Did you know that cutting down on sugar means more than avoiding products like candy and baked goods? I’m looking at you, ketchup and salad dressing! But first things first. Let’s talk about sugar.
What is sugar?
Sugar is a natural substance. Mother Nature uses it a lot and we benefit from its sweetness in the likes of oranges, pineapple and any other fruit that you enjoy. Ever notice how you never overdose on eating strawberries? The perfect ratio of sugar and fibre tells your body when it should be done with a little dessert or snack that is made of fruit.
Unfortunately, food scientists have come up with dozens of versions of sugars that are added to the foods we buy in the store. Sugar is also known as corn syrup, maltodextrin, fructose, brown rice syrup, sucrose and more. Because most of us are unfamiliar with these terms, they can get lost in the ingredient list, especially if it is particularly long.
Where to start?
While it can be daunting to get started tracking down the sugar that is in your diet, it helps to start with one goal at a time. For instance, you can pick the obvious culprits first.
Try this exercise to gain awareness of your daily habit. For just for a week or even a couple of days, write down what you consume everyday. Consume. Not just your meals. That also means drinks. And snacks. Don’t overlook that handful of M&Ms you grabbed before going into that three o’clock meeting. Then after you review your food diary, look for a pattern.
If you always drink a Venti S’mores Latte in the morning or a 24 oz. soda at lunch, you can cut out a lot of sugar simply by downsizing. Try a smaller size for a few days. If you find yourself making the smaller size a habit. Congrats! You just cut down on sugar. If you want, you can go further by cutting out the treat altogether or opting for the diet or lite versions. Just be aware of what the sugar substitute is before proceeding. Stevia is a plant based sugar alternative which is preferable to saccharin.
Next, see if you are grabbing “snacks” a lot during the day.
If you are munching in between meals, you may need to fortify the meals themselves. Do they have enough protein or fibre? Believe it or not, you actually need to have some fat in your diet as well. Not the fats found in junk food, but the healthy fats found in avocados and olive oil.
Those Pesky Ingredients
Even if you look at cutting down on the easy target of eating ice cream every night on the couch after a hard day, you still may be missing sugar that you are not even aware that you are intaking. This brings us back to those sugars mentioned at the beginning.
When you are shopping and you reach for a box, can or bottle of anything, flip it to the back and look at the ingredients. Two things to note. First, are sugars listed (in any of the terms that they can come in)? Secondly, how far up on the list is the sugar(s)? The higher up on the list, the more of it in the product. When you start looking, you realize how much is added to our food. Take the example of peanut butter. Peanut Butter should be peanuts and maybe salt. However, look at the label of your favorite brand. Yep, most likely you will find sugar added. Sorry to burst your bubble. But buyer beware.
Does this mean I shouldn’t eat sugar at all?
No, one of the biggest joys in life is the enjoyment of food. The point is to be aware of what you are putting in your body and decide if that is what you want to do.
Maybe you are careful with your sugar intake for breakfast and lunch and can then enjoy a dessert for after dinner. Maybe you can use maple syrup or honey that also have vitamins in addition to sweetness for baking instead of pure white sugar for the cake. Maybe you get in the habit of using fruit as your sweet treat like baking apples with cinnamon on top or high percentage dark chocolate with orange wedges.
The trick to cutting down on sugar is simple. Educate yourself on what sugar is called and where it is found. Then decide what is worth it to you. Just don’t let the food industry decide for you.
Nicole Klett is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach located in the United States. She is certified by the National Board of Medical Examiners and has worked with hundreds of clients to reach their health goals. She is also a writer who enjoys topics that are related to self-care whether that be sharing tips for healthier eating or for the next book or movie to check out.