Americans consume over 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day, which is three times the amount recommended by the American Heart Association. Because of the increasing health risk, the World Health Organization recently released new guidelines saying only 5% of a person’s total daily calories should come from sugar. This means the average American needs to decrease their daily sugar intake by two thirds. This can be easier said than done sometimes.
Consuming too much sugar can have major health risks. Recent studies show that excess sugar intake raises the risk of death from heart disease by 20% or more. It’s also been shown to have effects on obesity, metabolism, brain function, diabetes and possibly even cancer.
Here are 12 easy ways to consume less sugar and have a positive impact on your overall health.
1. Don’t trust your will power
One of the best ways to ensure you won’t consume too much sugar is to make sure it’s not there when your craving strikes. Don’t buy any candy, cakes, brownie mixes, chocolate chips or ice cream at the store. Don’t purchase cookies for the local school fundraiser. Avoid the company break room. Sugar proof your house, car and desk as much as possible.
2. Brush your teeth immediately after a meal
Many times we crave something sweet after a meal simply because we want a different taste on our palette. When you brush, the body senses the change and will often times eliminate the craving for something sweet. Brushing also allows you to take ten minutes after a meal to let your food settle and sense your stomach’s fullness. If you aren’t somewhere you can brush, chew on a piece of sugarfree gum instead.
3. Use only oil and vinegar on your salads
Many bottled salad dressings are hidden treasure troves of sugar. Nutritionist Keri Glassman warns that “light” and “low fat” salad dressings often times have even more sugar than their full fat counterparts. She recommends choosing an oil and vinegar based dressing. Trying making one at home with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
4. Ditch the juice
Yes, your freshly squeezed orange juice contains Vitamin C, folate and antioxidants. It also can contain 21 grams of sugar in one cup. You are always better off choosing the whole fruit versus the fruit juice. Your body will process the natural sugar more slowly due to the fiber content, and you will feel full quicker and longer.
5. Avoid “low-fat” packaged and processed foods
When food manufacturers remove fat, they also remove flavor. To make food more palatable, sugar is often added. These seemingly “healthy” foods can be sugar bombs. For example, a Starbucks “skinny” blueberry muffin contains 34.7 grams of sugar, which is 6.6 grams MORE sugar than their classic blueberry muffin. Instead of “low fat”, fill your diet with fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains and healthy fats such as avocado and almonds.
6. Read the ingredient label
Did you know Yoplait Original Yogurt has more sugar than a serving of Ben and Jerry’s Vanilla Ice Cream? According to the USDA, there are more than 29 different names for added sugars on food labels. Start reading ingredient labels, especially on any bottled, canned or packaged food you purchase. If you see dextrose, furctose, lactose, maltose, molasses, nectar, corn syrup, cane juice or glucose, you can be sure that added sugars have been snuck into the food.
7. Buy more grapes
Grapes are like little explosions of natural sugar in your mouth. They are also full of water, fiber and antioxidants. Keep red seedless grapes washed and ready to eat in your refrigerator. When a sugar craving strikes, avoid the graham crackers and grab a handful of grapes instead.
8. Go for a walk
Many of us reach for sugar for the quick high it produces. When we are down, sugar can seem to elevate our mood in the short term. Luckily, exercise has the same effect without the health risks. By releasing endorphins, you will feel happier. You will also feel more confident as you continue to exercise and become stronger. Don’t be surprised if you have no desire for those cookies after your hike, walk or swim.
9. Avoid fancy alcoholic drinks and stick to beer and wine
A typical margarita on the rocks contains 31 grams of sugar, well over the recommended daily value. A 5 oz glass of chardonnay only contains 1.4 grams. If you are drinking, stick to wine, beer or vodka with water to limit your sugar intake.
10. Order the flourless chocolate cake
If you are going to give in and have some sugar, make it something good. If you find yourself out at a nice restaurant that specializes in dessert, by all means order the chocolate cake and split it with your date for the night. If you follow an impulse at the store and purchase cookies full of preservatives and fillers, they won’t taste good or satisfy your craving. You are then more likely to want something else the next day. When you go for sugar, chose real, high quality ingredients so you are truly satisfied.
11. Call your best friend
When we are under stress, our body produces hormones such as cortisol as part of our fight-or-flight response. These hormones not only directly affect our blood sugar levels, but they also can lead to late night ice cream binging. Find ways to decrease stress levels and get your mind off any negative thoughts. Call a friend, watch a funny movie or meditate, and you may find you crave less sugar.
12. Get some zzzz’s
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people were deprived of sleep, their late-night snacking increased. Not only that, but they were more likely to choose high-carbohydrate snacks, which cause a spike in blood sugar. Get more sleep to help decrease cravings and binging.
Apply these simple actions to your life and you will be improving both your short-term and long-term health.
Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com