You may not be guzzling soda by the gallon or eating ice cream by the pint regularly, but chances are if you’re not hyper focused on every ingredient in the food you eat, you’re probably ingesting more sugar than you’d like. Most of us are certainly eating more than we should. Below, take a closer look at why you should cut down on your sugar intake and how to do this in a sustainable way.
Why should I cut down on sugar?
Simply put, habitually consuming added sugar isn’t healthy. Our bodies do a great job of converting whole foods into a usable form of sugar that provides us with everyday energy. Therefore added sugar is not a necessity if you’re packing your diet with nutrient-dense, healthy foods.
For one, overconsumption of sugar is not good for our waistlines. According to Haley Stein R.D. of the NY Nutrition Group, “It’s important for individuals to consider lowering their daily refined sugar intake because it only provides ‘empty calories.’ Empty calories come from foods that are high in calories but provide little-to-no nutritional value.” Added sugar not only makes it harder to have that lean physique, it also increases the risk of preventable disease.
“Individuals consuming an excess of refined sugars are at higher risk for obesity and developing heart disease,” says Stein. Beth Warren R.D. concurs, “Consuming too much sugar over time can contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes. A high sugar intake also promotes chronic inflammation inside the body, which is linked to most diseases including heart disease and cancer.” The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends staying under 150 calories (37g) of added sugar each day for men, and under 100 calories (25g) for women.
The Many Aliases Of Sugar
You may be convinced that your sugar intake is well below the recommended allotment from the AHA. However, sugar is hidden within store bought foods that often viewed as healthy. And, it’s hiding in plain sight under names you might not equate to sugar.
“A few ingredients to watch out for are high fructose corn syrup, fructose, corn syrup, and corn sweetener,” says Stein. Furthermore, the University of California San Francisco research department lists the 61 names used for added sugar in many packaged food products on our grocery shelves. A few of them include agave nectar, barley malt, beet sugar, dextrin, dextrose and evaporated cane juice. Some of these actually sound healthy. Study those names and try to avoid when possible.
Foods That Have Surprisingly High Sugar Content
Stein warns of us of three foods that have a notorious amount of added sugar, “Products that have more sugar than you might realize are peanut butter, yogurt, and tomato sauce. While all three of these products may be high in sugar, they don’t have to be! Peanut butter should solely contain peanuts. Yogurt will have some natural sugars from the milk, but does not need added sugar.”
Instant oatmeal and coleslaw show up on Warren’s top three culprits for hidden sugar, “Sometimes you think you’re making a good choice when eating instant oatmeal. However, many brands have 12 grams of sugar or more. As for coleslaw, you may be thinking you are eating salad, yet most store bought varieties of coleslaw add a load of sugar.” Helen West R.D. has an extensive list of these foods in her 18 foods that surprisingly carry added sugar. These include: protein bars, bbq sauce, ketchup, sports drinks, and bottled fruit juices.
Simple Ways to Cut Down on Sugar Intake
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by this info, no worries. Our experts outlined how to successfully manage added sugar intake and keep it to a minimum. Here are a few of their top tips:
Take The Progressive Approach
Both Stein and Warren accept that some people do well by cutting sugar out entirely, but most clients they’ve worked with find more lasting success with a progressive decrease in refined sugar.
“I typically use a small-change approach with my clients,” says Stein. “Often a gradual decrease in sugar makes clients more sensitive to sweetness, leading to decreased cravings in the long run.”
Read Your Nutrition Labels
It starts with awareness. As long as you know what to look for on the label of your go to foods, you can avoid the bad stuff. For instance, if you have a sweet tooth add your own sugar substitute, “I recommend buying a plain yogurt and adding your own sweetness with fresh fruit,” says Stein.
Warren said, “For a healthier alternative try skipping the sugar altogether or add a natural sweetener such as xylitol.”
Opt For The Real Thing
Without a doubt, one of the easiest ways to avoid refined sugars is to opt for whole, unadulterated foods whenever possible. According to Warren with this method, “You can work on curbing cravings by keeping sugar in the diet that also has components such as fiber that can keep your appetite in check.”
There is plenty of sugar within all fruits and some veggies, and the naturally occurring sugars in those whole foods are much healthier and just as delicious. If whole food isn’t an option at times, get the next best thing. “Choose a spaghetti sauce brand that uses good quality tomatoes and other seasonings for flavor,” says Stein. Instead of that instant oatmeal, “Use raw oats. Cook them in some milk or unsweetened almond milk, add some fruit like berries and flavor with pure vanilla extract and cinnamon to keep the sugar count at bay,” says Warren.
Don’t Drink It
This is another big opportunity to cut back on the sweet stuff. A typical 12 ounce can of soda or processed bottled juice contains 32-39g of sugar. That’s just one can or bottle! Take an inventory of how many of those you consume on a daily or weekly basis and start shaving that total down.
“If you normally consume an average of two sodas per day (546g of sugar weekly), I suggest you start to decrease to one per day, then three per week, and so on,” says Warren. While cutting down your sugary drinks, try adding up the total grams of sugar you’ve cut out at the end of each week. Go ahead and write it down on your calendar to celebrate. The higher that number goes, the more you win! If you enjoy drinking your snacks, try fresh juice or smoothies as a healthier alternative.