The average American consumes about 20 teaspoons of added sugar each day—that’s three times the recommended amount and adds up to 66 pounds of added sugar per year! Did anyone else’s jaw drop?
First things first, let’s get a couple things straight. Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits, veggies, grains, and dairy, however, these healthy whole foods come in nature’s perfect package and include fiber, minerals, and antioxidants. The fiber and other nutrients in carbohydrates cause them to digest slowly, which allows the natural sugar to gradually be released. Whole food carbohydrates are not the problem—added sugar is. This oh-so-sweet ingredient is in just about everything you can buy off store shelves and hides under the disguise of 61 different names.
Why is added sugar harmful?
Added sugar is a big threat to human health, as it increases our risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, premature aging, non-alcoholic liver disease, obesity, kidney disease, and tooth decay. Added sugars are essentially added calories that contain no nutrients—they’re simply empty vessels that carry the risk of serious health issues. Sure, foods with sugar taste good—there’s no denying that—but is the momentary dopamine release from a cookie really worth all of those potential health risks?
Reducing sugar intake can be challenging—some researchers even claim that sugar is as addictive as drugs—however, it can be done, and the rewards you reap will be far better than any momentary sugar high.
Today I’m going to share four tips for limiting your sugar intake so that you can regain control of your diet and, consequently, your health and well-being.
1. Center your diet around whole, real foods
While foods in boxes, cans, and cartons are convenient, they’re also likely full of added sugar (not to mention a bunch of other junky ingredients). On your next trip to the grocery store, shop the perimeter of the store and avoid, to the best of your ability, the middle aisles. Why? All the healthy foods, such as fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains, live on the perimeter of the store and this is what the bulk of your diet should contain. Have fun in the kitchen playing with ways to make food flavorful and enticing—sans the added sugar!
2. Eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages
One 12-ounce can of soda contains around 52 grams of sugar. By having one soda, you’re drinking over double the amount of sugar that is considered safe to consume in a day. Crazy, right? Cutting down (or preferably eliminating) sugary drinks is the quickest and easiest way to reduce added sugars. Rather than consuming sodas, sports drinks, and other sugar-laden beverages, opt for flavored soda water or water infused with fresh fruits.
3. Stock up on fresh fruit
When cutting down on added sugar, fresh fruit will be your best friend. Rather than having a piece of cake for dessert, have a piece of fruit or two. Instead of adding sugar or honey on top of your oatmeal, top it with some fresh berries. Whenever you’re having a sugar craving—you guessed it—grab a piece of fruit! Unlike processed sugar, fruit sugars are bundled up with other nutrients, such as water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which slow down digestion and allow for a gradual release of the sugar for energy.
4. Get good at reading labels
Familiarize yourself with the many names for added sugars and train yourself to become a label- reading expert. You want to aim for consuming no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar per day. Before buying food in a can, box, or carton, scan the nutrition label and ingredients to make sure it’s not too high in sugar, and if it is, leave it behind!
Start reducing your added sugar intake today
Changing a habit can take some work, but with patience, repetition, and determination, you can do it. If you consume more sugar than you’d like one day, don’t beat yourself up. Rather, reflect on what went wrong, make a plan to handle it better next time, and keep going. I’m confident in saying that you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how great you feel when you reduce, or eliminate, added sugars. It’s a challenge that is worth your time and effort and will benefit your well-being a million times more than a carton of Oreos ever will.
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