If you came from my Facebook page, you are now armed with all kinds of interesting and scary facts about sugar. So, what can we all do to reduce our sugar consumption?
- Take heart! Be aware that awareness is half the battle. Being mindful about sugar usually translates into consuming less of it.
- Read labels. The government is gradually making this easier for all of us. Legislation is in place to require food companies to differentiate between “natural sugars” and “added sugars” in the Nutrition Facts portion of the labels. But as of this posting, it's all still just “sugar”. A quick scan of the ingredient list will help. Be aware that anything that says “syrup” (corn syrup, brown rice syrup, etc) or ends in “ose” (dextrose, maltose) is an added sugar. Sugar hides under many other names, but that's a good starting point. Remember also that ingredients are listed in order of quantity. So if sugar is the second item in the list of ingredients, that product is probably pretty high in sugar.
- Don't stress out about hitting exact numbers. It's hard to calculate and track anyway, since the labels don't do us any favors (yet) when it comes to being exact about grams of added sugars vs. natural sugars. The goal here is to consume less than you have in the past.
- Make your own snacks. You can control how much sugar you add to your baked goods (instead of letting Little Debbie dictate the amount!), and many recipes will turn out just fine when you reduce the amount of sugar called for. Try using honey instead of sugar...it's sweeter than white sugar, so you can use less of it. Experiment if you dare, or of course, there's always Pinterest. Search “reduced sugar baking” or something similar, and you'll have plenty of options.
- Differentiate between “snack” and “treat”. A snack doesn't always have to mean a cookie or a piece of cake. Try string cheese, smoothies, a hard-boiled egg, a piece of fruit, veggies and dip, or popcorn.
- Eat less food that comes in a package. Sugar hides in many of those packages. Breakfast cereal is a common culprit, but so are things like Gogurt, salad dressing, and frozen pizza! Ketchup and spaghetti sauce will most likely have small amounts of naturally occurring sugar (from the tomatoes) but many varieties include lots of added sugar.
- Completely cutting out added sugar is probably not realistic for most of us. But consider limiting it by instituting some ground rules in your household. For instance, “one treat per day”, or “we only drink pop on Fridays”.
- Try stevia. It's a completely natural sweetener. Not everyone loves the taste (some claim it has a bitter aftertaste) but if you're trying to break your “have some coffee with your sugar” habit, this is a great option. Stevia comes in powder or liquid forms, and although it's not cheap, a little goes a long ways, because it's exponentially sweeter than table sugar.
- Some adults claim they are addicted to sugar. There are a variety of ways to deal with this, and of course, each one is backed up by science. You can try to quit cold-turkey, and know that after dealing with a few days of withdrawal symptoms (for real!) you'll probably be OK. The other option is to allow yourself one small treat/sugary item every day, and your cravings will gradually disappear. (Short science lesson after all: the idea here is that your brain will “realize” that there is more candy/ice cream/cookies where that came from, so your cravings will cease.) You know yourself better than anyone else...if you can't stop at just one, then the second option is probably not right for you. Do what works.
- Mix and match. Your family's tastebuds can and will adjust to less sweetness, but help them out by making the switch more gradual. For instance, if the goal is plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit instead of “fruit on the bottom” yogurt, first try vanilla yogurt with fresh fruit. Then try mixing the plain with the vanilla and see how that goes over. Next try plain plus fresh fruit plus a tiny bit of stevia or honey on top. Rinse and repeat as needed.
- Tackle one food item at a time. It's not realistic to overhaul your entire pantry in a day, and it's easy to feel overwhelmed when you realize that sugar is everywhere. But a baby step is still a step, and those “one thing”(s) add up over time. Maybe you have spaghetti on the menu, but suddenly you realize that your favorite spaghetti sauce has 10g of sugar in a half cup (Prego, I'm looking at you!). Read your labels, pick a different jar, and try it out. If it's a winner, then move on to the yogurt.
- But I'm an athlete and I need sugar for fuel! Yes, you do. And maybe Gatorade is even appropriate for you. But unless you already eat super clean, you could probably stand to reduce your total sugar intake outside of your workout window. Your workouts will most likely improve, because your body will appreciate the workout fuel more when your sugar baseline is lower.
- Water is best, but if your kids “need” their apple or orange juice in the morning, start adding a little bit of water to their cup of juice and see if they notice. Eventually, they might be drinking half the amount of juice without realizing it. Also consider this: The juice glasses I inherited from my grandma are 4 oz. The juice glasses that came with my dishes 15 years ago are 6 oz. The average-sized serving of juice today is 8 oz. Draw your own conclusions :)
- How much sugar is “too much” for one serving? Here's a good rule of thumb: check out the nutrition facts on the label and do some math. Take the grams of sugar and divide it by the total grams of carbohydrates. If sugar makes up more than 20% of the carbs, then the item should be considered a treat.
- Your turn to provide the drink after the Little League game? Try water bottles, but if you want something fancier, choose Propel over Gatorade. It has some artificial flavors in it, but at least it has no sugar. Gatorade does offer some lower sugar options, but water is still better!
Remember to consider all of this in the context of your life. There aren't very many families that can go sugar-free (although some are forced into it as a result of special health concerns), but if yours can, then you have my utmost respect! We operate under “reduced sugar” over here. I do the best I can with the information, time, and resources I have available to me...and I'm pretty sure you do the same. Just start somewhere, taking into consideration your family's lifestyle and attitudes. We're all at different stages of this healthy living journey, and that's OK! Do what you can, and remember that something is better than nothing.
What can you do today to reduce
your sugar consumption?