Sugar is a difficult addiction to break. It’s addicting, it’s in so many foods and drinks, and it tastes good. But the most important thing you need to know about sugar is that it will eventually mess up your health in a number of ways.
Americans consume between 100-125 pounds of sugar each year. That’s roughly a quarter of a pound every day. Countries like the UK aren’t far behind either at 95 pounds of sugar a year. The UK even brought in a so called “sugar-tax” in 2019 that had no discernible impact on sugar intake which, studies agree, continues to rise. It’s no wonder that diseases such as obesity and diabetes run rampant.
Cutting back on candy and sweet things can help protect you from these serious health conditions and may help you lose weight. Even if you have a sweet tooth, these tips will make it easy to eat healthier.
Understand the Reasons for Cutting Back on Sugar
The American Heart Association (AHA) recently released guidelines for healthy sugar intake. While the average American is now eating about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, AHA suggests cutting back to 5 for women, 9 for men, and 3 for kids. I could only call this “a start” at best. Bear in mind that the AHA and organizations like it have a history of supporting unhealthy, highly refined and processed foods, even going as far as issuing healthy heart labels for staples like “Coco-Puffs”. That despite a century of research into sugars and carbs showing how dangerous to health they can be. Follow the money – big food needs us to keep eating as much as possible. Could that be something to do with it?
My personal advice? There is no healthy intake of sugar. It is always unhealthy and should be a rare treat. I’ not a dietitian, a nutritionist or a physician but I but common sense and logic are on my side. I will go head to head on the issue with any professional who will defend sugar. Any day.
Avoid thinking in calories. The population started getting heavier at the same time we began eating increased amounts of refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. It’s hard to maintain a healthy weight if soft drinks and donuts are crowding out the broccoli and chicken. Big Food and the health organizations they pay for would like you to believe that it’s all just calories – that it could be 100 calories of chocolate or 100 calories of kale, it doesn’t matter. When did you last hear of anyone dying because they overdid it on the steamed vegetables? Calories are a false measure.
Know the research concerning other health risks. Experts agree that sugar causes tooth decay and contributes to weight problems. These weight problems lead to diseases like diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer.
Easy Ways to Reduce Your Sugar Consumption:
Avoid soda. Soft drinks are the worst offenders by far. A typical 12-ounce soda contains at least 8 teaspoons of added sugar, which alone is more than the daily recommendation for women and kids. Drink more water.
Limit processed foods. I once heard the fitness coach Vince Del Monte answer the question “What are the best foods?” with the following wonderful reply “Foods with one ingredient”. Candy, cakes and cookies account for a significant amount of our sugar intake, but so do some foods you might not suspect. Sugar is added to everything from whole wheat bread to peanut butter.
Read labels. If the first ingredients listed are added sweeteners like sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, bin it and find something more nutritious to eat. Check the total grams of sugar, but keep in mind that will include both added sugars and the less worrisome naturally occurring sugars.
Make healthy substitutions. You can eat delicious meals if you make smart substitutions. If you must eat breakfast cereal switch to one that’s unsweetened or lightly sweetened. Add a little vanilla extract to plain yogurt and skip the fake raspberry flavors.
Prepare more foods from scratch. Using fresh ingredients gives you more control over hidden sugars. Make your own salad dressing with olive oil, vinegar and garlic. It will also taste better and cost less than the sweetened supermarket brands.
Proceed gradually if needed. I personally went cold turkey on this one and beat it but I accept that it’s easy to get conditioned to sugar. Wean yourself in baby steps. Put half as much sugar in your coffee or switch to an artifical sweeteneer. The issue of sweeteners is controversial and deserves a different blog post. I could not recommend aspartame, it’s a poisonous chemical in my humble opinion. I have tried everything and settled, on the rare occasions I use sweeteneer, on Xylitol.
Prioritizewhile you wean yourself. If you’re a woman, for example, figure out how you want to use your recommended 5 teaspoons of sugar a day. The sugar you eliminate from your peanut butter may help enable you to eat a small bowl of ice cream or a couple of cookies after dinner.
Reduce portion sizes. Moderation is the key. You can still enjoy your favorite desserts if you need them as long as you savor a sliver of cake or a few squares of a deluxe chocolate bar. To be frank I find a slice of rye bread with organic 100% almond butter and a sliced banana every bit as delicious as chocolate cake but it’s all about creating new habits.
Address emotional eating. You might sometimes reach for sweets when you’re feeling stressed because they help you feel better by boosting your serotonin levels. If emotional eating is an issue for you, seek more constructive ways to relax, like meditating or listening to music.
Replace the empty calories from sugar with healthier treats and a more nutritious diet. You may be pleasantly surprised at how easy it becomes to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet.
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If you want to take serious steps on sugar intake and you have concerns about diabetes I can recommend anything by Dr. Jason Fung. Start with this book:
The Diabetes Code on Paper, Kindle or Audiobook and Audio CD in the USA
The Diabetes Code on Paper, Kindle or Audiobook and Audio CD in the UK