How to Cut Down on Sugar
Remember the 90s when fats were the devil? Well, now it’s sugar’s turn. Except the negative effects of sugar are well documented and research has shown that healthy fats are actually good for us! Unfortunately, all signs point to sugar having ZERO health benefits. There’s no silver lining when it comes to sugar. That’s why doctors, scientists, nutritionists, etc. are telling us to stay away from it – probably more than any other ingredient or food group. Not only is it fattening, horrible for energy, more addictive than drugs, and slowly killing us, it’s also processed like crazy. Bottom line, it provides zero goodness to our bodies and instead does a lot of harm.
But the problem is complicated: 1. It’s really, really good (looking at you, donuts!) 2. It’s proven to be as addictive as hard-core drugs (our brain responds similarly), and 3. It’s in everything. So even if you aren’t buying ice cream, you’re still consuming sugar regularly – at least I am – in things like condiments, salad dressings, etc. that you would never even think it was in!
With summer travel and a busy schedule overall, I’m trying (key word, trying) to limit sugar, and more specifically, sugar cravings – which go hand-in-hand. To not eat as much sugar, at least consciously, it’s important to get a handle on cravings first.
If you’re in the same boat and either want to eat less of it or be more conscious of sugar, we’re in it together.
Here are my tips on how to cut down on sugar cravings and sugar altogether:
Watch your fruit intake. Fruit is so tricky. Yes, it should be part of a nutritious diet, but it still has plenty of natural sugars in it (different from processed sugars found in candy, cake, etc., but still a sugar). Natural is way better than added, but it should still be monitored. Try to eat your fruit early – that way your body has time to break it down rather than at night when it will likely get stored and turn into fat. “Healthy” breakfasts like acai bowls have a ton of natural sugar, so even though you’re getting nutrients here, save the fruit-heavy meals to once or twice a week – at least when you’re trying to cut back.
Know the hidden names. There are at least 60 names for “sugar” on food labels, so even when you think you’re eating something with zero sugar, check the ingredients. Some examples: sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup. Anything that ends in the letters “-ose” is typically a form of sugar!
Speak with a dietician. When you’re making big life changes, especially ones that could affect your long-term health, you should always consult a health professional. A dietician can walk you through how much sugar someone your age and weight should have and where you should be getting it from, etc. And this is different from your general medicine doctor – you want a certified dietician or nutritionist. They are FULL of knowledge, motivation, and help.
Avoid processed food. Processed foods like spaghetti sauce, cereal and dressings (and a million more) can appear to be healthy but actually contain loads of sugar. Switch gears and start focusing on buying whole, natural foods at the grocery store. Your best bet is to buy foods with limited ingredients. Items with 5 or less ingredients rarely are processed enough to contain sugar (except fruit). And if you can’t pronounce something – chances are you probably don’t want to be eating it! I also rely on making my own salad dressing. A little lemon, olive oil, red wine vinegar, local honey, and salt & pepper go a long way.
Find an alternative. If you love baking or can’t imagine life without cookies, find an alternative to sugar. There are tons of non-refined and natural options like coconut palm sugar and stevia, although I try to steer clear of these as much as possible as well. Sugar is sugar, you know?
Eat one less thing. Going cold turkey is hard, so I try for one less sugary thing a day. This actually helps for any elimination-type diet and is proven to be much easier to handle. One less cookie, one less sugary condiment, one less sugary drink. In my experience, when you say I can’t have something I just want it more. And TBH, a life without dessert isn’t really one I want to be living! I’m taking baby steps, ok?
Change your drinks. Speaking of sugary drinks, unfortunately, a lot of the best kinds of drinks are loaded with sugar. It might make them taste good (and look pretty), but they’re leading to sugar spikes, calories, and hangovers (I’m looking at you, alcohol). Cut out wine, champagne, tonic waters and sodas, and generally anything darker (like rum). Clear alcohol tends to have the least amount of sugar, so try vodka or tequila (< my drink of choice!) on the rocks with lots of lemon, lime and cucumber.
I’m not saying you have to cut out sugar entirely – I’m not a total monster! And let’s be real, I’m still going to indulge when I can because life is about #balance. Sadly, my sweet tooth is probably here to stay (and if you don’t have one, lucky you!) – but that doesn’t mean I won’t make a more concerted effort to check my labels, say no to dessert more often, and limit the booze (sad).
How are you staying healthy this summer?