In my previous article, The Great Sugar Conspiracy, I explain some of the many negative effects of consuming sugar. If you haven’t read the article you might want to start there. Because, the truth is minimizing sugar is very challenging. Having proper motivation, beyond weight loss (you are very likely to lose weight if you minimize sugar), will be imperative.
This is especially true if you have a sugar addiction. Honestly, most Americans do. The average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar a year. This means 3 lbs per week which is almost a cup a day or 41 teaspoons. Nutritionists recommend that Americans should only get 10% of their calories from sugar. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet that would be 13.3 teaspoons. Clearly we are eating sugar in disconcerting excess and changing this will be difficult. It will be well worth it though!
1. Start Small
It likely took a lifetime to acquire your current eating habits and you aren’t going to change them overnight. This doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Decreasing the amount of sugar you eat is good for your health even if it takes you months or years to get down to your goal amount. Each teaspoon of sugar you don’t eat is improvement. Keep that in mind.
Write it down
It is very difficult to keep track of your progress if you don’t know where you started. For this and many other purposes it is very helpful to keep a food log. Food logs help you track what you’re eating and can be a wealth of information for health care providers and self reflection. Without even trying you are likely to notice that having to write down what you’re eating makes you more conscientious. This is a small simple way you can start cutting back on sugar consumption. So get yourself a notebook or just create a file on your computer and start writing down everything you eat or drink (including water). It can also be very motivating to write down how you’re feeling. Seeing, in print, that you are sleeping better, have more energy, are more clear thinking or happier can be VERY motivating!
2. Check Labels
A tremendous amount of the sugar we consume is hidden in prepackaged products. It hides in the most surprising places. I’m sure everyone expects that most cereals are high in sugar but what you don’t expect is that spaghetti sauce is too. Anything you buy in a package should be checked. Don’t make assumptions when it comes to pre-packaged food no matter what food it is.
What to look for
You can check the line on the package that says “sugars” (which is found under carbohydrates). The lower the number the better. When you are trying to calculate the number of teaspoons it is helpful to know that 4 grams = 1 teaspoon. Another thing to remember is that anything in the list of ingredients that ends in “ose” and rhymes with gross is sugar. I learned that on a Nickolodean PSA when my kids were little and loved it so much I had to share.
The easiest way to avoid sugar in prepackaged foods is to be prepared before you go to the grocery store. Create a meal plan and grocery list at home. When you create your grocery list you can google each of your pre-packaged items and check the sugar content. I find it easiest to type into google “low sugar ______________”. For most food items you will find a list or article that directs you to some low sugar options. Be sure to look at the actual label which you can do in the store or online. I always make sure that I put a couple of brand options on my list just in case the store doesn’t carry one or is out of stock.
Sneaky brand change suggestions
I know it can be challenging to change the brands you buy and love. I don’t have a significant problem with this but believe me, my husband and children do. There were some items that I had to switch by mixing them with the previous brand. I sometimes even had to keep the packaging from a different product and move the new product into the old packaging. Once they were used to the new flavor I could often suggest that I’d heard they were the same but marketed differently and stop with all of the trickery.
Simply changing brands can make a huge impact on your sugar consumption but there is another way. You can prepare some of these foods homemade on a weekly or monthly meal prep day. There are a lot of staples, condiments and sauces that freeze great and can be made in bulk. They are often not as difficult to make as you might expect. It can also be a great solution to cook in a community. Each person in your group prepares something and you all trade. My friends and I tend to do this informally with soup. We all take turns making soup and taking it to each other. This is such a great go-to sugar free lunch! (I currently have one of the most beloved soup recipes in the neighborhood. It is delicious and filling, Anti-inflammatory Cauliflower Soup. I even included a vegan modification! )
3. Eliminate Pop, Soda, Coke… (whatever you call it in your neck of the woods)
Y’all know what I’m talking about! The fizzy sweet stuff. This is SO bad for you for so many reasons and one of them is just the sheer amount you can consume without even realizing it. A Gallop Poll recently revealed that 48% of Americans drink pop everyday and the average amount they drink is 2.6 glasses. The CDC reports that 2/3 of Americans drink pop daily! In another report it is estimated that the average American is consuming 45 gallons of pop a year, in other words more than a pound of pop a day! This means that the average American is consuming 12 teaspoons of sugar a day just in pop. That is almost the full amount nutritionists recommend!
I know what you’re thinking… “but how???”
Pop tends to be a thing that we don’t even think about. It’s really difficult to get rid of something we do automatically. This is where tip #1 comes in. Don’t forget to write the amount of pop you drink in your food log. It will make you think about it before you drink it.
Stop drinking pop in your car! Really! Just stop! The things we do in our car are the most mindless and difficult to control. What you should be doing in your car is driving and maybe singing along to your favorite music. Nothing else! NOTHING!
Don’t put pop on your grocery list and don’t buy it. If you don’t have the convenience of just grabbing a pop out of the fridge (or garage if you’re a midwestern gal like me) you are less likely to drink it. If you really feel like you need to have a pop make a special trip out to get one (don’t grab one while you’re already out). Remember though, you can’t drink it in the car so take it home and enjoy it there. I mean really savor it because hopefully it’s a very rare treat!
If you really enjoy fizzy and sweet and going off of pop is a sticking point for you. Consider replacing it.
Diet pop is not an option! For a whole lot of reasons diet pop isn’t better. To name a few, it increases appetite and sugar cravings, contributes to insulin resistance and is a neurotoxin. If you’re a diet pop drinker and thought this section didn’t apply to you, it does! So, get over it and get on the bandwagon. It’s time for you to give up pop too!
A great pop alternative is sparkling water with a little fruit juice added. In general, fruit juice is very high in sugar and has a similar effect to table sugar on your body. For this reason fruit juice is another thing you should be avoiding. This is the exception. If you put 2 Tablespoons or up to 1/4 cup of 100% fruit juice into a cup of sparkling water you end up with something that may help curb your pop cravings. Many people like pomegranate and red grape juice.
Another good alternative is Kombucha. I find that the Kevita Roots Beer and GT’s Pu-erh Root both taste very similar to root beer. They also have the added benefit of improving gut health and are available at most major grocery stores now.
This isn’t a pass to drink as much as you want because it’s better than pop. I would recommend a 1 a day limit.
4. Enjoy Eating
Create a space you enjoy and find relaxing to eat in and whenever possible, eat with others. This might mean getting the papers off of your table or buying a nice tablecloth. It might mean establishing meal times around family activities or asking a co-worker to have lunch with you. It is better for everyone to enjoy eating and eat mindfully. It’s not just nutritionally better but it actually improves your health and sense of well being.
When you are eating mindfully you are less likely to consume empty sugar calories. Often we hide our sugar habits or we consume them while we are doing other things and not paying attention. At the very least you are likely to consume less sugar when you are aware of what you are eating and not distracted. This is especially true if you are actively trying to consume less. Which let’s be honest… you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t.
Just because you’re cutting back on sugar doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy eating!
5. Stop Emotional Eating
There are a whole lot of us who are eating our feelings. Not just our challenging feelings but our anticipated ones as well. We’ve often been taught this since childhood and are probably passing it on to our children as well. We, both, celebrate with food and comfort with food. Win the game… go for ice cream, lose the game… go for ice cream. Have a fight with a friend, a cupcake will make you feel better… get an A on a test reward yourself with that same cupcake. Does this sound familiar? We carry this into adulthood and it becomes habit. We are no longer aware that we are doing it.
Clearly, mindful eating and keeping a food log will help your curb these habits. Though sometimes people are so hard on themselves about their food logs that they emotionally eat and give up on the whole thing. Don’t do this! Your food log isn’t there to punish you or make you feel bad or ashamed!
Feeling without food
In fact, your feelings aren’t there to punish you or make you feel bad or ashamed either. The challenging feelings you have are there to help you learn and grow. Sometimes they are there to help you let go of something that isn’t right for you. Your feelings should be examined and you need to remind yourself that whatever this is it isn’t permanent. Similarly, your anticipated feelings should be enjoyed and celebrated in other ways. This is also not permanent so take the time to bask in it and enjoy it, not distract yourself with sugar.
Both of these tendencies can be resolved with the same action. Practice self care! Spend some time with friends. Call your mom, sister or bestie to share your great news or for comfort. Take a long luxurious bubble bath. Read a good book or watch a favorite movie. Better yet… go for a long walk, or swim or bike ride (whatever your jam is) or dance it out. Physical activity is the best way to comfort challenging feelings or celebrate anticipated ones.
6. Try Some Alternatives
When you minimize sugar you may find the cravings to be very challenging or you might just be looking for a replacement in your cooking, tea or coffee. In my opinion, the more natural the better.
If you ‘re having a sugar craving a piece of fruit can be a great pick me up. You may have heard that fruit is high in sugar too and should be avoided. There is some truth to this. Fruit does contain natural sugar and some fruits are higher in it than others. This is a natural sugar that has not been tampered with and it comes along with fiber and many micro-nutrients. The fiber in fruit minimizes the impact of sugar in your body and the micro-nutrients make it worth while. If you are still concerned about sugar in fruit choose low glycemic impact fruits (technical jargon for low sugar). Some examples are berries, citrus fruits and cherries. If you feel like you need a bit more of a boost you can choose fruits that are high glycemic impact such as bananas, mangoes and pineapples.
The 2 natural sweeteners that are most commonly recommended and considered safest are honey and pure maple syrup. If you read the labels you will find that these are both very high in sugar so you will want to use them sparingly. Both can be used for cooking and baking and make good additives, in small amounts, to dressings, sauces and marinades. Honey actually has many medicinal benefits. This can be a great alternative to granulated or brown sugar.
The challenges of minimizing sugar are tremendous but they are worthwhile to over come. Sugar has no nutritional benefit and many negative health consequences. Hopefully some of the ideas presented here help you cut back.
If you are interested in kicking the habit all together and going cold turkey or you’d like some other suggestions for managing withdrawals from sugar be sure to become a VIP by subscribing. You’ll receive an email when my step by step sugar elimination piece is posted!
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Share your experiences with minimizing sugar in the comments. What tips did you find helpful? Do you have any additional ideas or encouragement to share with all of us?