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Chuck Norris tames sugar-craving beast

Chuck, I’m a full-blown sugar-aholic. Do you have any advice for conquering the cravings and trimming down the sweet tooth? – “Chronic for the Confection”

In Part 1, I began to explain the pros and cons of sugars and the effects of too little or too much glucose in the body. I then proceeded to define some of the most common sugars you’ll find hiding in foods and drinks, starting with table sugar, “natural” sugars (raw, brown, etc.) and evaporated cane juice.

In Part 2, I discussed fructose and high-fructose corn syrup, which are pervading the market and processed foods on nearly every shelf in the grocery. (Even some of the “natural sweeteners” below, such as agave nectar, are nothing more than lots of fructose — up to 97 percent!)

In Part 3, I discussed sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners.

This week, I will discuss which sugar substitute that my wife, Gena, and I prefer, as well as give you my top 10 tips for overcoming the sugar cravings and reducing their control over your diet and life.

First, if our bodies crave a little sweetness, Gena and I prefer stevia, which is a natural sweetener that is derived from an herb native to South America. But as we discussed last week, there are downsides to nearly every substitute sweetener. So everyone’s goal should be to curb sugar intake in any form and reduce the body’s cravings for it.

Most Americans eat what they want and do so until their taste buds or stomach is satiated. But that is a consumption practice that neither most cultures in the world nor we should practice.

For example, the French diet focuses on a few basic European eating habits: Eat for nutrition (not just to be full); learn to enjoy good foods (not just sweets and fatty foods); learn to taste longer (not just chew more); and slow down your pace of eating.

So victory over sugar starts with the mind. We must believe that we can retrain our palate and taste buds to enjoy healthier foods. Believe it or not, fruits can satisfy any sweet tooth. Their natural sugars can become more pronounced and make your taste buds dance as you whittle refined sugar out of your diet.

Here’s a battle plan of 10 excellent ways (from the Mayo Clinic and me) to lessen your cravings and limit the added sugars in your and your family’s diet.

1. Master labels and ingredients for any type of covert sugar. Look in particular for any ingredients ending in “ose”; that’s the chemical name for many types of sugar, such as glucose, fructose, maltose and dextrose. Of course, there are the other cloaked-in-language sweeteners that I mentioned in past articles, such as evaporated cane juice, corn sweeteners, fruit juice concentrate, malt and cane syrup.

2. Be wise with breakfast cereals. Most now contain added sugar in some form. Go with no-sugar-added granola, natural cereals or oatmeal (preferably steel-cut) with some blueberries, banana slices or other fruit and nuts.

3. Opt for reduced-sugar varieties of syrups, jams, jellies and preserves. And limit other condiments; salads dressings and ketchup have added sugar, too.

4. Snack on vegetables, low-fat cheese, whole-grain crackers and low-fat, low-calorie yogurt instead of candy, pastries and cookies.

5. Drink water or other calorie-free drinks instead of sugary sodas, sports drinks and blended coffee drinks.

6. When you drink fruit juice, make sure it’s 100 percent fruit juice – and not just “from concentrate,” which can be a covert way to load it with sugar. Better yet, buy a juicer, and juice your own.

7. Choose fresh fruit for dessert instead of cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream and other sweets. Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity and weight-loss specialist at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital, said: “Sugar-containing foods in their natural form, whole fruit, for example, tend to be highly nutritious – nutrient-dense, high in fiber and low in glycemic load. On the other hand, refined, concentrated sugar consumed in large amounts rapidly increases blood glucose and insulin levels, increases triglycerides, inflammatory mediators and oxygen radicals, and with them, the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses.”

8. Buy canned fruit packed in water or juice. Never get fruit that’s packed in syrup.

9. As I mentioned, if you must go sweet, go with natural alternatives to sugar. Drink a protein smoothie, or eat a piece of fruit. You also might try raw coconut nectar, which is only about 10 percent fructose but high in minerals and amino acids. Or simply use a little dash of stevia (some brands taste better than others), which has minimal effects on blood sugar levels.

10. Be patient. Keep fighting, and don’t give up!

Dr. David Katz, an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management and the prevention of chronic disease and the director and founder of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, wrote: “As any 5-year-old or picky eater can attest, familiarity is a powerful driver of dietary preference. But taste buds are malleable and can be taught to appreciate new and subtler flavors. When you swap processed, high-fat, sodium-packed, and oversweetened food for healthier fare, it can take one to two weeks before your taste buds acclimate. Don’t expect to love new flavors right away (and certainly don’t expect your kids to). Just keep serving the new dishes, and soon neither you nor your palate will recall what all the fuss was about.”

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.