First published by Bett Harris on Medium August 30, 2021
It’s easier than you think!
We all love sugar, that’s for sure. The sweet cool decadence of our favorite ice cream. The sugary mouth-watering deliciousness of warm Krispy Kreme donuts. The sticky gooey richness of chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven. Do I have your attention?
But wait! Haven’t we also heard that sugar is bad for us, I mean, really bad for us? Are we expected then to give up our sugary treats completely? For some of us, we would rather sacrifice almost anything instead of our favorite sweet treats.
Don’t worry. Below are six easy ways we can curb our sugar intake and still feed our sweet tooth.
Before we get into how to lower our sugar consumption, we first need to face the truth about sugar. Canada and the US, as well as most other countries, agree that excessive sugar intake negatively impacts our health.
Obesity and chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are a major public health concern in Canada. Diet, particularly a diet that is high in sodium, sugars and saturated fat, is one of the top risk factors for chronic diseases. — Health Canada
Americans are eating and drinking too many added sugars, which can contribute to health problems such as weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. — CDC
When referring to sugar I mean highly refined and processed sugar (our typical table sugar), high-fructose corn syrup, and added sugars such as glucose and fructose. These are the sugars that pose a real threat to our health and must be limited or removed from our diet. Fortunately, there are healthier ways to satiate our desire for sweets that are equally as satisfying.
The first step is to become aware of what is in the food we are eating and drinking. By law, every food product sold in Canada and the US must adhere to strict guidelines regarding food labels. They’re required to list all the ingredients contained in the food, as well as educating the consumer regarding percentages of daily intake of the most common nutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates, and some vitamins and minerals).
In general, by limiting our consumption of sugar to 10% or less of our daily dietary intake, we can reduce the risk of most of the unhealthy side-effects of overconsumption.
A new WHO guideline recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits. — WHO
A general rule when reading labels is to avoid any product that has sugar, or its derivatives (meaning anything ending in ‘ose’), listed as one of the first five ingredients in that product.
Don’t drink your sugar
What contributes most to our excessive sugar consumption today are the things we drink. Not only are most drinks chocked full of calories from these most dangerous forms of sugar, but being in liquid form, the body has access to the sugar easily and quickly. That means by drinking our sugar, the sugar gets into our bloodstream very quickly and can spike our blood sugar to a dangerously high level. This leads to many adverse side effects as insulin fights to get our blood sugar back to a healthy level.
Pop, fruit juice, energy drinks, and sugary teas and coffees are the worst culprits. Pop contains high amounts of high-fructose corn syrup (often the first ingredient listed on the ingredient list), which is a manufactured sugar far sweeter and more dangerous than the typical white sugar we sprinkle on our cereal.
Energy drinks are just as bad.
Fructose is not broken down well by the body and is undoubtedly the most dangerous form of sugar we can consume. High-fructose corn syrup (HFSC) is also thought to block a substance in our bodies known as leptin. This substance helps us know when we are full/satiated. As a result, when we consume HFCS we, in turn, eat more calories than we normally would.
Simple table sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.
The sugar in fruit is also in the form of fructose. Fruit juice is stripped of the natural fiber and other healthy compounds that act to slow the release of fructose into our blood. The end result is almost as bad as drinking pop. Our blood sugar spikes and our body must work extra hard to compensate.
Tea and coffee laden with table sugar result in similar side effects.
Therefore, it’s best to avoid pop, fruit juice, or any drink with added sugar. The healthiest substitute for these sugar drinks is water, plain and simple! However, if you crave something more than water you can try sparkling water, detox water, or plain tea or coffee.
Use sugar substitutes
There are healthy natural alternatives to sugar we can use in place of the unhealthy sugars we discussed earlier. Though natural sugar substitutes are considered healthier, we still need to consume them sparingly as they are very high in carbohydrates.
I use sugar substitutes at home to prepare healthy meals and snacks. Natural substitutes should be as unrefined as possible therefore are best used in their raw form. The sugar substitutes I use are raw unfiltered honey, organic maple syrup, dates, coconut sugar, and pure organic stevia leaf (and natural zero-calorie sweetener).
Avoid using artificial sweeteners like saccharine, aspartame, and sucralose. These are chemically derived substances, and though they have no calories, the body cannot process them and they are thought to have adverse side effects.
Avoid processed food
Once we are proficient at reading labels, this step should become automatic. The reason most processed foods taste so good is that they have food additives that enhance the flavor. Most processed foods are high in added sugar, salt/sodium, and unhealthy fats that both add to their flavor and improve the food’s shelf-life.
Companies spend a lot of money researching the perfect combination of ingredients which they refer to as the ‘sweet spot’. Their primary focus is on increasing sales and they do this by making the product as tasty (and addictive) as possible. Even foods labeled healthy, natural, low-sugar, etc. are deceiving. There are usually no laws that regulate the use of these terms. Also, low-fat products enhance their flavor by adding sugar, so be very leery of such forms of misleading advertising.
Reading labels is still our best way to be sure of what we are eating.
Eat more whole foods
When we eat food in its most natural, whole, unadulterated form, we are also sure to consume all the nutrients and compounds our bodies need to process that food effectively. Refined food is often void of fiber, enzymes, vitamins, and other compounds. Though some may be added back in (enriched), they are in a form that is foreign to the body. This disrupts how the body handles the food, with the result being less nutrient absorption and far more work for the body.
Our bodies end up depleted of nutrients and other essential compounds. Acid reflux is one side-effect of eating foods void of enzymes.
Fruit is a great substitute when we are craving sweets. Though fruit is high in fructose, when eaten in its whole form we get the fiber and enzymes needed to slow the digestive process. This results in a slow and healthy conversion of the sugar into a form the body can use without adverse side effects.
Eating other whole foods such as fresh veggies, lean grass-fed organic meat, and healthy fats, also help to counteract our need for sugary unhealthy snacks.
Clean out our kitchen
If unhealthy foods and snacks are not within arms-reach we are less apt to consume them. When we replace the bad food in our fridges, cupboards, and pantries with more healthy choices we are bound to eat less sugar. Also, I recommend making a grocery list before going shopping and keeping to the outer aisles of the grocery store. The healthiest food choices are located around the periphery of the story, and the middle aisles are where we find all the highly processed foods.
If you are like me, out of my sight means out of my mind.
By making these simple and easy lifestyle changes we are guaranteed to consume less sugar. By consuming less refined/added sugar we are sure to feel healthier and live longer. Can you commit to making just one of these suggested changes today, and see how much better you feel? I’m sure once you see and feel the benefits, you will make these changes a permanent part of your life.