“We now eat in two weeks the amount of sugar our ancestors of 200 years ago ate in a whole year,”
Despite all the information at our fingertips about its negative health effects, sugar remains one of the most widely consumed substances in the world, providing roughly 20 percent of our total intake of calories and nearly half of our carbohydrates consumption (1).
According to the American Heart Association, the recommended daily allowance for added sugars or caloric sweeteners is less than 6 teaspoons (25g) per day for women and less than 9 teaspoons (37.5g) per day for men.
Unsurprisingly, if you’re an American following a Standard American Diet (let’s face it, that’s most of us), you consume an average of 20 teaspoons of added sugar daily. That equates to 6 cups of sugar a week and roughly 80 pounds of sugar a year (1). That’s a lot of sugar!
Not only is the over-consumption of sugar linked to chronic disease, but it also wreaks havoc on our energy, mood, skin, digestion, mental clarity, and metabolism. In our upcoming November 17th Wellness Window Webinar (Register Here), we’ll speak with Gary Taubes, author of the groundbreaking novel ‘The Case Against Sugar’, on sugar’s link to chronic disease and why we should reduce our intake now.
Knowing the why is only half the battle.
The focus of this blog is on the less familiar phenomena – the how. How do we consume less sugar? Where do we start?
In this article, we’ll explore expert tips to naturally reduce your sugar intake without drastically changing your lifestyle.
Increase Your Consciousness
You cannot change behavior you’re not conscious of. Get clear on just how tight of a grip sugar has on you. Become conscious of how much you consume daily. Where does it lie on the average American daily consumption scale? Where is it showing up most? How do you feel immediately after you consume? How do you feel an hour later? How is it affecting your health or the health of your family?
Getting a handle on these answers will help you determine where to start. Keeping a sugar journal or a tracker is a great way to stay in the know and on track on your journey to reduce your intake.
We tend to tackle behavior change head-on or not at all. We’re either signing ourselves up for half-marathons or sitting on the couch, avoiding sugar at all costs, or buying out the entire candy aisle at the grocery store. Though this level of commitment is commendable, rarely does an all-or-nothing strategy elicit lasting behavior change.
Instead, start by setting small daily goals (changes) that are attainable. It could be adding one less teaspoon of sugar in your coffee every morning or passing on dessert one night a week. While these changes may sound small and insignificant on the surface, it’s the collection of small, intentional changes that elicit big, meaningful, lasting results.
Prioritize the Good – and the Tasty
Much like a child who does the very thing he’s told he isn’t allowed to do, the more attention we focus on something we shouldn’t engage in, the more difficult it is to avoid. The majority of our daily sugar intake comes from simple sugars and refined carbohydrates found in processed and packaged foods such as white rice, bread, pastries, chips, pasta, pizzas, cookies, crackers, etc.
Instead of placing your attention on all the processed and packaged foods you shouldn’t eat, focus on the real, whole (unprocessed) foods you should eat — and truly enjoy. Whole food sources such as vegetables, full-fat dairy products, fruit, properly prepared beans, and legumes, are made up of quality carbohydrates that are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (plant nutrients), fiber, and just the right amount of sugar. Prioritize these foods and you’ll notice that this change not only reduces blood sugar level spikes and cravings but also leave little room in your diet (and your appetite) for those sugar-laden treats.
Though aiming for whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible is ideal, you’ll likely still find yourself in need of a pre-packaged item when you’re in a time crunch. Maybe, you just aren’t interested in making your pickles or yogurt that week. When selecting a food item, whether it be a can of soup, a condiment, or you guessed it, a jar of pickles, read the label. Aim for the product that’s free of sugar or the one with the lowest amount of added sugar or sweetener.
Admittedly, we know it can be difficult to determine which sugars or sweeteners are naturally occurring and which are added just by reading the nutrition label alone, so be sure to also check the ingredients to see how many sweeteners are listed. Ingredients that might not explicitly state “sugar” but are equivalent to, and in some cases worse than, consuming straight sugar include:
- brown rice syrup
- coconut sugar
- crystalline fructose
- fruit juice concentrates
- glucose syrup,
- high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- maple sugar
If the amount of added sugar is not listed on the nutrition facts panel, yet there are some of these types of sweeteners in the ingredients list, it’s safe to assume that some of those have been added – and thus, should be avoided!
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
Last but certainly not least, as you begin to eliminate sugar and its counterparts highlighted above, you may find yourself pondering or even replacing it with non-caloric artificial sweeteners. Although these swaps at one time were thought to be a healthier alternative, it has been shown that they can impose the same, if not greater health risks than consuming the real thing. Recognized by their brand names NutraSweet, Splenda, Sweet N’Low, the below non-caloric artificial sweeteners should be avoided at all costs:
- acesulfame K
If you are looking for sugar replacements, consider natural options such as monk fruit, erythritol, allulose, or Stevia. Remember, however, although they are “natural”, these compounds are no more necessary in your diet than sugar, so minimal use is advised.
Whether you’re starting your battle against sugar or picking up where you last left off, remember that lasting change is built through conscious awareness, a dedicated mindset, and a lot of small, continuous efforts in between – whether that be reading labels, swapping Splenda for Stevia, or choosing whole foods first.
Limit Your Sugar Challenge
If you are a member of WellStyles through Valley Schools, we invite you to join our “Limit Your Sugar Challenge” from November 15th – 26th to track your daily small steps and successes towards reducing your sugar intake. Track at least 6 days out of the 12 to earn an additional 200 WellStyles points to your program! The challenge opens on November 8th! Click here to join.
1 – Taubes, G. (2017). The case against sugar. Anchor Books.