Eliminating sugar from your diet can seem impossible these days—especially with added sugar being everywhere. But by eating a Korean diet, you CAN satisfy your hunger without the sugar! Here are 5 Korean foods that have helped me quit sugar and why.
Eliminating or reducing sugar consumption in this country, although something many of us would like to do, can be near to impossible.
After all, practically every store bought food has some amount of sugar in it; That’s how those food manufacturers keep you coming back for more, after all.
Sugar is addictive and no where was that made more clear to me than during my sugar fast.
Why I Got Rid of Sugar
About 3 years ago, after I’d hit rock bottom in terms of my health at the young age of 46, my husband and I decided to eliminate sugar* (added sugar in processed foods) in our diets to see if that would help.
Having side stepped a family history of autoimmune problems, like rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid imbalance and even Type II diabetes by eliminating gluten and dairy from our diets, I thought eliminating sugar would help; I knew it certainly couldn’t hurt.
How Sugar Can Harm You
According to research, added sugar is a highly inflammatory substance in our bodies. It not only increases production of AGEs (advanced glycation end products) which can lead to premature aging called inflammaging, sugar can mess up your gut biome thereby making it unable to digest and metabolize even the good foods we do eat.
Sugar, Sugar Everywhere
Removing unwanted sugar from our diet can be daunting, however. One major problem is that sugar is so pervasive. It’s hard to know how much sugar you’re eating even if you don’t think you’re eating it.
Take most store bought gluten free bread, for example. Most of them have almost 8-12 grams of sugar per serving!; Avoiding gluten turned out to be easier than trying to avoid added sugar.
Even Annie’s Balsamic Salad dressing, which I thought was healthy, still had a good amount of added sugar!
Ketchup and barbecue sauce and even most coconut milk had added sugar, too!
Once I began reading the ingredient labels, I realized that sugar was everywhere-in unhealthy AND in “healthy” foods!
Healthy or Unhealthy?
Perhaps this is why obesity and Type II diabetes in this country is at an all time high. And why Whole 30, Keto or Paleo diets are all the rage. Yet, I found it difficult to tell what’s healthy and what’s not these days.
In fact, one survey showed that many Americans find it easier to do their taxes than to know which foods are healthy and which are not.
The other problem I had with all those specialized diets were that they take a tremendous amount of effort to follow.
Trying to replace foods you’re used to eating FOR the sugar WITHOUT sugar (like eating a Paleo dessert for instance), still would signal a craving for the real stuff like nothing else: My brain couldn’t be fooled.
Feed Your Body What It Needs, Not What It Wants
This is when I realized that to eliminate the added sugar entirely from my diet, the best approach would be to eat more Korean foods (that I cook at home) rather than try to eat “healthy” American foods without the sugar.
What I found was that I was much more satiated and happier when eating tasty nutritious Korean foods, than eating home cooked American foods with a sugar substitute (maple syrup, honey, or coconut sugar).
Although I tried Keto, Whole 30 and Paleo, I eventually settled on mostly home cooked Korean foods as a way to curb my unhealthy sugar cravings.
Why Korean Diets Can Curb Your Craving For Sugar
Reawakening my Korean palatte, something I had when I was growing up, but something I lost as I became more and more sugar addicted, made me realize why eating this way was good for me growing up and why it’s still good.
The more I ate Korean food, the less my body sought after sugary, starchy foods. Also, and this I think is the most important factor about eating Korean versus the Standard American Diet is that I felt less stressed overall about what I was eating or not eating all day.
Why I Craved Less Sugar With Korean Foods
The reason why I think I crave less sugar with Korean foods is that my body is being supplied with all the nutrients it needs to function.
Dr. Steven R. Gundry, the author of the The Diet Evolution, says that sugar, in small doses, is great if you’re fattening up for lean times, but almost like a death sentence for your body in large doses.
Although trace amounts of naturally occurring sugar is necessary for everyday brain function, if you’re eating a vitamin and mineral rich diet, your body won’t cry out for the excess sugar.
Instead your body will hunger after crunchy kimchee, salivate over chicken marinated in chili paste and feel nourished by home made bone broth soups.
Getting Off Sugar Is Tough
I will warn you, though that getting rid of sugar in your diet is not going to be easy.
I initially suffered from what can only be described as “withdrawal” symptoms like irritability, headaches, and even extreme fatigue.
But as the months wore on and I stuck with it, my usual afternoon cravings for something sweet, like a piece of 70% dark chocolate, even went away.
Soon thereafter, I was sleeping better, feeling less anxious, much calmer yet alert and a lot more productive than I’d felt in years!
5 Korean Foods That Can Help You Eliminate Sugar
Keep in mind that retraining your palate in any way shape or form will take time as well as some trial and error—just as teaching a child to enjoy solids takes months to get right.
Also, keep in mind that I’m neither a physician nor a health nutritionist–just someone who’s interested in living a vibrant healthy life and sharing with others what I’ve learned and what I’m still learning.
Most of the foods below are readily available in most health food stores these, or you can get them on-line from Amazon.
#1: Asian Sweet Potatoes (Go Gu Ma)
One of the sweetest memories I have as a young kid growing up in South Korea were those that involved, not cookies, but these roasted Asian sweet potatoes.
During those cold winter months, when there weren’t any fresh fruits around, my mom would roast a whole batch of these sweet potatoes in her kitchen hearth, and my family would enjoy them sitting on the ondol (heated) floors wrapped inside blankets, telling stories.
Now, I have these “treats”, dense in phytonutrients instead of the usual gluten free toast and jam I used to eat with my breakfast.
I pop one in the microwave, skin and all, and cook them in hi setting for about 6-10 minutes and slice them up to eat 2-3 slices with my eggs and sugar free bacon.
I also like to bake a whole batch of these in the oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour.
Although these sweet potatoes have a naturally high sugar content, the starch in these particular type of potatoes will allow the sugar to release slowly in your system.
#2: Kabocha Porridge (Ho Bak Juk)
Another food that will keep your sweet tooth happy are these naturally sweet Kabocha porridge.
Although I love my bowl of oatmeal in the mornings, nothing beats having a bowl of this sweet satisfying porridge on a nippy fall day when you’re craving something sweet and comforting.
These pumpkins contain iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and antioxidants like Vitamin A and C.
Kabocha pumpkins are great at reducing inflammation in your body and that’s why they’ve been used for postpartum recovery in Korea for ages.
For a great recipe, try this one for the stove top.
Although I like salads every now and then, I’d much rather eat something with a lot more kick and bite than kale with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
This is where good old Korean kimchi can help.
Just a few bites of this “superfood” at every meal will not only supply your gut all the healthy lactobacillus bacteria it needs, Kimchi will actually prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Kimchi, therefore, will not only help to boost your immunity, the high fiber content of kimchi been known to help curb your unhealthy cravings.
Here are three different types of kimchi recipes for you to try out:
#4: Korean Chili Paste (Gochujang)
Speaking of spice, there’s nothing better than Korean red chili paste to brighten your palate.
Perhaps it’s the high levels of “capsaicin” that’s been found to increase metabolism and burn fat in this chili paste, but your palate won’t crave anything sweet after eating anything smeared with this chili paste.
This is probably why I can bypass even a slice of chocolate cake after I eat a whole bowl of this Yukgaejang (Korean spicy beef soup) with some rice and kimchi.
All I want after a meal like that is just water!
Just be careful to choose a brand of chili paste that doesn’t contain corn syrup or wheat. You can try this one or this one. Both do contain some rice syrup, which is a form of added sugar, but it still has a lower glycemic index than plain old table sugar.
Some recipes using gochujang you can try are:
#5: Sesame oil
Another fond childhood food memory I have growing up, is the one I have regarding sesame oil.
Back then, vendors sold and made these types of products on an as needed basis. So every month or so, my mom would send me on an errand to our local dry goods store to get some freshly pressed sesame oil.
As the vendor ground down fresh sesame seeds in these huge grindstones to press out drops of oil, I’d watch in awe at how much liquid can squeeze out from such tiny seeds.
There’s nothing that tastes better than freshly squeezed sesame oil to cook virtually anything. I can’t imagine my favorite dish, bibimbap, without this oil.
Not only do sesame oils add a unique flavor to any Korean dish, studies show that sesame oil can actually stabilize blood sugar levels and great for heart health.
Some great ways to use this oil is as a quick marinade to amp up blanched vegetables, like spinach, mung bean or even broccoli.
Here’s a simple three ingredient sesame seed dressing you can try.
Other Korean Foods That Can Curb Your Sugar Cravings
Besides the fact that the flavor rich Korean meals often require you to drink lots of water, which in turn can make you feel fuller faster, here are some other Korean foods you can incorporate into your diet to satisfy your appetite without adding more sugar.
- Lean proteins-like tofu (which has less calories per serving than meat)
- More teas-like this barley tea or my favorite ginger date tea
- Soups and stews-made with some home made beef or anchovy stock
After all, when you feed your body what it needs, like these Korean foods rich in vitamins and nutrients, it will gradually lose its craving for what it wants. Why would it when you teach it to know better?