I have a very sneaky sweet tooth. She catches me at my most vulnerable times and then LATCHES onto me like a parasite - once I start eating sweets and treats I can't stop, and I can't help it - I love indulging in the finer things in life. A few years ago, I tried to conquer my sugary cravings for once and for all by completely cutting out any food or drinks with added and refined sugars in it. For the first few weeks, it worked - my cravings were gone, my energy increased, headaches decreased and my skin improved. Of course, my "diet" backfired shortly afterwards and ended with a chaotic episode of buying and eating every baked good available at Whole Foods. As with most diets, it wasn't sustainable for me to completely avoid all added sugars for a long period of time without creating a horrible cycle of binging and restricting. Since then, I've adjusted the way I eat to focus on eating more whole foods that make me feel good instead of focusing on cutting out sugar entirely. It's changed my life and I'm excited to share my experiences with you!
For the sake of clarity in this article, I want to point out that many natural and unprocessed foods, like fruits and vegetables, contain natural sugars. I have not removed foods with naturally occurring sugars from my diet. I also avoid sugar substitutes like Splenda, Sweet and Low or anything with sugar alcohols.
Why I cut down on Sugar
I work in public relations, so I spend a lot of time reading the news. In 2016, I started noticing an increasing number of articles focused on the harmful effects of eating too much added sugar. After some research, I realized that Americans consume way more sugar than the rest of the world, and way more than American dietary guidelines recommend. In fact, the CDC reports that the average American eats between 13 and 20 teaspoons or 45 to 70 grams (!!) of added sugar a day, when the World Health Organization recommends just 6 teaspoons (~25 grams) for adults and children daily.
After compiling my research, I realized that some of the symptoms I was experiencing every day, like headaches, break-outs, unreasonable tiredness, crankiness and fatigue could be attributed to the food I was eating and specifically my high sugar consumption. After reducing added sugars from my diet, I feel so much better. My migraines are nearly gone, I feel like I have boundless energy to go, go, go all day, my skin is clear and I feel STRONG.
The health benefits of sticking to a diet low in sugar go beyond the benefits I've been feeling and are overwhelming:
Are you convinced yet? It didn't take me much longer either to rethink the way I eat after this research.
Easy ways to cut down on Added sugar
1. In general, eat less processed foods and more whole and minimally processed foods.
I consider "processed" foods to be any sort of food that has been intentionally altered before I eat it, like chips, cereal, soda or deli meats. These foods tend to have loads of added sugar in them, including high fructose corn syrup, table sugar and more. I've avoided buying these foods and instead stick to purchasing minimally processed foods like oatmeal, nuts, Icelandic skyr, legumes, frozen veggies, rice and pasta, and whole foods like fresh vegetables and fruits and freshly pressed juices. When you are eating mostly fresh and whole foods, you naturally eliminate foods with added sugars and can control what ingredients you add into your meals. And, if you don't have processed foods in your pantry, you're much less likely to eat them!
2. Start reading the back of your condiment bottles.
Condiments are filled with sneaky added sugars. Start checking the back of your condiment bottles and limiting your intake or switch over to a healthier alternative. A great example is Heinz Ketchup. The regular stuff has high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup added in, for a total of 4 grams of added sugar per tablespoon. Make the switch to their "sweetened with honey" ketchup with no syrup and one less gram of sugar per serving.
3. Use lemon and olive oil instead of salad dressing.
One of my favorite switches I've made, is to use a lemon squeeze, olive oil, and salt and pepper for salad dressing. This is an easy swap that you can do at home, at takeout joints and request at restaurants. The dressing tastes just as good as the pre-made stuff, and brings out the natural flavors of your salad. This swap also allows you to control the amount of dressing on your salad so it's not swimming in liquid. If you need an extra flavor boost, add some Grey Poupon dijon mustard into a bowl with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and give it a quick mix before throwing it on your salad.
4. Skip your daily coffee Starbucks order and make your own.
At home or at work, I always drink coffee with a splash of half and half from a french press or our office Mr. Coffee machine. However, when I head to Starbucks for a mid-day pick-me-up, I always end up with a latte or a flavored coffee filled sugar, even when my intention was to get a black coffee. Avoid the trip all-together, and come to work with a thermos of coffee that will last you all day.
5. Stick to water.
Avoid soda, diet soda and juice, and stick to water. Your skin, digestive system and brain will thank you. If you're craving something bubbly, try a plan seltzer water and add fruit to it! Be careful about your alcohol consumption, and stick to these RD recommended drinks.
Craving Sugar? Instead of... Eat...
Instead of cereal...
Eat old-fashioned oats with berries.
Instead of store-bought granola...
Make your own using a touch of honey or pure maple syrup instead of table sugar.
Instead of boxed cake and cookie mixes...
Make an easy and delicious low-sugar dessert from one of my favorite websites, Well & Good.
Instead of a candy bar...
Find a favorite stone-ground low-sugar chocolate bar - for me, it's Taza!
Instead of a margarita...
Try a patron and soda with lime. My girls know this is my low-sugar drink of choice!
finally...don't forget to INDULGE every once in a while
All things are OK in moderation, and the same is true for sugar consumption. Treat yourself to an ice cream cone, have that piece of cake for your colleagues birthday, and order that first PSL of the season. Don't drive yourself crazy by counting grams of sugar, and depriving yourself of an occasional treat.
what swaps have you made to reduce sugar intake? Let me know in the comments!