Yesterday was Halloween. It is often the beginning of many of us, if not most, consuming even more sugar than we already do. The American Dietary Association’s (ADA) 2015 guidelines advises that we consume less than 10% of our daily calories from added sugar. Added sugars contribute zero nutrients but use up a good portion of our daily calorie allowance. Yet, American adults, on average, consume an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar every day (roughly 72 grams). The recommended amounts are just a fraction of that; men should consume no more than 36 grams per day, and women, no more than 25 grams per day. This adds up to around 60 pounds of added sugar consumed annually.
While weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, tooth decay, increased inflammation and pain are some of the consequences of excessive sugar consumption, there are many other ‘hidden’ effects of consuming too much sugar. Some additional health concerns include inflammatory diseases like osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, other joint pain, kidney stones, increased risk of dementia, fatty liver disease, and more. Consuming too much sugar can result in significant impacts to your body and can even increase the risk of all-cause mortality.
With that being said, it’s undeniable that sugar is everywhere. Coffee drinks, dips, dressings, pasta sauce, canned foods, protein bars, granola, yogurt, bread, and so much more.
This holiday season work to limit sugar intake, when possible, despite the prevalence of decadent desserts, savory dishes, and tasty beverages. It is not impossible but will require close attention to what you consume. On average, Americans gain 5-7 pounds during the holiday season and a significant portion of that is undoubtedly due to sugar consumption. Here are 10 ways to reduce sugar consumption:
Cut out sugary drinks
Sodas, juices, pre-made coffee drinks, sports drinks, wine coolers- these are just a few examples of the many types of drinks that are loaded with sugar. Not only has drinking some of these- like juices, been linked to increased risk of cancer, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and other health issues, but many people unknowingly consume the majority of their sugars via beverages. Many choose diet drinks as a way to cut back on sugar and calories. But exercise cautiou, as recently some sugar substitutes have been tied to an increased risk of stroke and heart attacks (erythritol) and potential genotoxicity (sucralose). One sure-fire way to cut sugar quickly is to eliminate sugary drinks and reach for alternatives like these 5 ideas.
Reduce the amount of sugar you add to homemade recipes
Making as many of your own foods at home is the goal as you can control exactly what goes into the items you consume. When cooking or baking those holiday recipes, reduce the amount by one-third. We guarantee you’ll hardly be able to taste the difference (if at all!), and you may even find that the next time you can reduce by more and still enjoy the flavors of the recipe just the same.
Limit your stress (as best you can)
Stress eating is a well understood to be a moment when high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar foods are consumed. That’s because when our bodies feel stress, we yearn for something that helps regulate us. Often, that’s a comfort food. Read these 10 ways to help counteract stress eating and holiday stress and reduce the moments when you sabotage your sugar reduction and weight loss efforts.
Avoid or reduce sugary desserts
Who can resist delicious buttery cookies, spongy cakes, and chocolatey morsels? It’s tough for most of us. Studies show processed foods (including refined sugars) have the exact same impact on the reward system in the brain as any addictive drug, such as cocaine. Eating sugar regularly alters your brain so that it becomes tolerant to it, causing you to require more to get the same effect. It’s no wonder that it can be difficult to turn away desserts, but the less you consume, the less you’ll crave it. Some refer to this as a sugar detox, which can be done by simultaneously reducing your sugar intake while increasing your consumption of whole foods (fruits, veggies, lean proteins, legumes, healthy fats, whole grains) that boost your body’s function.
It can be truly surprising to see how many items we load up into our grocery carts contain sugar. Crackers, yogurt, bread, sauces, dressings, canned vegetables, cured meats, and more. We’re not saying to cut it all out, but do check those food labels. Choose items that have the lowest amount of added sugar (and while you’re at it, check the sodium and saturated fat levels, too). Decreasing your sugar intake can sometimes be as easy as switching brands!
If you stay hydrated, you’re less likely to fill up on potentially unhealthy, sugary snacks. Try drinking a glass of water the next time you feel hungry or get a craving, you might be shocked by how the cravings go away just by improving your hydration. Staying hydrated also improves your weight loss efforts by increasing the calories your body burns, aids digestion, supports fat metabolization, and it’s also the best substitute for those sugary drinks you’re trying to cut out. Avoiding alcoholic drinks will further benefit your body as they are often loaded with sugar and recent studies have highlighted that moderate consumption is not good for us, either.
Reach for full-fat or low-fat foods rather than non-fat
An often-overlooked way that people end up consuming more sugar than they suspect is when by choosing “healthier” foods. Fat-free, low-sodium, and other food terms are appealing because it seems like they are a part of the “right” foods to eat. But companies often add other ingredients (like sugar!) that are appealing to our taste buds. Again, the best way to avoid this scenario is to check food labels. Even if a food doesn’t have all those catchy labels, you might find that eating the same amount of the regular option is actually better for you than eating the pseudo-“healthier” food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture shares this info as a great example:
A 6-ounce (170-gram) serving of low-fat vanilla yogurt contains 24 grams of sugar and 144 calories.
The same amount of full-fat plain yogurt contains just 8 grams of naturally occurring milk sugar and only 104 calories.
Watch out for the “healthy” processed foods you consume
Marketing companies are great at what they do. They have it down to a literal science. Seemingly healthy food brands hire the same marketing companies as brands that sell more processed, unhealthy foods. Their goals are the same- to sell their products- and it’s up to you to separate what’s actually healthy from what’s not. Protein bars, packaged salads, pre-packaged oatmeal, “healthy” foods with boosts of vitamins, minerals, energy, and smoothies are just a few of the items that seem like they’d be a great choice but are often just as full of unnecessary sugars, sodium, fat, additives, and more. Read those food labels carefully!
Start the day right
If you’re not eating a balanced diet that includes whole foods, you might not be getting enough protein. This can lead you to feeling hungry more often and puts you in a position where you may reach for the next tasty, sugary thing that crosses your path. Start your day strong by eating plenty of protein. Try plain Greek yogurt with fruit and granola. Make delicious overnight oats. In a rush and forgot to prep breakfast? For a boost of protein, spread low sodium nut butters on whole grain toast (check that it is also low in added sugars).
Don’t bring sugary items into your home
If you’re looking to cut back on sugary foods, keep them out of your home. While it’s not as easy as during the holidays as most of us will attend gatherings that often include loads of delicious foods, at the very least limit what is in your home so there is an extra hurdle of having to leave home to get an item you are craving. Instead, stock up on foods that will satisfy your hunger or craving while keeping the extra sugar at bay. Read this post for a variety of healthy desserts– but still watch portion size as eating lots of anything won’t benefit you in the long run.
We’ve all been in a position of starting to follow a recipe only to discover we’re lacking an ingredient. A quick online search provides plenty of creative substitutions. Use this same technique intentionally when trying to reduce your sugar intake. Try applesauce instead of sugar. Unsweetened applesauce checks in at just 102 calories per cup, while the same amount of sugar measures 774 calories. The problem is that sugar isn’t just a sweetener. It also plays an important role in the chemistry of most recipes, providing structure and browning power to the mixture. So, get ready to experiment as you tweak your favorite recipe to find just the right quantity of applesauce to use. You can also find plenty of recipes that have already been created with applesauce as a part of the mix- try these!
Getting a good night’s rest impacts your food choices and cravings. Studies have found evidence that sleep deprivation (getting less than five hours of sleep per night) produces higher peaks of a lipid in our bloodstream known as an endocannabinoid, that may make eating more pleasurable. These changes “could be the driving force for craving more palatable foods,” according to Erin Hanlon, a Neuroscientist at the University of Chicago Medical Center and the author of one study. That same study found that when people were insufficiently rested, they were more likely to reach for junk food- salty and sugary items- over healthy foods. Help yourself make good choices and get some good sleep!
It’s not always easy, but with some intention you’ll be able to make it through the holiday season without loading up on unnecessary sugar. On the flip side- deprivation can often make the temptation stronger- so enjoy those meals, desserts, and beverages but use these tips to set yourself up for success.