As someone who loves reading about the latest nutrition fads and diet philosophies, I’ll admit that the wealth of information I consume on a weekly basis can get pretty confusing. Plant-based, paleo, or somewhere in between — many of the different diet stances have their own strong arguments, which can make it hard to decipher which one is right for you.
The one thing that almost all these philosophies can agree on is that cutting down on sugar is one of the quickest ways to improve your health (and drop a few pounds in the process.)
Did you know that the average American consumes 32 teaspoons of sugar a day? Let that sink in for a sec, then keep scrolling for 7 ways you can start cutting back on sugar, today.
Compare food labels.
You might be amazed at the amount of sugar that’s hidden inside many packaged foods where we least expect it (like bread and salad dressing), in the form of high fructose corn syrup, cane syrup, molasses, sucrose (or any word ending in “-ose”), brown rice syrup, or any number of other code words to watch for. Even foods that seem similar, like two brands of yogurt, can drastically vary in how many grams of sugar they contain. Get into the habit of checking the labels on all packaged goods before you buy, and remember that ingredients are listed by quantity, so if sugar (or any of its other names) is near the top, steer clear. You don’t have to eliminate it completely from your life; the point here is to really to start becoming aware of how much you’re actually consuming.
Say yes to healthy fats.
Sugar can be as physically addictive as a drug, and for those of us who have a lot of sugar or carb cravings, it’s really important that we get enough good fats in our meals in order to feel satiated. Instead of reaching for snacks that spike our blood sugar, set yourself up for success by incorporating fat into your mealtimes. Add avocado to your morning eggs and toast, drizzle olive oil over roasted veggies and salad, and snack on almonds or walnuts for a healthy hit of fat that’ll keep you feeling full, not to mention foster glowing skin and lush hair.
Take an honest look at the main source of sugar in your diet.
We all have different dietary habits, and while some people will want to focus on cutting out their daily soda intake, my own biggest sources come from midday snacks or after dinner treats that don’t seem that bad, but often have a lot of hidden sugars – think granola bars or fruit sorbet. Once you’ve identified which sources are adding the most sugar to your life, you can make a plan to cut back in those areas to see the biggest difference (see next slide for more on making the transition.)
Wean yourself gradually.
One of the most dangerous things about sugar is that our taste buds acclimate to it – if we habitually consume super sweet foods and drinks, we get used to the taste and over time, crave more and more. The good thing is that the inverse is also true. By weaning ourselves off sugary treats, pretty soon, we’ll need far less sugar than we used to for something to taste “sweet.” Do it gradually: if you usually have 2 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, cut back to 1 1/2 teaspoons for a week, then 1 teaspoon, then maybe a half teaspoon.
Substitute fruit for sugar in recipes.
This is one of my favorite tricks when I’m craving the comfort of a baked good (hello, pumpkin bread!) but don’t want to create a sugar bomb for myself or my family. Mashed banana or unsweetened applesauce can be substituted for part of the sugar in a recipe, and if something really cries out for major sweetness, try using dates as a natural sugar substitute (this is great in smoothies.) As your taste buds adjust to “needing” less sugar, suddenly you’ll notice the natural sweetness that fruit gives to a dish.
Embrace all the fall spices.
Cinnamon, ginger or vanilla extract can enhance the flavors in a recipe and “trick” your taste buds into thinking it’s sweet by association, since these spices are often included in desserts and carb-y foods. I often sprinkle a little cinnamon on my morning cappuccino and suddenly it feels like more of a treat without adding any extra calories. And I always buy plain yogurt, then dress it up with a dash of vanilla extract, mashed banana, and a little grated ginger.
Get enough sleep.
While this one may sound like it’s coming out of left field, hear me out. How many of you guys notice major sugar cravings the day after a sleepless night? I’ve noticed that when I’m really tired or feeling depleted, I’m much more vulnerable to reaching for something carb-heavy – almost as though my body is grasping for any source of energy. Of course, we all know that a sudden hit of sugar eventually results in a crash that makes us feel much worse later. Try to get a solid 7 – 8 hours of sleep a night and see if your sugar cravings subside – or at least feel much more manageable.