FUNDAMENTALS OF HEALTHY EATING PART IV - EAT LESS ADDED SUGAR
THE NEXT STEP - 2-4 WEEKS: END THAT LOVE AFFAIR WITH ADDED SUGAR
The average American is eating 22 TEASPOONS of added sugar a day. And before you say "not me! I drink my coffee black and choose diet soda!"consider this: most people are completely unaware of how much added sugar they're eating until they start reading labels. On your next trip to the grocery store, examine the labels on the yummies you're throwing in that cart and you'll likely be surprised to see how much sugar is added to everything from seemingly "healthy" bread to savory crackers to vegan dips and paleo protein bars. But why should you care?
Sugar impacts SO MUCH more than our waistlines. Eating excess refined sugar dramatically increases your risk of heart disease, liver disease, Type 2 diabetes, gut issues (which lead to a whole host of other health problems), and certain cancers. It also effects mood stability, hormone balance and the hunger and fullness signals that regulate appetite. Questioning any of this? There's plenty of research to back it all up. Still skeptical? Try eliminating added sugar from your diet entirely and the withdrawal symptoms and panic that ensues will deliver a dose of the cold hard reality of how much it affects your brain and body. This stuff is no joke. Yet Americans are guzzling it, snacking on it, basically Scarface face-planting in it and rolling around in it like a bunch of kids making snow angels on a snow day.
Now I'm NOT saying you have to eliminate sugar entirely from your diet for the rest of your life. I understand that sounds crazy and frankly unrealistic. I want to eat the occasional cookie too. And cake on my birthday. Oh and you couldn't pry my daily raw chocolate from my cold dead hands. But most people eat FAR TOO MUCH added sugar every single day and will GREATLY benefit from reducing daily intake. Both the American Heart Association and World Health Organization recommend a daily max of 25 grams of added sugar - still too high by many accounts but only 1/4 of the average American's current daily intake. But how do you get your intake down to that sweet pot?
If you've already read part I, part II and part III of the Fundamentals of Healthy Eating series, you're armed with greater awareness around what you're hoping to achieve by modifying your diet (hopefully not just weight loss), and how your current way of eating is affecting your mental and physical wellbeing. You've been incorporating more vegetables into your meals and adding powerful nutrients to your plate by doing so. Using the awareness you cultivated in part II , take a pause to access how the strategies in part III affected you. With more veggies crowding out the processed things on your plate, have you noticed positive changes in energy, digestion, mood? If not, that's ok, these things take time. If so, congratulations! Either way, carry forward the principles from parts I-III and continue to build on your healthy habits by tackling the below.
STEP 2: EAT LESS ADDED SUGAR
First thing's first. UNDERSTAND WHAT "ADDED SUGAR" MEANS. Added sugars are both natural and processed sugars that are added during the preparation or processing of a food. The honey you add to your tea, maple syrup you put on your pancakes and dextrose you unwittingly consume in highly processed snack crackers all count as added sugar. Naturally occurring parts of unprocessed whole food, like the fructose in your sliced apple or the sucrose in your baked sweet potato, however are NOT added sugars.
CHANGE UP YOUR BEVERAGES. Sweetened beverages are the number one source of added sugars in the American diet, so this should be an easy way to make a big impact on your overall consumption. Swap out sweetened beverages or soda for:
filtered water- flat or fizzy
lemon water or water with whole fresh berries added
unsweetened herbal or green tea
plain coffee, matcha or tea with unsweetened milks
DISCOVER NEW DESSERTS. Grain based desserts (think cupcakes or cookies) are the second biggest source of added sugars in our diets. Now I love a little something sweet after my dinner (and sometimes lunch) too, but it's all about choices.
Instead of grabbing something processed out of a box or a bag, how about an apple dipped in creamy dreamy almond butter? Strawberries or cherries dipped in tahini is delish too!
Try swapping out sugary milk chocolate for a square of dark, raw chocolate (lower in sugar and loaded with antioxidants!)
A juicy Medjool date packs a lot of natural sweetness and is heavenly stuffed with tahini, almond butter or sunflower seed butter. Just be sure to only have 1 or 2 small dates because they are pretty high in natural sugars!
Not a fruit person? Try these delicious MFW low sugar cookie dough balls!
RETHINK BREAKFAST. Added sugar in boxed cereals and dairy convenience foods like yogurt with "fruit" on the bottom are the next big contributors to those 22 teaspoons/day the average American is consuming. That's why making a few tweaks to your breakfast menu will help you easily reduce overall consumption. Added bonus? You'll crave sugar and refined carbs less throughout the rest of the day if you're starting off on the right foot. Some things to try:
2 scrambled eggs or a veggie omelette with 1/4 avocado, a little salsa or sliced tomato and 1/4 - 1/2 cup of black beans is a wonderful low sugar meal packed with protein, healthy fats and complex carbs.
Instead of granola or Honey Nut Cheerios, try steel cut oats or quinoa porridge mixed with chia seeds and topped with some chopped nuts and fresh or frozen fruit for a touch of sweetness.
Swap out sweetened yogurts for plain, unsweetened varieties like Greek yogurt which has lots of protein or coconut yogurt which is loaded with healthy fats that are easily converted to energy. Top with blueberries or a variety of seeds to load up on added nutrients.
A super easy route to a balanced, nutrient dense breakfast that's free of added sugar? Homemade smoothies! This is my personal go to breakfast and you can find loads of recipes here. (Just watch out for bottled or store bought smoothies from places like Jamba Juice. They're LOADED with excessive natural sugars that aren't usually balanced out by healthy fats, fiber and protein.)
SNACK SMARTER. This is another area where grabbing less from a box or bag and more whole foods will make a BIG impact. Instead of Chex Mix or granola bars or snack pack size bags of Oreos, try out one of the below snacks that are just as convenient and so much healthier all around!
1/2 an avocado sprinkled with sea salt, red pepper flake and a squeeze of lemon
a hardboiled egg with a little sea salt and black pepper
a small baggie of baby carrots, sliced red pepper or your favorite raw veggie dipped in hummus (look for hummus made with chick peas, olive oil, lemon, tahini and not much more)
a green juice loaded with vegetables (make sure there is little to no fruit in it)
handful of fresh berries and a small handful of dry-roasted or raw, unsalted nuts
an apple with your favorite nut butter, a handful of nuts or 1 oz of high quality cheese
Baked sweet potato wedges dipped in nut or seed butter
any of the above dessert swaps
START READING LABELS to look out for obvious and sneaky added sugars; they're often in things you don't even consider sweet (nut butters, salad dressings, crackers, potato chips, etc.). Rather than committing this (incomplete) list to memory, just look out for the obvious ones and remember that it's safe to consider pretty much anything ending in "ose" or "syrup" added sugar.
The pretty common ones: cane sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, maple sugar, beet sugar, honey, molasses, agave, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, simple syrup, evaporated cane juice, dextrose, fructose, glucose, sucrose, lactose, maltose
The sneakier ones: evaporated beet juice, maltodextrin, dextrin, gum syrup, golden syrup, malt syrup, carob syrup, sorghum syrup, fruit juice concentrate, barley malt,
The fancy sounding sneaky ones: Turbinado, treacle, sucanat, muscavado
A note on timeline: Take at least a week to discover where and how much you're consuming added sugars by reading labels and paying a little bit more attention to your food choices. In that time, I suggest paying attention to how you feel immediately AND a few hours after consuming the sweet stuff. After you've done a little sugar impact discovery, take a week or more to start experimenting with the alternatives above. Seem like a slow process to you? Bear with me. In my experience the more time you have to be mindful and purposeful about any diet or lifestyle change, the more likely you are to stick with it. Research also shows it takes about 2 weeks for your brain to start to register the positive effects of change and 3 weeks to effectively change a habit. I encourage you to set yourself up for success with this and any behavioral change by employing patience.