As you have probably heard, all of us should be eating less sugar. Here’s why: Sugar has been linked to more than sixty different ailments, including obesity. While refined sugar consumption has declined in recent years, a new breed of sugar substitutes has emerged in artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, aspartame, and sugar alcohols, as well as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Alarmingly, sugar’s “kissing cousins” may be even more harmful to your health than sugar itself. These factors make it more important than ever that you understand and practice sugar savvy.
Here are some tips that are fundamental sugar-busters: basic concepts to help you identify sugar in all its various forms and to teach you to limit, substitute for, or eliminate it in the foods you put in your grocery cart, the foods you have in your kitchen, and the way you prepare food. Change is hard, so most people like to ease into it. Start by remembering the concepts and using the tips that seem the simplest and most appealing to you. Once you’re comfortable with those, it’s easy to expand and do more.
1. Stop adding sugar to foods– This is the very easiest way to cut sugar! Whether it’s cereal and fruits, or drinks like herbal tea and coffee, don’t add that sweet sprinkle. Simply eliminating nutrient-empty processed sugars from your kitchen is a good way to start. This means not only table sugar, but dextrose, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, brown sugar, and powdered sugar as well.
2. Eliminate processed carbohydrates from your kitchen– Although many people don’t realize it, refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread, and white pasta are quickly converted to sugars in the body and disrupt the body’s blood sugar and fat control systems. Keeping these common products out of your home is a simple yet effective way to maintain a better-balanced blood sugar level.
3. Stick with unprocessed whole foods– That’s the only way to be sure you’re greatly reducing your sugar intake. Poultry, meat, fish, and eggs are, of course, sugar-free. Legumes, grains, nuts, vegetables, and fruits, which may have some naturally occurring sugars, are full of nutrients and fiber, two ingredients that help balance blood sugar.
4. Thin out sweeteners or sweet foods– (including natural ones, whenever you can.) The idea isn’t to substitute one sugar addiction for another one, but rather to gradually and permanently cut down on all forms of sugar in your diet. Dilute concentrated sweeteners such as honey with water and mix sweet foods like granola with unsweet foods such as plain cereals and nuts to reduce the total amount of sugar consumed.
5. Just as with sugar-free foods, beware of fat-free foods– The fat-free trend of the early 1990’s predated the low-carb craze from which we are now emerging. “Fat-free” may be in bold letters on the label, but what the manufacturers don’t tell you is that the products are sugar-rich, sometimes containing two or more times the sugar found in the regular version of that product that naturally contains a little fat. High amounts of sugar not balanced with protein and fat cause the pancreas to release insulin, the body’s main fat-storage hormone. Fat-free products may sound good on paper, but in the ultimate irony, fat-free products helped to make American fatter and can still do so if you eat them excessively.
6. The more natural the food, the better– It’s well established now that the more processed a food is, the more it will tend to raise your blood sugar. Since balanced blood sugar levels are the goal, opt for foods as close to their natural state as possible. Choose an orange in place of orange juice, an apple over applesauce, and brown rice instead of white rice.
7. Become a food detective– To reduce sugar, you have to know where it is first. To do that, you have to be alert, ask questions, and pay attention to the information you receive about food. Learn to recognize important clues- such as how many grams of sugar are listed on a food label, the ingredients in a food, and how sweet a food tastes to you. Once you identify those foods with a high or hidden sugar content, you know them for what they really are: nutrient robbers and troublemakers for your body.
8. Eat for taste and good nutrition– Your tastes can change, after all, but your fundamental nutrient requirements have to be met each and every day. It’s far better to have your taste buds rebel for a short while, than to have your body break down from nutrient deficiencies. Keep this in mind wen you’re asked to change long-standing habits for new, healthier, sugar-reducing ways of eating.
9. Listen to your body– Know that your body gives powerful signals about what’s right for you even when your taste buds don’t want to listen. For example, if you get an initial high after eating a piece of chocolate but two hours later feel lethargic, irritable, and depressed, your body is going to great lengths to tell you something. Try to pick out those foods that make you feel good over the long term- mentally, emotionally, and physically- and you’ll make great strides toward stabilizing your blood sugar.
10. Eat regular, balanced meals– This may sound like old-fashioned advice, something your mother might have told you, but scientific research is proving its inherent wisdom. Some research indicates that the body operates more efficiently when each meal or snack that you eat contains approximately 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. This formula keeps your blood sugar in the optimal zone for as long as four or five hours. Balanced blood sugar levels mean better concentration, better mood, and greater energy and stamina (and therefore less need or temptation to grab something sweet for quick energy).
*Adapted from ‘Get the Sugar Out: 501 Simple Ways to Cut the Sugar Out of Any Diet’ by Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., C.N.S.