If you’re anything like me, your sweet tooth is what gets you in trouble. When I’m not eating dark chocolate, I’m thinking about when I can get my hands on it.
In early 2016, the FDA issued new recommendations on sugar intake. Sugar has been linked to obesity, diabetes and many other health problems. The FDA’s new dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugar to only 50 grams per day for most people, but that isn’t always easy. The typical American diet is so saturated with foods that contain hidden sugars that it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid. There’s even emerging science suggesting that sugar is an addictive substance — I know I’ve had my fair share of sugar cravings!
In my own health journey, I’ve found that limiting my sugar and carbohydrate intake produces amazing physical results, including weight loss. The problem is that added sugar runs so rampant in the American diet that it is hard to limit or eliminate it.
Here are three ways you can fight back:
Shop Smart for Prepared Foods
The largest source of added sugar in a typical diet is pre-processed, easy-to-make foods. We’re all guilty of reaching for that jar of spaghetti sauce once in a while rather than making our own, but these “convenient” products are often loaded with extra sugar to make them taste better. Manufacturers know that the better these foods taste, the more you will purchase.
Be sure to read labels. Look for ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, which is a clever way of adding sugar. Even products such as granola bars and frozen dinners often contain lots of added sugar. Question foods labeled “healthy” or “organic” as well. They may tout “cane syrup” or “unprocessed sugar cane” as a healthier way to eat, but when it comes down to it, sugar is sugar.
Mind Your Beverages
You can often find a lot of sugar in what you drink. One single can of soda can contain 10 teaspoons or more of added sugar. Combine that with the sugar you add to your morning coffee and the hidden sugars in a bagel, pizza or salad dressing, and you’ve just overshot your sugar intake for the day — and then some.
Avoiding sodas can be a great first step, but coffee, tea and alcoholic beverages can also be full of sugar. It’s often difficult to guess how much sugar you’ll find in a glass of “sweet tea” from a restaurant or in a margarita at the bar.
Even juice can be a hidden-sugar beverage trap. While 100% orange juice and apple juice contain only natural sugars, oftentimes the special “mixed” varieties have sugar added to them. In addition, you might think a smoothie is a smart choice, but it’s actually a sugar bomb: On top of the sugars from the blended fruits, many smoothie places add sugar to their drinks in an attempt to make them taste so good that you’ll come back for more. That peanut butter-banana-protein smoothie is probably not as “healthy” as you think it is!
Avoid ‘Low-Fat’ Products
In the 1950s, the dietary conventional wisdom held that avoiding fat would make you less fat, but new research shows that’s not necessarily the case. Nutritionists now recommend a well-rounded diet that is low in sugar and full of lean proteins and healthy fats like those found in avocado, olive oil and nuts. While too much of any fat isn’t good for the diet, healthy fats are necessary for your body to function. When I’m sticking to a strict low-fat diet, I tend to tend get hungrier throughout the day than I do when I include healthy fats.
Many brands boast about “low fat” to try to get you to purchase their product, but that term doesn’t tell the whole story. Be careful when buying “low-fat” foods and be sure to read labels. Fat tastes good, so when companies remove it, they often add sugar to make up for any loss of flavor. For example, “low-fat” sour cream almost always contains much more sugar than the full-fat version.
I’ve found that a good rule is to try to eat as naturally as you can to avoid sugar. Vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, healthy oils and nuts make for a good, sustainable diet that is low in sugar and high in nutrients. Try to decrease the amount of processed food you eat; drink more water, tea and sugar-free carbonated beverages while avoiding sugary liquids; and don’t buy into the low-fat craze.
Eating whole, natural foods will lower your sugar intake and increase health benefits. Slay that sugar dragon!