Reducing your sugar intake can be tough, especially when your go-to is sweet over salty. Part of learning to reduce sugar is learning the difference between good and bad sugars and sticking to the “good” kinds. With simple changes and some dedication, you’ll have more energy and will feel healthier overall, and might eventually find that little bits of sugar here and there will satisfy you more than ever before. First, let’s start with why (because who really wants to cut out sugar?!) and then we’ll share some short and sweet tips on how to start making changes (and stick to them).
When you take a moment to consider all the benefits of reducing sugar from your diet, you’ll realize parting has never been so sweet. There are obvious benefits like reduced caloric intake and no more sugar crashes (yay), but did you know that sugar cravings actually start to go away the more you cut it out?
Let’s start with some background. Greatist’s article on a list of 21 good reasons to eat less sugar (that have nothing to do with weight loss), gives us a ton of great reasons to cut sugar out purely for health reasons. They say sugar has become Public Enemy #1 when it comes to the health of America – with the American Heart Association recommending that women have about 6 teaspoons and men have roughly 9 teaspoons of sugar per day. Turns out (according to a report by the CDC), the average American actually eats between 13 and 20 teaspoons of added sugar daily! It goes to show how much extra sugar is added to our food, meaning our bodies are absorbing it – and a lot of it.
Here’s a list of some health benefits that go along with lowering your sugar intake on a daily basis, including:
• Lower your blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and risk of heart attack. Sugar raises your blood pressure, increasing the workload of the heart and arteries, and raises your levels of bad cholesterol, which can both lead to heart disease and heart attacks.
• Keep your brain sharp. Did you know that sugar can eat away at brain power, like how sweets can eat away at tooth enamel? Yikes…
• Lower your likelihood of getting depression. The brain needs a steady supply of chemicals like glucose and insulin to function. Glucose = sugar, and insulin = the gate that opens cell doors allowing it to enter the cells. However, when your brain experiences continuous sugar spikes, insulin becomes immune to its effect and therefore becomes less effective, in-turn leading to depression and anxiety. Isn’t it crazy how our bodies work sometimes?
• Your addiction can finally end. Sugar provides us with dopamine (the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters), but the more sugar you eat, the more you need to get those “happy highs”, and the cycle continues. The more you cut out, the less you’ll crave, and then when you do have it, it’ll give you that little, healthy and natural boost you need.
• Keep your skin looking younger. Yup, we said it, and it has been confirmed. Too much added sugar can make skin dull and wrinkled, and is actually collagen’s natural enemy. Forever Young’s blog explains it best, check out this article for the deets.
• Clear up your skin. Huffington Post explains why in this article, as well as what sugars you should and shouldn’t eat to help keep your skin clear.
• You’ll have more energy. Apparently, added sugar decreases the activity of our energizing cells (called orexin cells), making us sleepy and sluggish (hence sugar crashes).
• Weight control. Research has associated high sugar intake with increased rates of obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Read more on this here.
Okay, so maybe cutting sugar out isn’t really a piece of cake. But learning how to spot and avoid extra sugar can be a huge help when it comes to reducing your intake. From salad dressing to sauces to juices – sugar hides in places you’d never expect, including foods you’d assume are healthy (diet and low-sugar foods can actually be the worst!).
According to this article, sugar is typically referred to in nutrition as “carbohydrates”. There are single sugar molecules (glucose, galactose and fructose), and sugars that consist of two single sugar molecules bonded together (lactose, sucrose and maltose). The difference is that some are natural and others have been chemically created by the food industry. The latter are the sugars we want to avoid, as our bodies aren’t able to process them the same way they do with natural sugars.
Here are some tips on how to spot the sugar, because it’s probably hiding in there, somewhere…
• Read the nutrition label. This one seems obvious – but often we find ourselves looking at calories, when really we should be checking out the sugar content and how much of what we’re buying is made up of it.
o Pro tip: If you enjoy the odd glass of wine, refer to the price label before buying. Look for a small gram-per-litre amount in brackets below the price, that’s how much sugar it has per litre – “(2g/L)” is what you want to watch for. That’s pretty much the lowest you can get, and if you like dry wine, even better.
• Know your sugars. Knowing which sugars are healthier than others (like raw honey vs. corn syrup) will help you avoid the bad, highly processed sugars, but also will teach you what to watch for when shopping (The Little Honey Bee blog has your back with a great guide to healthy vs. unhealthy sugars).
• Stop buying processed foods. When it comes to cutting your sugar intake, this is a big one. According to Paleo Hacks, basically everything that comes in a box, bag or can has added sugars.
o Pro tip: Make your own salad dressing, soup, salsas and sauces, as these are all loaded with (hidden) extra sugar. Plus, making these yourself is cheap, easy and fun, and gives you full creative license to add whatever you want!
Sometimes it’s the little things that can make the biggest difference – like those two “teaspoons” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) of sugar you put in your coffee, or the ketchup you put on your scrambled eggs every morning. Instead of sugar in your coffee, try cinnamon, honey or maple syrup, and instead of ketchup, slice up a tomato to eat with your eggs or try this easy homemade ketchup recipe. There are always ways around all the added sugar – here are some of our favourite hacks:
• Low-fat yogurt. According to healthline, many low-fat products have sugar added to them to enhance the flavour. For example, 245 grams of low-fat yogurt can have up to 47 grams of sugar in it (about 12 teaspoons, more than the estimated daily limit for men and women in just one cup of “healthy” yogurt). Business Insider ranked yogurts with the least sugar – check it out!
• Pop and juice. Pop and juice may taste great, but are often loaded with sugar. Alternate juice options exist like buying natural or making your own, but do your research on which juices to avoid. However generally, pop is loaded with sugar (or aspartame) and isn’t the best for you. Everyone has their thing, and if pop is yours, consider limiting how much of it you drink.
o Psst – watch out for orange juice. We assume it’s healthy but it’s actually loaded with sugar. Watch those nutrition labels when buying and go for the freshly squeezed kinds.
• Ice cream. One ingredient banana ice cream is one of life’s greatest health hacks. Too plain? Add some natural peanut butter, berries as garnish, or dark chocolate for an added bonus.
• Breakfast cereal. Breakfast cereals can be packed with processed sugar, but there are healthier options available. Looks for cereals high in fibre and low in sugar, using natural sweeteners like fruit, cinnamon or vanilla if you want to sweeten it up. Check out this list of cereals and how many grams of sugar per 30g bowl serving (Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes have 11g per 30g bowl… yikes!).
• Chocolate bars (or afternoon sweet cravings). Go for fruit or dates to help those afternoon sweet cravings. At first, they’re not the same. But over time, an apple or some dates will be the perfect solution to curb those cravings.
• Sauces. BBQ sauce, ketchup, ranch – they can really make a meal. We don’t recommend necessarily taking these out altogether, because life’s too short. But maybe measure your intake, or try to use them to complement or enhance a meal rather than “would you like some mac-n-cheese with your ketchup?” We all do it.
• Baked goods. Every sweet-over-salty person’s dream (breakfast, snack, dinner, whenever). Try getting your bake on so that you can control what you’re putting in your goodies. When baking brownies, cupcakes, cookies or cakes, cut the sugar by one-third to one-half, we bet you won’t notice the difference. If you do, mash up some dates and add them, or try adding a sweetener other than white sugar.
There are almost always ways around eating sugar, like these 8 ways to get your sugar fix without actually eating sugar. Once you get into it, it almost becomes a little challenge for yourself, and your family can get in on it too. Even better, over time you’ll start feeling the benefits of lowering your intake and eating less processed foods in general, and you won’t want to go back (except for the odd treat here and there – we can’t be perfect all the time, right?).
When all is said and done, all you can do is try. Two important things to remember – everyone is different and nobody is perfect. Set a goal based on your body and your preferences, and don’t forget to start out slow if you need to. It can be as simple as skipping out on adding sugar to your coffee or cutting your dessert intake down from every night to only weekends.
Before you make any changes, consider monitoring how much sugar you eat per week using an app like Lose It!, That Sugar App, or Wholesome App. Once you know how much you’re consuming and where, you can start to plan out how to lessen your intake. Check out this great book called I Quit Sugar – it includes sugar-free recipes and tips for staying on track.