Cutting Back on Sugar – What You Need to Know
We all know that too much sugar is bad news. In fact, excessive consumption can be harmful, leading to weight gain, tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, an increased risk of heart disease, and more.
In the United States, the average daily added sugar intake for adults is about 13% of total energy intake, which is higher than the World Health Organization’s recommendation.
Unreasonable amounts of sugar also cause spikes and crashes in your blood sugar levels, which affects mood and energy. Additionally, too much sugar can displace more nutritious foods in the diet.
That sounds like bad news, right? But sugar is everywhere. How can you avoid it? In this article, we’ll explore a glycemic index, how to recognize sugars in your food, and the best ways to cut back.
Your Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load
The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a particular food will spike your blood sugar, while a glycemic load gauges the amount of digestible carbohydrate (total carb minus fiber) the food contains.
While both measurements are valuable tools, unless you’re on a specific diet, most people find it easiest to stick to the more popular terms “good carb” and “bad carb.”
The terms “good carb” and “bad carb” describe the differences in the nutritional value and health effects of different types of carbohydrates.
It’s important to note that all carbohydrates provide energy and play a role in the diet, and the terms “good” and “bad” are not a black-and-white distinction. However, both will break down into sugars in your body.
This includes complex carbohydrates which can be found in unprocessed foods like:
- Whole grains
These carbs are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and take longer to digest, which keeps you feeling full longer.
Good carbs are considered low glycemic index (GI) foods. These are absorbed more slowly and have a more gradual effect on blood sugar levels, which is better for overall health. Examples of low GI foods include sweet potatoes, lentils, and most fruits.
Bad carbs include simple carbohydrates which are found in processed foods. These foods typically contain tons of added sugars that are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar levels. This activity can lead to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.
Bad carbs are high glycemic index (GI) foods. These types of foods lead to a “sugar crash” that can leave you feeling hungry and tired. Examples of high GI foods include:
- White bread
- Sugary snacks
- White rice
This is why it’s important to choose complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber and other nutrients, and to avoid or limit simple carbohydrates and processed foods. This promotes good health and prevents chronic diseases.
How to Quickly Recognize Sugars in Your Food
This can be tough since sugar can come in many different forms, by a variety of names. Here are a few common ways to find the nasty culprit in your meal:
Check the Ingredients
Sugar can appear under many different names, including:
- High-fructose corn syrup
Even lactose. Typically anything ending in “ose” contains sugars.
Check the Total Carbs
Although not all carbohydrates are sugars, most packaged foods contain a list of “Nutritional Facts” that has the total carbohydrate content, which includes both sugars and other types of carbs.
Look for Added Sugars
Although many foods, such as fruit and dairy products, contain natural sugars, these are not considered added sugars. Added sugars are the ones manufacturers add to foods during processing. The label on packaged foods provides information on the amount of added sugars per serving.
Don’t Drink Your Sugar
Many beverages, like soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit juices, contain high amounts of added sugars. It’s critical that you limit your intake here. It’s easy to go overboard when you are gulping your sugars down.
Choose Whole Foods
Most whole foods are lower in sugars and higher in fiber than processed foods. Whole foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
How Do I Cut Down on Sugar?
If you love sugar, this can be the most challenging part about losing weight. Although cutting down on sugar can be difficult, it’s essential to improving your health. Here are a few common tips to reduce your sugar intake:
Slowly Reduce the Amount
Cut back a little at a time and allow your taste buds time to adjust. Wean yourself off the craving slowly, rather than going cold turkey. You can start by reducing the amount of sugar you add to your tea or coffee, and then gradually reduce the amount in other foods and beverages.
Prepare More Meals at Home
This gives you more control over the amount and types of sugars in your food. Use natural sweeteners like fruits and spices instead of refined sugar.
Check Portion Sizes
Even healthy foods like fruit and yogurt can contain a lot of sugar if consumed in large amounts. So, be mindful of portion sizes and eat a variety of foods to get a balance of nutrients.
Give Recipes a Revamp
Loves Grandma’s cookie recipe, but hate the way it makes you look? Consider adding either less sugar or substituting a natural sugar for processed ones. You don’t have to throw away family traditions. Just tweak them a little bit!
Get More Sleep
Lack of sleep is known to increase sugar cravings. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night to help control your sugar intake. Otherwise, you might be ravenous as soon as you wake up or, worse, right before bed. If you crave ice cream and candy at night, chances are you might need more sleep.
Avoid Processed Foods
Approximately 75% of packaged and processed foods in the United States contain sugar. This includes everything from frozen dinners to canned soups and even “low-fat” meals.
Eat Healthier Snacks
Forget about putting candy, chocolate, or cake in your mouth. Instead, satisfy a sweet tooth with naturally sweet foods like fruit, honey, and peanut butter. Peanut butter and banana go much farther for you health-wise than a cookie.
Consistently Check Labels
You should always choose products with the lowest amount of added sugars. However, be aware that manufacturers often try to hide the amount of sugar in their products. So, it’s good to be mindful of all the different names (as mentioned above) that sugar can have and look for those on labels.
Create your Own Frozen Treats
If you love popsicles and ice cream but hate the sugar content, you don’t have to give those up. Freeze fresh fruit juice in an ice cube tray with plastic spoons as handles, or buy popsicle trays that can preset them.
Frozen fruit kabobs are also a delicious snack. You can use pineapples, grapes, berries, or anything else. Skewer the fruit and set it on a cookie sheet in the freezer for a few hours. Voila! No added sugars necessary.
Summing it Up
Not all sugar is bad, and cutting back on sugar does not mean you have to eliminate it completely. By making small changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can easily reduce sugar intake and improve your overall health.