If live in the United States (or are used to this type of a diet), you eat much more sugar than is good for you. It’s entirely possible to eat less sugar without sacrificing much of the pleasures of eating though. It may sound surprising but many people who have cut back on sugar say they find their new eating habits more pleasurable than their old ones. This guide will explain why sugar matters, how you can make smart food choices, how you can keep your life sweet, even without so many sweets.
The Added-Sugar Problem
Most of us consume more sugar than we realize and this is why it’s a problem.
Added sugars are almost everywhere in the modern diet. We can find them in sandwich bread, chicken stock, pickles, condiments, crackers, yogurt and cereals. This is in addition to the obvious foods and drinks, like soda and desserts.
Added sweeteners create an additional issue because they make it easy to overeat. These foods are generally tasty and highly caloric but they often don’t make you feel full. Instead, they can trick our bodies into wanting even more food. We are surrounded by added sweeteners. They appear in our kitchens, in restaurants, at schools and offices. And most of us will eat too much of them unless we make a conscious effort to do otherwise.
How Did We Get Here?
It’s no accident. For decades the sugar industry has conducted aggressive campaigns blaming obesity on fats. Afterall, fats seem to be quite an obvious cause. Sugar consumption in the United States soared in thanks partly due to this campaign. People were trying to lose weight with low fat diets which weren’t working.
Research increasingly indicates that overdoing simple carbohydrates (sugar in particular) is the number 1 problem in modern diets. Sugar is the culprit behind the obesity and diabetes epidemic. Most people are thankfully catching on though and are cutting back on sugar, realizing the harms of over-consumption.
What to Cut
Reducing added sweeteners — like granulated sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, stevia and molasses are what health experts are recommending you focus on.
Natural sugars which occur in fruit, vegetables and dairy products are not a cause for worry. Most people are not overeating naturally occurring sugars. The vitamins, fibre and minerals in these natural foods will fill you up.
A typical adult should not eat more than 50 grams (about 12 teaspoons) of added sugars per day.
If you can keep your intake closer to 25 is of course healthier. The average American adult would need to reduce added-sweetener consumption by about 40 percent to get down to even the 50-gram threshold.
Changing your diet is hard for most of us. You’ll likely fail If your strategy involves thinking about sugar all the time — whenever you’re shopping or eating. You’ll also find yourself miserable in the process.
It’s much more effective to come up with a few simple rules and habits that are easy to follow. With time these will become second nature. For example, eliminate all added sugars for one month, and then add back only the ones you miss. It’s easier than it sounds. Make sure to read ingredient labels to see where sugar is hiding.
Most importantly, one’s goal should be to find a few simple, lasting ways to cut back on sugar. Once you’re done reading this guide, we suggest you choose two or three of our ideas and try them for a few weeks.
First Thing in the Morning
Breakfast shouldn’t taste like dessert. This is likely the most dangerous meal of the day for sugar. Many healthy sounding breakfast foods are in fact laden with sugar. Many brands of granola may contain more sugar per serving than Froot Loops. In the United States breakfasts have become lower-fat versions of dessert.
The first morning strategy is for people who can’t imagine moving away from a grain-based breakfast. If you like cereal or toast in the morning, you have to be quite careful, because processed grains are often packed with sugar.
Only a few grain-based breakfasts are very low in sugar. Good options would be plain Cheerios, plain oatmeal (which can be flavoured with fresh fruit) and whole grain breads which have less than 1 gram of sugar per slice. Good options can also be Middle Eastern breads like pita and lavash. You can also make your own granola and limit the sugar amounts.
The second morning strategy is to move away from grains. It’s much easier to stay away from sugar this way, and may actually fell more indulgent. Try scrambled or fried eggs, plain yogurt with fruit and nuts and whole grain toast. Vegetables go well with eggs in the morning too. In many parts of the world, breakfast is a savoury meal, not a sweet one.
If you must drink juice in the morning, keep the portion small, a maximum of 6 ounces. Better yet, have some water with fresh lemon.
From the Can
Beverages are likely the largest source of added sugars in our diets. Soda should be eliminated from your diet. This includes diet soda also. These drinks are essentially flavoured liquid sugar and don’t have any nutritional value. One 16 oz bottle of Coke has 52 grams of sugar which is more than an adult should consume in a day. The verdict on diet sodas is still out however there are enough studies that suggest sweeteners also lead to weight gain and metabolic abnormalities.
If you like the caffeine in sodas, switch to coffee or tea. If you like fizzy drinks then add a little juice to sparkling water and play around with flavours. You’ll be surprised as to how creative one can be.
Check Your Pantry
Check the labels of the foods in your pantry for some easy places to cut the sugar. More foods contain sugar than you may realize. Even savoury foods like chicken broth, cold cuts, and crackers. Find alternatives without sugar.
Read the labels at the supermarket and compare brands. You won’t need to do this everytime once you get to know which ones are lower in sugar and healthier.
The Sauce Risk
Have you noticed what’s hiding in your ketchup or barbecue sauce? Sugar (or corn syrup), most likely. Sauces and toppings are the biggest stealth sugar risk after breakfast foods. Reading the labels are again key with sauces. Good options are Dijon or yellow mustard, no sugar pasta sauces and Kosher dill pickles.
The End of a Meal
Eating dessert is one of the great little joys of life and it doesn’t have to be any less sweet. Have dessert! Just keep three rules in mind:
1. Portion size. Many standard desserts have become grotesquely large. Some restaurant cheesecakes can have 1,000 calories (which is half the calories a typical adult should eat in an entire day) and a whopping 21 teaspoons of sugar, in only 1 slice. A piece of chocolate marble loaf at Starbucks, has 490 calories and is also packed with 43 grams of sugar.
The desserts of yesteryear were not nearly so monstrous. Oreos, which have been around since 1912, are a good example of a sweet treat. A single Oreo cookie — the regular kind— has only one teaspoon of sugar. You should think of two or three Oreos, or a different dessert of similar size, as a normal dessert. Anything larger than that is a big splurge, and should only be reserved for special occasions.
2. Habits. I’ve eaten a bowl of ice cream every night a week straight during some periods. It’s not a great idea. To keep your sugar consumption under control, and must have something sweet then opt for something with artificial sweetener, although not healthy but better than its sugary counterpart. Better yet, try an end-of-day ritual like a cup of tea.
3. Fruit. Fruit is really miracle food. It’s delicious, sweet and full of nutrients and fiber. It is possible to eat so much fruit that you end up getting too much sugar in your diet but very few people have this problem. For people who want a sweet every day, fruit is the way to go. Eat it fresh, dried or even frozen (try blending a fresh banana with frozen berries for ‘ice cream’).
It is normal to have some sugar in your diet. The modern diet however has snuck too much sugar into places it shouldn’t be. It’s at the point that you need a strategy for avoiding it. Once you come up with a strategy though, eating a healthy amount of sugar won’t nearly be as hard as it sometimes seems.