Sugar is everywhere: you put it in your morning coffee, you eat it in your after lunch cookie and you even consume it with your French fries in the ketchup. Even when you avoid sugar, you are often ingesting sugar substitutes that can cause additional health problems. So how can you creatively decrease the amount of sugar in your diet while still enjoying the foods you eat? Here are some ideas on how to get started decreasing the amount of sugar in your diet.
Identify the Sugar in Your Diet
Start by writing down what you eat during the day. This means everything, even if it is just an apple or a piece of chocolate in the car ride home. Once you have a day or better yet, a few days, look at each of the food items on your list. Start by looking on the label and find where it tells the number of grams of sugar in each serving of food. Before you can start to cut sugar it is important to know how much sugar you are getting everyday and where that sugar is coming from. You may be surprised to see sugar in your peanut butter, your ketchup, and other hidden locations. The amount of sugar you should take in each day depends on your age, height, health, etc. The average American gets 124 grams (31 tsp) of sugar a day, many times more than they need!
Unfortunately, it is not that simple since there are different types of sugar. Sugar occurs naturally in fruits and milks (which it why your milk or plain yogurt has sugar in it) and you should not stop eating these foods because they have naturally occurring sugar. The key is to determine when sugar is added to a product. To do this, look at the list of ingredients on the food label. Instead of saying sugar as the ingredient, the label is more likely to say one of the following: white sugar, brown sugar, confectioner's sugar, invert sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, dextrin, honey, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, malt, corn sweeteners, evaporated cane juice, molasses, and turbinado sugar, etc. If you see one of these ingredients on the label, than sugar has been added to the food. You also may see sugar substitutes under a variety of names on the label.
Choose Where You Want to Cut Sugar
Depending on the type of person you are, you should now choose a strategy for cutting the sugar from your diet. If you are an all or nothing type of person, go ahead and cut it all, but if you are like the rest of us, start one food at a time. Looking at your food list, choose one or two places where you think you can easily cut sugar from your diet and start with this. If you are successful, try cutting one or two more sugary foods in a week or two. It takes about 20 days to form a new habit, so keep it up for at least this amount of time. While it is important to be consistent, if you have a day when you regress and eat a whole bunch of sugar it is ok, don't give up and just get back into the routine the next day. Another strategy that may work for some people is to choose a time of day when your will is the strongest. For example, I am usually most motivated in the morning and am more likely to follow through on things at this time of the day. I have found it is much easier to cut sugar from your diet during your most motivated time of the day. If you are motivated in the morning, try cutting sugar from your breakfast. If you are a slow starter and are better later in the day, perhaps after you've exercised, cut out your desert.
Suggestions of How to Cut Sugar
- Put less sugar in your coffee or tea, or put no sugar in your coffee or tea
- Purchase foods such as peanut butter or applesauce that don't have added sugar
- Drink water instead of soda or juice - if you get thirsty or have a sweet craving, have a glass of water and if you still feel like you're thirsty
- Cut the high sugar coffee drinks from your diet
- Mix high sugar cereals with low sugar cereals until you are eating all low sugar cereal
- Decrease the amount or types of sweets you consume
- Make sure you are eating only a serving size of the food - if there is only a few gram of sugar, but you are eating 10 servings, that is a lot of sugar
- Make your own deserts and decrease the amount of sugar in the recipe - you can add applesauce to cut the added sugar
- Add spices, such as cinnamon, instead of adding sugar
- Establish a desert rule, such as only having one desert a day, or every other day
- Eat less ice cream by taking half your normal serving and making a milk shake
- Buy sugar free condiments
- Decrease the amount of candy, gum, etc you eat
- Eat trail mix instead of granola bars
- Cut out the sports bars and sports drinks
- Eat consistently throughout the day
- Check your alcoholic beverages, mixed drinks in particular have a high amount of sugar
Cutting sugar is just one step towards becoming and staying healthy. You should also check the amount of fat in your diet and make sure you are getting the right number of serving in each food group. Establishing a regular exercise routine is also important for your overall health and well being. Meeting with a certified dietician is a great way to build healthy eating habits, and many insurances provide benefits for a number of visits to a dietician. So if you think you might be eating too much sugar in your diet, take a few of these suggestions and get started decreasing the amount of sugar.