Sugar is everywhere, and we’re paying the price: most Americans eat between two and three times the amount recommended by experts. It’s not always our fault, as unsuspecting food items – spaghetti and barbecue sauce, anyone? – often hide a whole lot of the sweet stuff. However, it starts to sort of become our fault when our breakfast menu for the week reads the menu board at the local bakery.
I love baked goods. I’m a great baker and eating cookies straight from the oven brings me more joy than I should admit. But I’ve made a deal with myself to cool it on the sugar. I’m not vowing to abstain completely — as I do value being happy and food plays a large role in keeping me joyful. But cutting out the sugar brings me another type of happiness. The type of happy where I can see abs starting to happen. IT’S ALL HAPPENING FOR ME NOW!
Unfortunately, we all pay the price of over-eating sugar regardless of whether we eat it on purpose or by accident. The seemingly endless list of negative side effects includes cavities, weight gain, kidney disease, obesity and addiction to sugar, and no ABZ for anyone.
This cycle isn’t sweet.
I’ve found 10 actionable tips to break your sugar addiction.
Set Up Personal Parameters
I’m not suggesting that you can or should cut sugar out of your life completely, but you can still eat a reduced amount of sugar and remain healthy. Before you start on your less sugary lifestyle, familiarize yourself with the amount of sugar that you’re supposed to be eating. The World Health Organization says that we should stay under 25 grams per day. The American Heart Association agrees when it comes to women, although they say that men can have 38 grams (because apparently men have all the fun and all the sugarz). Either way, you will probably be cutting down your intake drastically.
Know What You’re Eating
There are different kinds of sugars out there: natural and added sugars. Fresh fruit and veggies contain the former, while foods with high fructose corn syrup, honey and agave have the latter. Added sugars spike sweetness and add empty calories, so you’re better off without them. However, you can eat natural sugars in moderation.
Look at Labels
You probably peruse the label before buying a new food to see if it’s high in fat or calories. Now, you should check the label of everything you buy to see if there are sugars lurking. You might be surprised at how much sugar is in the products you regularly buy. If that’s the case, switch to something more natural. You should familiarize yourself with the many names of sugar, too.
Clean the Pantry
With your knowledge of how to find added sugars on labels, you should look at your own pantry with a little more scrutiny. Anything that’s too high in added sugars should make its way to the trash. Without temptations around, you’re more likely to stick to your less-sweetened lifestyle.
Unpackaged Foods Win
If you’re having trouble determining what’s healthy and what’s not, here’s a simple rule: if it comes without packaging, it’s better for you. Natural products will only have their natural sweeteners.
Furthermore, food experts suggest that you shop the outer edges of your grocery store in order to find the healthier, natural products. Aside from produce, these aisles typically contain meat, fish, dairy and other natural items that make up a healthy diet. Avoid the center, where packaged, processed food lies.
Head to the Sink
Soda and other sugary beverages are arguably the biggest sugar bombs in our diets. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health says that it accounts for 36 percent of the added sugar that we consume.
I’ve touched on this before, but it’s worth repeating. Replacing juice, soda and energy drinks with water is the best way to go! Water has zero calories and sugars but is chalk full of health benefits.
Being more mindful of what you imbibe will cut your sugar intake dramatically.
Shop on a Full Stomach
When it’s time to re-stock your fridge, don’t go until after you eat. We tend to make more rash and unhealthy decisions when we shop while hungry.
For instance, filling your cart with a carton of each new Ben and Jerry’s flavor, a frozen pizza, and two bottles of wine sounds like my typical Friday night shopping cart, but that kind of impulse sugar shopping is doing a lot of harm.
Cook for Yourself
You probably won’t get an in-depth breakdown of exactly what you’re eating when you eat at a restaurant or, even worse, a fast-food joint. If you want to be in complete control of your sugar intake, make sure that you prepare the majority of your meals at home. This goes for snacks, too.
Fill Up on Filling Snacks
On that note, it’s vital that you don’t slip up at snack time. Vending machines make it easy to munch on cookies and cakes that’ll spike your blood sugar, making you feel hungrier later. Instead, eating healthy, protein-packed snacks at regular intervals will keep you satiated throughout the day. You won’t be missing out on taste, either: imagine an apple with peanut butter, Greek yogurt, hummus and veggies… the possibilities are endless. Also, take advantage of yummy seasonal produce. Summer is known for having the best fruit selection. Get wild and opt for a mango, banana and strawberry salad.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Finally, it’s important to give yourself some leeway when it comes to breaking your sugar habit. You will probably find yourself unhappy and craving sugar constantly if you go cold turkey. Instead, lessen your intake gradually. Start by saying, perhaps, that you’ll no longer eat a sweet treat after dinner. Then, lessen your noontime and, later, your breakfast intake. It’s more likely to stick if you do it over time.