Actionable Tips to Overcome Sugar Addiction in Kids & Adults

by Sanjay Raja
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“Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face.”

— Mike Tyson


I couldn’t agree more with Mike Tyson’s quote above. A lot of people have a vision or even a makeshift plan of how they were going to get healthy; then reality hits them and their plan falls apart. So the question is: How do you adjust since no plan is perfect and there will be setbacks from time to time, especially for parents when they think they have a plan to get their children to behave, eat healthy, etc.?

Right around the time my children had their first sip of Coca-Cola, I learned of a study published in the American Journal of Public Health that found that a daily soda habit can age a body’s immune cells almost two years.

Needless to say, this Sugar Nazi was, for good reason, underwhelmed, and I soon realized my twins had taken to sugar like their mother, grandfather, and me. For years, I’ve worked with families to help identify and break the cycle of sugar addiction in children of varying ages. This is so often the issue, the kingpin from which all other health issues stem, that I’ve come up with a five-step plan to help parents limit their family’s sugar intake as well as give both parents and children the tools to make better food choices. These steps identify, educate, and manage sugar cravings as your family moves forward in eliminating added sugar from your diet.

Remember, we’re primarily talking about added sugar here, as well as naturally occurring and excessive sugars.

1. Agree to reduce sugar consumption as a family by one-third over the next thirty days. Create a food diary by having each person write down a week’s worth of food consumed and the amount of sugar in everything they’ve eaten. Identify specific sources of sugar, and list obvious and not-so-obvious sources and at what meals you typically eat them, be it breakfast or a late-night snack. When you are eating something that comes in a package with nutrition facts on it, estimate the number of servings based on what you eat and then calculate the number of grams. If you’re eating a whole food or something cooked or baked at home from scratch, look up the approximate number of grams of sugar in the ingredients online and give it your best guess.Once you’ve totaled up the amount of sugar each person eats in a week, that calculation times four will give you a baseline number for a month’s worth of sugar intake. Each person will need to reduce that number by a third over the next thirty days. Over the years, I’ve found that this is a manageable challenge that’s gradual enough to show noticeable improvements while having the added benefit of also reducing sugar cravings. Continue to track sugar intake during that time in the same way by keeping a food diary. You will each probably want to add up the amount of sugar you’ve eaten each day and each week to see whether you’re on track to meet your monthly goal of one-third less sugar. This will help you keep track of your progress and be more successful. I challenge you to take the time to use a food diary to help catalog your sugar intake for you and your family using the tips listed above in this section.

2. Next, go through the refrigerator and pantry to identify what types of sugar your “family restaurant” serves. Start with junk foods that can be easily eliminated to help reduce sugar intake; these will include a lot of packaged snacks, candies, and car-tons of ice cream. Next, go through non-obvious sources such as pasta sauces, cereals, condiments, salad dressings, protein bars, and yogurts. Keep in mind that sugar has many names: glucose, fructose, corn syrup, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, maple sugar, honey, invert sugar, maltose, diastase, sorbitol, caramel, date sugar, dextran, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, ethyl maltol, maltodextrin, sorghum syrup—and still others. If you aren’t sure what an ingredient is, look it up. Be vigilant.

3. Now it’s time to purge. Make it a fun family activity if you have multiple kids; one child can look for fat-free products and another can look for sweet drinks, etc. Get rid of any and all of the following:

  • Sodas, sweetened beverages, and sports drinks

  • Bottled fat-free salad dressing

  • Fat-free “diet” products

  • Nonfat and fat fruit-flavored yogurt

  • Snack cakes and cupcakes

  • Frozen entrées

  • Packaged muffins and cereal bars

  • Store-bought cookies

  • Instant flavored oatmeal

  • Milk chocolate

  • Most store-bought bread

  • High-sugar cereals

  • High-sugar instant anything

  • Most peanut butter

And let’s go ahead and get rid of anything else with the following ingredients:

  • Partially hydrogenated oil

  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)

  • Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite

  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

  • Propyl gallate

  • Sodium benzoate and benzoic acid

  • Potassium bromate

  • Food colorings

While this stuff isn’t sugar, it is still toxic to your system. The time has come. It needs to go, now.

4. Swap it out! Your pantry is probably looking pretty bare by now, but don’t worry. There’s still plenty you can eat and enjoy over the next thirty days. Here are just a few ideas of how to replace your favorite junk with less-sugary options so you won’t even miss the sugar!

  • Replace soda with fizzy water and add slices of fruit—not just lemon and lime, but grapefruit, orange, cucumber, berries, you name it. Fresh mint and a slice of fresh ginger are delicious additions as well.

  • Instead of juice, opt for whole-fruit smoothies. Add fresh fruit and berries to plain Greek yogurt, almond milk, or coconut milk. Throw in a handful of your favorite nuts. Superfoods like chia, cacao, goji berries, and hemp are other delicious and satisfying ingredients.

  • Instead of sugary yogurt, use plain yogurt with a little added fruit.

  • Switch milk chocolate for dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa solids.

  • Make your own salad dressing. Start with a base of olive oil, apple cider or red wine vinegar, and garlic. Then have your kids experiment with different spices and flavors: lemon, lime, mustard, basil, oregano, tarragon, cumin—the possibilities are endless! Diced shallots add a hint of sweetness that makes any dressing delicious.

  • Rather than ketchup, offer your family mustards. There are so many mustards to choose from.

  • Keep nuts and seeds on hand in place of chips and crackers.

When it comes to cravings, something with protein and fat is always a good idea. Nuts have both. Add a few sulfur-free dried fruits to sweeten things up.

  • Replace high-sugar protein bars with low-salt nuts.

  • Instead of sugar, add cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to your breakfast cereal, oatmeal, or morning coffee. A little vanilla or almond extract also goes a long way, and when it comes to hot and cold cereal, fresh fruit and almond butter are always a great idea.

  • Instead of eating, take a walk, read a book, listen to some music—sugar cravings are a mental phenomenon based on pleasure, so do something else you enjoy. Later on, I will offer some fun, creative suggestions for movement and exercise that you can do as a family or whenever you feel those cravings coming on.

5. Revisit: At the end of one month, check your family’s progress. If everybody’s ready, work on reducing your added sugar intake by another third. If not, I recommend a sugar exchange. Don’t make anybody feel bad for consuming excess sugar or being the one who eats the most sugar. We just need to provide a little extra motivation. If no improvement has been made in reducing sugar over thirty days, then during the next month, for every gram of excess sugar consumed over the monthly goal, create an equivalent consequence. This can be anything you choose, in any amount; for example, thirty minutes of extra exercise, extra chores, extra vegetables instead of dessert—whatever you choose to help reinforce sticking to the goal of a progressive reduction.


Once you’ve all reached the reduced consumption goals you’ve set, continue to reevaluate every six months for a year or two and then annually. The ultimate goal here is focusing your “family restaurant” on serving fresh, whole foods that don’t depend on added sugar (and other crap) to taste good. Rather than Sanjay’s Diner, I want my family to have a Chez Raja experience and meals filled with thoughtful, flavorful ingredients. If you think about it, it’s pretty amazing: we get to choose what we eat. So why not make it really, really good food: good tasting and good for you? Awareness and eating with intention are vital if you want to combat the confusing health recommendations and misleading marketing that the various food industries employ to get well-meaning parents to buy unhealthy foods for their kids. In fact, how to understand and overcome these marketing ploys is the final piece to the puzzle of how to quit sugar for good.

Sanjay Raja
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