteners, which can trick our bodies into thinking we’re consuming sugar. “When we eat or drink something that tastes sweet, our brains get all psyched to digest sugar. The brain signals to the pancreas to create more insulin, so as to better manage the sugar calories it’s anticipating,” he explains. But when the calories don’t come, it can cause belly fat, Zinczenko says.
With that said, there are a few changes you can make to your diet to re-train your brain and body to stop the sweet cravings. Try these simple food swaps that add more fiber, lean protein and healthy fat into your diet, without sacrificing taste.
RELATED: Are Artificial Sweeteners Wrecking Your Diet?
6 Healthy Food Swaps for a Sugar Detox
Breakfast #1: Peanut Butter and Jelly on an English Muffin
Swap with…Avocado on Sprouted Bread
We love a good PBJ, but finding store-bought peanut butter sans added sweetness (which often comes in the form of palm fruit oil) can get challenging. Be sure to read ingredient labels carefully and find a nut butter that’s made purely with nuts, oil and a little sea salt. Or, consider having avocado toast instead. The high-fat content in avocado keeps you satisfied, while sprouted bread provides more fiber, vitamins and minerals. Upgrade your avocado toast with lime juice, a dash of red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper and sea salt. You can also top it with a poached egg for more protein.
Breakfast #2: Almond Milk and Whole-Grain Cereal
Swap with…Overnight Oats with Berries
If you’re living a dairy-free life or want to cut back on saturated fat, take note that most nut milks, soy milk and rice milks contain loads of added sugar. Go for unsweetened versions, instead. And while most “healthy” store-bought cereals tout using rolled oats, quinoa and other whole grains, they’re often spiked with honey, molasses, brown rice syrup and other sweeteners. Cut back on this sweet stuff with a homemade breakfast, instead: overnight oats. Simply mix a cup of unsweetened almond milk with a half cup of steel-cut oats and a dollop of two percent plain Greek yogurt. Add chia seeds to thicken the mixture, and nuts, fresh berries, vanilla extract and ground cinnamon to infuse flavor.
RELATED: 9 Easy Overnight Oats Recipes
Lunch #1: Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
Swap with…Lettuce-Wrapped Turkey Sandwich and Lentil Soup
We hate to break it to you, but tomato-based soups, pasta sauces and ketchup most likely have sugar hiding in the ingredients. Your best bet: Make your own “gravy” by pureeing cooked tomatoes and adding minced garlic and freshly ground pepper to taste. Better yet, in place of grilled cheese and tomato soup, try a turkey in a lettuce wrap or an Ezikiel whole-grain tortilla to up your fiber and protein content. Enjoy it with a slice of Provolone, tomatoes and olives or avocado slices. On the side, opt for lentils — an excellent vegetarian source of protein and fiber — to keep you full and curb cravings.
RELATED: 15 Healthy Lettuce Wraps for Low-Carb Lunches
Lunch #2: Broccoli Salad with Dried Cranberries
Swap with…Salmon Salad with Lemon-Olive Oil Dressing
Don’t let the broccoli fool you! While a traditional broccoli salad appears hearty with cherry tomatoes, red onions, bacon bits and Cheddar chunks, the dressing often calls for a quarter cup of sugar. (Yup, sugar.) And, the grams of sweetness skyrockets even more when you add dried cranberries to the mix. For a more balanced meal, prepare a salmon salad (a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and lean protein) with fresh berries for natural sweetness. Toss it in a simple lemon juice, sea salt and EVOO dressing, and you’re good to go.
Dinner #1: Barbecue Chicken with Baked Beans
Swap with…Rotisserie Chicken with a Cannellini Bean Salad
This may seem like an innocuous meal, but many barbecue sauces have whopping amounts of sugar in the ingredients. Baked beans might contain fiber, but again, the sauce ingredients range from maple syrup to brown sugar to ketchup — all sneaky sources of sugar. As an alternative, pick up a rotisserie chicken for a quick, on-the-go dinner and serve with a fresh cannellini bean salad made with chopped fresh basil, lemon juice, EVOO, red onions and salt and pepper to taste.
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Dinner #2: Teriyaki Tuna and Mashed Potatoes
Swap with…Pepper-Crusted Tuna Steak and Sweet Potatoes
Teriyaki sauce sounds harmless, but it’s made with mirin — a sweet Japanese wine — honey, cornstarch or white sugar. Put those together and you’re basically eating a donut for dinner. Substitute teriyaki sauce for low-sodium soy sauce infused with lemon juice, chopped fresh parsley, oregano and minced garlic. While white potatoes do have nutritional benefits, sweet potatoes work better as a side dish to cut sugar cravings, because they’re naturally sweet and have more fiber.
To learn more about the Zero Sugar Diet, pick up a copy of Zinczenko’s book here. It’s available in bookstores and online on December 27.