12 Ways to Eat Less Sugar
March is National Nutrition Month, so what better time to talk about one of the most common barriers to nutrition that I see in my health coaching practice—sugar!
If there is one move you should try this month, it’s quitting your sugar addiction. Research shows sugar causes an increased risk of numerous health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and tooth decay. Studies have even linked too much sugar to anxiety and depression. I can tell you this: my clients who ditch sugar report sleeping better, thinking more clearly, having more energy and losing weight, too.
Reasons Why It’s Hard to Control a Sweet Tooth
Many of us reach for sugar when we are feeling stressed. Why? Because foods loaded with sugar can temporarily improve our mood and energize us. Sugar has been shown to reduce the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Unfortunately, when that sugar “high” passes, we crave it again.
As a society, we have too much sugar in our daily lives. Much of it is hidden in foods that are seemingly healthy. Yogurt is one example. A 2014 finding from researchers at the University of North Carolina showed a startling increase in sugar consumed by American adults. It went from 228 calories per day in 1977 to 300 calories per day in 2009-2010.
As a result, we have a bigger tolerance and crave more sugar.
For many of us, sugar is also tied to our happy times from childhood. For example, did your mom have cookies for you after school and on holidays? Did fun family movie nights always include ice cream? Did you enjoy pie on the holidays? If the taste of sugar takes you back to those days, it may be a reason you can’t stay away from it.
Sugar can also feel like it soothes emotional pain because the pleasure it delivers is the opposite of pain.
How to Kick the Too-Much Sugar Habit
- Find out how many grams of sugar are in the foods you like, and limit those with surprisingly high amounts. (Consider that one teaspoon of granulated sugar is the equivalent of 4 grams of sugar. So a food with 16 grams of sugar per serving equals 4 teaspoons of the granulated kind!)
- Beware of dried fruit and fruit juices (9-10 teaspoons in one glass of apple juice, might as well be drinking Coca Cola!). Instead enjoy a piece of whole fruit that has nutrients and fiber to fill you up and help with elimination.
- The American Heart Association and World Health Organization both recommend consumption of no more than 6-9 teaspoons of sugar per day. A good place to start to reduce sugar consumption is by cutting out processed foods and juices, soda, candy, cake and cookies.
- I have found that eating more sweet veggies during the day can help curb a sweets craving. Go for butternut squash soup or a helping of roasted carrots.
- Cut out sauces, especially at restaurants where you can’t read a label. Jarred pasta sauces can be surprisingly high in sugar, too.
- Try to fix things that are not working in your emotional life. Relationship problems, career stress and other sources of unhappiness can lead to you trying to find happiness with cookies and ice cream.
- Experiment with alternative sweetners. Some that I like: stevia, rice malt syrup, coconut milk flesh and oil, cinnamon, vanilla extract, whole fruit, sweet potato, summer squash and honey.
- Try to cut out one sugar habit at a time, like your morning tea or coffee. If you can start with adding no sweetener of any kind to those items, others may follow. At the very least, if you have three sweet coffees a day, you will be limiting many spoonfuls of sugar just by making that one change.
- Drink a full glass of water, then wait 15 minutes and see if you still crave sweets. Sometimes dehydration causes cravings.
- Brush your teeth and use mouthwash next time you feel a sugar craving coming on. Usually that gets the job done because clean teeth and a minty taste often curtain the urge to eat.
- Avoid pungent foods for meals. I have found that spicy foods and garlic/onion flavors contribute to a sugar craving, sort of as an antidote to the aftertaste. So if you know you are trying to cut down, skip those flavors.
- One way to improve your mood in a healthy way is through exercise! Get your heart pumping with some sweet sweat! You can try my workouts on the NikkiFitness app at www.nikkifitness.com I recommend cardio for a mood boost, substitute the endorphins for sugar!
Every accomplishment starts with the decision to TRY!
ONE MUST TRY
Start lessening your sugar addiction with your first meal of the day: breakfast!
I recently discovered that Maypo (also known as Homestat Farm) has updated its classic oatmeals with some great whole grains, like organic chia and quinoa, that leave you surprisingly full. The instant varieties, that do have sweeteners—like the maple flavor— have 2/3 less sugar than regular brands. You can find it at your local store, or lots of sites online with a Google search.
With just 4 grams of sugar, 170 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 75 mg sodium, and 5 grams of protein, you can ease your way into less sugar at breakfast, then switch to the unsweetened varieties once your taste buds adjust. You can always add berries to the wholesome wakeup meal for antioxidants.
Now that’s a “sweet” way to start your sugar detox!