Editor’s note: It’s not necessary to eliminate all added sugars–and attempting to do so can spark obsessive behaviors and disordered eating.
Most people eat too much refined sugar—whether it comes from sweet coffee drinks each morning, the treats consumed for an afternoon pick-me-up, or hidden in processed foods. On average, Americans consume 3 times more sugar per day than is recommended.
The World Health Organization advises consuming no more than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugar. For someone on a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s 25 grams of sugar—or the amount in one bakery cookie.
Sugar consumption is linked to weight gain, low energy, impaired immune system, acne, skin conditions, depression, and tooth decay. So cutting down might help you look and feel better.
Remember, eliminating all added sugar is not necessary. Attempting to do so could spark obsessive behaviors and disordered eating. Instead, aim to keep your added sugar intake within the guidelines.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s not sugar in everything, but it does take an effort to avoid added sugar in processed food. Look for unsweetened peanut butter, salad dressings, pasta sauces, and alternative milks. Also, beware of cereal. Up to half of the box can be sugar!
How to cut down
There’s debate over whether sugar is addictive. Whether it technically is or not, it’s anecdotally addictive. Most of us would be better off if we consumed less. Here are some ideas that might help you bring consumption down:
Use an app
Track your food to confirm how much sugar you consume in a day. The next day, try to have a little less.
Note: This strategy is not recommended for people with a personal or family history of disordered eating. To keep tracking from becoming obsessive, consider just tracking for a week or two to get an idea of how much sugar you consume.
Skip sugar bombs
Focus on big sugar-packed items like desserts, pastries, soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit juice rather than smaller things like ketchup. By cutting down on the big-ticket items, you’ll consume a lot less sugar. Even having only half your usual serving will make a big difference.
Assemble foods at home
Buy plain corn flakes, oats, or yogurt and add fruit or sweeteners yourself.
Watch serving sizes
You’ll easily consume more than the label indicates if you have a generous portion.
Give yourself an alternative
“Every time I want a treat after dinner, I’ll have fruit instead.” Displaying some beautiful bananas and grapes on the counter will also help.
Make way for fruits and vegetables
Prioritize having five servings of fruits or vegetables per day and you’ll have less room for sweets.
Make some swaps
Consider taking your coffee with milk instead of sugar. Drink water with fruit instead of soda. Look for low-sugar varieties of prepared foods.
Break the habit
If you have a cookie Tuesday afternoon, try not to give into a Wednesday afternoon craving. Tell yourself you can have the cookie the following day, if you still want it.
Bring in a substitute
Find a lower sugar option such as strawberries instead of strawberry shortcake.
If you’re hungry, have a proper meal instead of snacking.
Create a diversion
Occupy your mouth and distract your brain by sucking on hard candy or chewing gum.
Empty the cupboards
Don’t keep tempting treats on hand. You’ll indulge more mindfully if you have to go out for your treat.
Talk it up
Tell your loved ones that you won’t be having dessert or a drink at dinner, so they can hold you accountable or avoid pressuring you. Your good habits might even rub off on them!
Practice not having it
Keep a piece of candy on your desk that you don’t eat or tell yourself you can eat it in an hour (or tomorrow). Let yourself get in a habit of not always eating it.
Pay attention to your body
Do you get unreasonably tired after your afternoon soda? Does your skin break out every time you eat chocolate? Avoiding unwanted side effects could motivate you to quit.
Have some water
There’s a good chance you’re dehydrated. Make it a habit to drink some water before reaching for a treat.
- Try not to be too hard on yourself. Behavior change takes time to become habit. Accept that some days you’re going to succumb to your office mate’s candy bowl. That doesn’t ruin your progress.
- It’s not uncommon to replace sugar with foods high in saturated fats like meat, cheese, cream, or butter, but these can lead to other health conditions. Instead, try to add whole grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables and fruit. Think hummus with carrot sticks or whole-wheat crackers topped with (sugar free) nut butter.
- Reducing sugar consumption doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself. If you love dessert, try having a really good one you look forward to once or twice a week instead of a mediocre treat every night. If margaritas are your thing, consider saving the indulgence for Saturday nights and forego your nightly white wine.
- Fruit juices do contain some vitamins, but whole food is always the healthier choice. When juiced, fruit loses its fiber, so if affects the body the same as drinking a soda.
- Don’t worry about the natural sugars in whole fruit and dairy when counting your grams for the day. Look for added sugars like honey, syrup, and anything ending in -ose on the ingredients list.
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