Keeping tabs on how much sugar you’re swallowing is an important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes. The empty calories from added sugars in desserts, some drinks and candy can lead to weight gain and spikes in blood glucose levels.
The good news is that cutting down on sugar may be easier than you think.
Get started cutting down on sugar with these tips:
- Toss the table sugar (white and brown), syrup, honey and molasses. Cut back on the amount of sugar added to things you eat or drink regularly like cereal, pancakes, coffee or tea. Try cutting the usual amount of sugar you add by half and wean down from there.
- Swap out the soda. Water is best, but if you want something sweet to drink or are trying to lose weight, diet drinks can be a better choice than sugary drinks.
- Eat fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits. Choose fruit canned in water or natural juice. Avoid fruit canned in syrup, especially heavy syrup. Drain and rinse in a colander to remove excess syrup or juice.
- Compare food labels and choose products with the lowest amounts of added sugars. Dairy and fruit products will contain some natural sugars. Added sugars can be identified in the ingredients list.
- Add fruit. Instead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, try fresh fruit (bananas, cherries or strawberries) or dried fruit (raisins, cranberries or apricots).
- Cut the serving back. When baking cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar called for in your recipe by one-third to one-half. Often you won’t notice the difference.
- Try extracts. Instead of adding sugar in recipes, use extracts like almond, vanilla, orange or lemon.
- Replace it completely. Enhance foods with spices instead of sugar. Try ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
- Substitute. Switch out sugar with unsweetened applesauce in recipes (use equal amounts).
- Limit Non-nutritive Sweeteners. If you are trying to lose weight, a temporary fix to satisfying your sweet tooth may be with non-nutritive sweeteners. But watch out! Make sure that swapping sugary options for non-nutritive sweeteners now doesn’t lead to eating more later.
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.
Want to learn how to eat less sugar? The following are seven simple steps you can take in your life to avoid sugar and eat healthier.
While foods such as fruits and vegetables contain natural sugars, that doesn’t mean all sugars are the same. In fact, added sugars from processed foods can lead to obesity , diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease, and more. If you want to learn how to eat less sugar, simply follow these seven steps and you’ll be well on your way to a healthier diet .
1. Limit Sugary Drinks
From sodas to energy drinks to fruit drinks, these sugary beverages are full of added sugars. Moreover, even though they’re considered healthy, drinks like smoothies and fruit juices also contain a ton of sugar.
If you want to consume less sugar, avoid those and opt for water, herbal tea, and fruit-infused water.
2. Avoid Certain Desserts
If you have a sweet tooth, you’re probably eating sugar-heavy desserts like cakes, donuts, pies, and ice cream. Unfortunately, these are full of sugar and can spike your blood sugar levels, leaving you tired and wanting more. Instead of these sugary desserts, try fresh fruit, dark chocolate, greek yogurt with fruit, or even baked fruit with cream.
3. Inspect Your Sauces
Whether we use them on fries, burgers, chicken wings, or more, sauces tend to give some foods that extra kick we’re looking for. However, even savory sauces such as ketchup, BBQ, and sweet chili can have high sugar content. Make sure to read the label and choose low-sugar options such as mayonnaise, pesto, yellow mustard, fresh chili, and others.
4. Try Full-Fat Foods
While it may sound like bad advice, sometimes it’s better to choose the “full-fat” option vs. the low-fat option. Many low-fat food options contain more sugar (and more calories) than the full-fat ones, so make sure to read the nutrition labels and choose wisely.
5. Eat Whole Foods
Processed foods can contain a lot of salt, sugar, artificial flavors, colors, and other additives. Conversely, whole foods are free of additives and artificial substances found in processed foods – including added sugars.
6. Read Canned Food Labels
If you’re on a budget and don’t have much time, using canned goods can be a quick and affordable way to make your meals. However, they contain a good amount of added sugar, so read the labels and rinse them in water before eating.
7. Be Mindful About Snacks
We know that snacking on candy and cookies will increase your blood sugar levels, but what about “healthy” snacks? It turns out that snacks like protein bars, granola bars, and even dried fruits are full of sugar. When snacking, avoid the sugar spikes by eating fresh fruit, nuts, trail mix, and jerky with no added sugar.
Sugar and Heart Health
If you want to live a heart-healthy lifestyle, you need to control how much sugar you consume. Eating sugar-full foods can spike your blood glucose levels and lead to diabetes and more.
Follow the steps listed above to get started on your journey to better health. Moreover, if you want an extra health boost to your heart, try taking supplements like HeartBeet Complete .
It contains beetroot powder, l-arginine, l-citrulline, turmeric, and other ingredients that promote your circulation and heart health. Try HeartBeet Complete now along with these tips to give your heart health the support it needs.
Learn how to eat less sugar with these simple tips.
Most people are aware that eating too much sugar is bad for their health, however, kicking the sweet habit is not as easy as it might seem. It is certainly important to enjoy treats from time to time, however, it is the ongoing consumption of refined sugars in our daily meals and snacks that is problematic. Accordingly to dietary survey intakes, Canadians consume of an average of 51 grams of added sugar per day, which is the equivalent of two chocolate bars per day! The problem largely lies in the fact that people are often consuming added sugar in foods without even knowing they are there, which only causes people to crave it more and more. So if you struggle with a sweet tooth, or just can’t seem to figure out where your sugar intake is coming from, here are 11 tips to help you eat less sugar.
How to Eat Less Sugar
Here are 11 simple tips eat less sugar that you can start implementing today.
1. Eat a Savoury Breakfast
When it comes to sugar, breakfast is probably the most dangerous meal of the day. Everything from cereal to granola to yogurt and bagels contains sugar. Even the “healthiest” brands contain added sweeteners so it can be really difficult to avoid (which is exactly why the standard North American breakfast looks more like dessert than actual breakfast). Instead, starting your day with a savoury breakfast is a great way to help reduce your overall sugar intake. Something as simple as eating eggs instead of cereal can help to eliminate up to 20 grams of added sugar while adding more protein and healthy fats to the diet and alleviate afternoon cravings.
2. Avoid Liquid Sugars
Liquid sugars are probably one of the most dangerous forms of sugar because they hit your bloodstream fast, as they don’t need to be digested, and therefore spike your blood sugar quickly. Even if you don’t drink soda, many pre-made drinks such as smoothies, chocolate milk, energy drinks, sports drink, flavoured coffees, iced coffees and even kombucha contain added sugar. In fact, some of the most popular smoothie chains use frozen yogurt as the base for their smoothies, so you end up drinking more of a milkshake than an actual smoothie. When it comes to liquids, it is really important to focus on drinking the basics; water and perhaps some coffee or tea. Anything in addition to these should be considered a treat and used once in a while because something as simple as a morning latte + a pre-made smoothie + a pre-workout energy drink + a post-workout chocolate milk can add up into hundreds of grams of added sugar before you know it.
3. Focus on Fresh Fruit
People love them some dried fruit, and although it is technically a whole food, many brands will add vegetable oils and added sugars which is less than ideal. Plus, dried fruit is a concentrated form of sugar, so the combination of raisins in your granola, dried cranberries on your salad and snacks of dates in the afternoon adds up into a lot of sugar very quickly. Instead, if you want a sweet treat opt for fresh fruit full of fibre and water that can help to slow the absorption of sugar to the bloodstream and comes packed with water-soluble nutrients at the same time.
4. Learn the Code Words
When it comes to sugar, manufacturers are really sneaky. Because they know that consumers are aware that sugar is less than ideal for them, they will use different words to represent sugar on labels. The list is long and you don’t need to memorize them all, but in order to be more mindful of your sugar intake knowing some of the code words for sugar will help to ensure you are equipped with the tools to identify it on a label.
5. Make your Own Dressings & Sauces
Next to breakfast, dressings and sauces are one of the worst places for added sugars. Literally, everything in the grocery store has added sugar when you start digging deeper and reading the label. I know it might seem like a lot of work, but learning a couple of basic salad dressing recipes, a quick stir-fry sauce recipe and some spice combinations can help to alleviate the need for store-bought dressings and sauces and, in turn, help you eat less sugar.
6. Drink Herbal Teas
I know this one might sound boring, but trust me it works. When you have a sugar craving sometimes just occupying your hands, your mouth and your taste buds can help make it go away. Drinking an herbal tea is a wonderful way to enjoy something with flavour without any added sugar. Teas have come a long way in the past few years, outside of the basics of chamomile and peppermint, and now you can get tons of different flavours to help you satisfy a sweet tooth. Everything from vanilla chai to chocolate mint is now available for your sipping pleasure and a great alternative to that sweet late-night treat to help ensure you eat less sugar.
7. Put Cinnamon on Everything
Cinnamon not only provides a nice warm flavour to foods, but it is known to help balance blood sugar and also provides a natural sweetness to meals. Adding a sprinkle of cinnamon to your plain yogurt, oatmeal, into your smoothie, or simply onto slices of apple (my personal favourite) is another great way to add some sweetness to whole foods and eat less sugar throughout the day.
8. Eat Savoury Snacks
For most people, go-to snacks include items like granola bars, crackers or flavoured yogurt. Unfortunately, all of these snacks are sources of refined carbohydrates which means sugar, sugar and more sugar. So instead of going the sweet route, opt for a savoury snack with lots of protein and healthy fats like hummus and vegetables, cheese and almonds, or popcorn with butter. Not only are these snacks salty and savoury and delicious, but they are another simple hack to help you eat less sugar one snack at snack time.
9. Use Natural Sweeteners
If you must sweeten something, then opting for a natural sweetener is your best choice. Although sweeteners like maple syrup, honey or molasses are still sources of sugar, they do come with some nutritional benefits which help to mitigate their effects in the body.
10. Read Labels
When it comes to added sugars, the only way to really know what you are getting when you buy something in the grocery store is to read the label. In an ideal world, you are buying whole foods (fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and whole grains) which don’t contain added sugar in the first place, however, if you must buy something packaged it is absolutely imperative that you read the label! Look for all of the code words for sugar so know exactly what you are getting and compare flavours and brands to ensure you are getting the very best option.
11. Eat your Treats Out
When it comes time to have a treat the simplest thing to do is to eat them outside of the house. If you buy the entire box of cookies at the grocery store you aren’t really setting yourself up for success when they are sitting in the pantry at home, are you? You are likely much better off simply enjoying a dessert after a meal out, or a cookie with your coffee at the local coffee shop or an ice cream on the weekend with the family as opposed to having an entire box of cookies, a pint of ice cream and entire cake sitting in your kitchen at home. Part of setting yourself up for success means controlling your environment, so keeping treats out of the house is a really helpful way to ensure you eat less sugar.
Our modern world is saturated with all things sweet and the guilt that accompanies eating them. If you are looking for how to eat less sugar while keeping a smile on your face– this post is for you.
Do you secretly look forward to the bowls of Halloween candy or Easter chocolates scattered across the office or stowed away in your children’s pumpkins and baskets and yet… you dread it at the same time?
You love the creamy sweetness that feels like a 90-second vacation away from all life’s chaos. You vow to eat “just one piece” of your favorite chocolate, but then find yourself gobbling them all up as if you were dressed up as a Halloween gremlin yourself.
My friend, you are not alone.
Here we find a common scene that plays out in houses across America… Moms who ask Dr. Google how to eat less sugar as they battle moderation with their beloved sweets.
…if you’re addicted to sugar?
…if you’ve lost all your self-control ?
…or if your kids will notice their disappearing treats.
In my life and in coaching hundreds of women, I have learned that it’s NOT about the SUGAR or the CANDY– it’s how we THINK about them.
While you may feel better avoiding some sweets as you search for how to eat less sugar, it is still very important (dare I say essential) to examine your thought process when it comes to candy, cookies, and triple chocolate brownies.
Here I will share 5 tips to help you enjoy less sugar more (catch that?) by changing the way you think about and interact with all things sweet.
5 Tips to Eat Less Sugar (With a Smile)
1. Drop the Sugar Labels
Watch out for labeling sugar as bad food or something you shouldn’t eat. As hard as it may be to believe, sugar and candy in of themselves aren’t “bad.”
Sure, sugar is MUCH less nutritious than the foods you want to eat on a daily basis. But, a piece (or pile) of candy eaten in isolation isn’t going to destroy your health. It’s repeated, unbalanced eating that leads to health problems.
It’s restricting foods that tends to lead to its overconsumption. You feel bad for eating it, chock the day up to a failure, and get your fill today because tomorrow, surely you won’t eat “it” anymore.
It’s that type of thinking that leads to eating more than we actually want to or even enjoy. Isn’t that sad?
Drop the labels and take it at face value- candy is just another type of food.
2. Remember That Sugar is Not Going Away
Remember that the sugary sweets aren’t going anywhere. And, even if you polish off every last piece of brightly colored chocolate in the house or send the remaining pieces to a faraway land– there will still be candy on every street corner.
Let that abundance speak peace to you.
If I demanded that you eat a handful of your favorite sweet every day, at every meal, eventually it would lose its allure and you’d start to eat less sugar.
It’s thoughts of deprivation that heighten certain foods in our mind. Comfort yourself with the fact that there is no shortage of candy coming anytime soon.
3. Embrace Your Freedom of Choice
Remember the freedom of choice. Even though some celebrity nutritionist says you shouldn’t eat any sugar, you are free to eat as much candy as you want.
I know, that sounds ridiculous but think about it… no one can make us stop eating candy. We are adults. We have money and cars and we can go buy more candy anytime we want.
When we take the restrictive lenses away and think about what we really want, we’re better positioned to decide what that is. It may be one piece, it may be five. But the choice– it’s up to you.
4. Drop the All-or-Nothing Sugar Thinking
Let’s say you’re learning how to eat less sugar but, “oops, you did it again…” You ate a bit more candy than you’d planned. While it does feel emotional and frustrating at the moment, watch for those negative thoughts that reprimand you for “blowing it.”
All-or-nothing eating, it does you no good.
We all eat more than we’d like from time to time. What separates those who keep moving towards their goals and those who stay stuck is the ability to compartmentalize that moment and move on.
To be honest, waiting until tomorrow to start fresh will only prolong your suffering by adding on more calories and regret. Be honest with yourself and make a new choice, at any moment.
5. Rehearse How to Eat Less Sugar
Paint a mental picture of how you’d like to see yourself enjoying sweets. For most of us, those treats would be our most favorite ones. They’d be savored and eaten with a level of consciousness not found hiding in the pantry.
Can you implement that now? You know, fake it ’til you make it?
Today that may mean going with a gentle plan of how much candy you’d like to enjoy. You’d practice really tasting sugar when you do have it, passing on those less-than-chart-topping sweets.
If you find yourself slipping back into old habits, simply refresh that mental image and hit the reset button. Take a look at the clock and give yourself a fresh start.
How to Eat Less Sugar: Get a Plan
As you can see, how we think about all things sweet can flavor our approach to them. Rather than feeling stuck in a cycle of overindulgence, consider changing up how you think about candy and treats. Then, unpack that mental baggage so that it doesn’t hinder your mindful enjoyment of them.
What To Do:
- Set a timer for 10 minutes and journal how your thinking may be hindering your efforts to eat less sugar.
- Review the 5 steps above and choose the ONE that resonates most with you.
- Write out 3 possible new thoughts you can start rehearsing today.
- Check out the Healthy Habit Goal Setting Planner. This planner will help you change your thinking and walk you through how to implement your next best steps.
Brandice Lardner is a Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, Author, Amazon #1 Best Selling Author, and Jesus Girl whose mission in life is to help women ditch the diet mentality and find peace with food and their bodies so that they are better equipped to do the great things God has called them to do.
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In case you haven’t heard, sugar is bad for you. That was a joke… of course you’ve heard. And you probably aren’t happy about it. I feel you.
In fact, I was so unhappy about the need to break up with sugar (and worried about my ability to do it), that I created an entire program to boost the odds of success. Admittedly, doing the program takes some commitment and time (three weeks, to be exact), so I’m going to hand you a hack to easily cut added sugar—the evilest kind—out of your diet. Ready? Here it is: Don’t eat anything that comes in a package.
Before you scoff, let me explain: Manufacturers use technology to produce highly refined foods that are inexpensive to make, and then taste scientists engineer these Frankenfoods to have just the right amount of sweetness to make you crave more…and more. The problem: these modern-day creations may be harmful to your health.
One study in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that this practice of adding the nutrient (loose term) sugar to foods to make them more appealing has been a key contributor to the escalating obesity epidemic. That same study also confirmed that we can become habituated (read: addicted) to sugar when we eat it regularly, as most of us do… sometimes unknowingly.
How Sugar Seduces
If you’re like most grocery shoppers, you assume you only need to look out for added sugars in sweet foods, such as cookies and cakes. However, added sugar, refined carbs, and artificial sweeteners are also present in so-called savory foods. Says registered dietitian Keri Glassman: “If you take a look at what’s in your pantry, you’ll see the crackers, dressing, and marinara sauce likely have sugar. You may have an increased desire for sugar because you’re consuming more of it than you even realize.”
Not only that, but sugar produces pleasure. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter within your body’s “reward center.” When you do something your body gets a charge from, dopamine is the chemical that’s released in your brain that makes you feel good—and that makes you want to keep doing it. And per studies sugar can have dopaminergic and opioid effects that are similar to psychostimulants.
So, when dopamine is released while you’re eating a piece of chocolate, it’s responsible for that persuasive voice inside your head telling you to start breaking off the next bite. “A lot of us have developed a sugar dependence—feeling sugar highs and lows,” says Glassman, who explains: “The more we have, the more we want. And the more we have, the harder it is to get that same buzz.”
Kicking the Convenience Habit
Simply put, we have developed a reliance on packaged foods because they save time and effort. But every time you tear into one of those packages, you’re likely to get a whole lot of sugar along with the convenience.
Can you learn to read nutrition facts and ingredient labels to avoid sugar? Absolutely—just know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calculated that there are over 60 different names used for “sugar” on food labels, with covert monikers such as dextrose, barley malt, and sucrose, for starters.
The surest way to know that you’re cutting out sinister sugars is to eat whole foods—i.e., foods that aren’t processed and don’t come in a package. Yes, shopping, preparing, and cooking fresh food takes some doing. (These 33 home-cooking tips make it a lot easier). But there’s no escaping the fact that cooking meals at home is healthier.
If you’re thinking about leveraging another hack—ordering takeout—think again; frequent consumption of restaurant-made meals has been strongly linked to early death. Besides, you don’t have to do it forever—the less sugar you eat, the less you’ll crave it.
For more support, check out these 20 ways to end sugar cravings, according to nutritionists.
From breakfast cereal and cookies to salad dressings and smoothies – sugar has a sneaky way of creeping into our daily diet. And even though your taste buds love the sweet stuff, your body might beg to differ.
” A diet high in sugar can contribute to a wide range of health conditions , including heart disease, fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes. It can also alter your gut microbiome, increasing intestinal permeability and triggering widespread inflammation,” says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com.
According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a high-sugar diet is linked to a greater risk of dying from heart disease.
But before you discard all things sweet from your pantry, know that not all sugar is bad for health. Natural sugar is an essential source of carbohydrates. It’s present in the form of fructose in fruits and vegetables and as a compound called lactose in dairy products.
The real culprit is added sugar — the kind that’s put in food items during the manufacturing process to enhance their flavor or texture. Think non-fat yogurts, trail mix, sauces and store-bought smoothies. “These foods contain tons of sugar with little to no beneficial nutrients such as fiber, vitamins or minerals,” tells Dr. Axe.
Consuming too many of these empty calories messes with your metabolism, leaving you hungry, spent and craving for more sugar. “Eating sugar triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the reward and pleasure centers in the brain, which is the same chemical released in response to drug use,” says Dr. Axe. “When you regularly indulge in sugar-filled foods, the receptors that control the release of dopamine begin to down-regulate, which means that you’ll need to eat more and more sugar in order to feel the same sensation of pleasure,” explains the wellness physician.
Fortunately, with a few smart diet tweaks, you can easily slash down your sugar intake and get in shape at the same time. Here are five easy and effective ways to reduce your sugar intake right away:
- Ditch sweetened beverages.Around 40% of the added sugar in American diets comes from sweetened beverages like soda, energy drinks, fruit juices and sweetened tea and coffee. One 12-ounce can of regular soda contains 39 grams or 9 1/3 teaspoons of sugar. Meanwhile, a typical 8-ounce energy drink can has over 20 grams or roughly more than two tablespoons, of sugar. Similarly, 350ml of store-bought apple juice, a seemingly healthier alternative, contains as much as 39 grams or 9.8 teaspoons of sugar. Even your favorite smoothies aren’t as guilt-free as you think. So how can you limit your sugar intake and stay hydrated at the same time? Swap the sugary drinks with fresh or fruit-infused H2O, fresh fruit juice, homemade smoothies or herbal and fruit teas.
- Eat full-fat and protein-rich foods. Contradictory to common belief, low-fat foods like yogurt, smoothies and shakes contain more sugar than their full-fat counterparts. For instance, one serving of low-fat yogurt can contain as much as 30 grams of sugar – that’s 60% of your daily USDA limit. Rather than grabbing low-fat or non-fat food items in the supermarket, stock up on whole foods that are packed with fiber, protein and natural fat. Think whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, fish, eggs and full-fat dairy products. They help nix the sugar cravings by promoting satiety and keeping your blood sugar levels balanced.
- Limit the intake of sugar-laden goodies. Popular sweet treats like doughnuts, cookies, cakes and ice cream account for over 18% of the added sugar intake in the American diet. These sugar-laden desserts can easily mess with your mood, metabolism, and insulin levels. Instead of going cold turkey, limit your consumption of these sugary treats by picking one day of the week to enjoy the sweet splurge. For the remainder of the week, pamper your sweet-tooth with healthier alternatives like fresh fruit salads, a handful of dates or a yogurt and fresh fruit mix. And if you’re looking for something more scrumptious, check out this date oatmeal bars recipe or these paleo chocolate-chip cookies.
- Shop smart. RULE#1: Don’t go grocery shopping on empty stomach. Science says that the hungrier you are the more likely you’re to reach for unhealthy, sugar-laden eats. RULE#2: Read the food labels carefully. From bread, soups and frozen dinners to cured meat, canned fruits and crackers, sugar hides in dozens of seemingly innocuous food items. While shopping, check for hidden ingredients like agave, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, molasses, fructose, dextrose and evaporated cane juice. The higher these additives sit on the ingredients list, the more sugar-laden the food is. Learn more about how to read food and nutrition labels here.
- Trade refined sugar for natural sweeteners. Switch refined sugar with natural sweeteners like raw honey, stevia, dates, banana, maple syrup and applesauce. Similarly, fruits (fresh, baked or pureed) can also be used as sugar substitute while baking or cooking. “Fruits are rich in fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream to keep blood sugar levels stable. They’re also rich in other important vitamins and minerals that can positively impact health and even reduce the risk of chronic disease,” notes Dr. Axe. However, “it’s also important to keep all sugar intake in moderation — even if it comes from natural sources. While these are definitely healthier choices than refined sugar, it’s a common myth that you can load up on natural sweeteners with no negative health consequences,” says the nutrition expert.
In addition, you can use apps like MyFitnessPal and That Sugar App to easily track and manage your daily sugar intake.
According to recent Dietary Guidelines, added sugar intake should make up for less than 10% of daily calories. “Keep in mind that this mostly applies to foods that provide little to no nutritional value, like candies, desserts and processed foods,” Dr. Axe points out. “Meanwhile, natural sugars found in foods like fruits are not considered added sugars; these foods contain an assortment of important vitamins and minerals and should be a regular part of a healthy and balanced diet,” he adds.
In This Article
Are you addicted to sugar? This is a question I’ve asked myself more than once. As a kid, you’re warned about alcohol and drugs, but no one ever cautions against the addictive dangers and health detriments of a high-sugar diet. And the word “addiction” really is no exaggeration. According to a 2016 study, “increased sugar consumption has been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels” in a manner similar to drug use.
As registered dietitian and nutritionist Lauren O’Connor told us, “Because the taste buds desire sweetness, we tend to want more sugary foods, thus leading to potential sugar binges.” Lean in to these seemingly innocuous cupcake and ice cream cravings every day, and you may be in for myriad negative short and long-term effects.
Meet the Expert
Lauren O’Connor is a registered dietitian and yoga instructor. She has appeared on national TV and radio to offer her health expertise and is the author of You and Your Blood Pressure: Beating Hypertension.
Most of us are familiar with the immediate repercussions of excess sugar, even if we might not always make the connection. “Our appetites increase, and [we see] a greater desire for more sweets, which can lead to cravings, mood swings, and the all too familiar ‘crash and burn,” explains O’Connor. The damage a super sugar-laden diet can cause over time is even bleaker. Effects can include “weight gain, excess fat around the middle, potential for diabetic conditions, and risk for heart disease.”
It all looks pretty grim, particularly if you love sugar. But you can prevent and even reverse much of the harm immediately, simply by cutting sugar out. Or even just cutting it out some of the time. The longterm effects of replacing a diet full of sugar with nutrient-dense, heart-healthy foods are even more impressive. With O’Connor’s help, we broke it down all down in a timeline.
20 Minutes After You Quit
Not dissimilar to alcohol, consuming sugary foods just makes you want to eat more sugar. But 20 minutes after your first sugar-free meal, “You’ll be more satisfied and less likely to reach for second helpings or dessert,” says O’Connor. See? This is likely a result of strengthened willpower, so push through and stay on the upswing, as things may soon become more difficult.
One Hour After You Quit
An hour into your post-sugar existence, you should still find yourself on an upswing. “You should feel energized and be more productive,” says O’Connor. “You will be less likely to have the urge to reach for a cookie or a handful of processed snacks.”
One Day After You Quit
According to O’Connor, “Filling up on sugars limits our desire/potential to fuel up on nutrient-dense foods, including healthy fats, proteins, and plenty of fiber, which keeps us healthy, active, and productive.” Now that you’ve gone the whole day without sugar, you’ve hopefully worked plenty of those healthier alternatives into your diet.
With the increased intake of vegetables and lean protein, your blood sugar will stabilize, your mood swings will temper, and you’ll find yourself with fewer cravings.
Three Days After You Quit
Here’s where things start to take an unpleasant turn. Sugar is an addiction, after all, and you can’t kick most addictions without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. A few days in, you might experience sugar cravings, anxiety, headaches, and even depression in more serious cases (due to sugar’s previously mentioned affect on dopamine levels). These effects often taper off after the first week, but depending on your body’s level of sugar addiction, they could last an extra week or two. As always, it’s essential that you stay hydrated to mitigate these effects. Additionally, drinking water may help you kick your sugar cravings—according to Heathline, “thirst is often confused with hunger. Having a glass of water may help you resist the urge to overeat and keep your cravings under control.”
One Week After You Quit
A week after you quit, one of two things can happen to your body. If your previous lifestyle was dominated by processed foods, juice, soda, and desserts, you’ll probably still be in detox mode. But if your sugar intake was on the moderate side (and if you’re sticking to a diet of protein, fibers, and healthy fats), you should start to feel pretty darn good. “You will be less sluggish, have more stable energy throughout the day, and have an improved mood,” says O’Connor.
One Month After You Quit
The one-month mark is when you’ll find yourself completely out of the woods. Your desire for dessert will have disappeared, and you may even find yourself strangely craving protein and leafy greens, instead.
One Year After You Quit
Once you’ve stuck to a sugar-free life for a full year, your health will likely have improved. Your body is now adjusted to functioning on essential nutrients, and because it no longer has sugar to store as fat, you’ll have probably lost weight.
It’s also worth noting that at this point, you can afford yourself a sugary splurge every once in a while, if the occasion inspires it. Naturopathic physician Suneil Jain, MD, of Rejuvena Health & Aesthetics recommends following the 80/20 rule. “Aim to eat healthy 80 percent of the time,” she says. If once or twice a week, you make a sugary exception, it likely won’t derail you. You’ll likely be so blissed out on a no-sugar lifestyle, you couldn’t imagine going back.
Below, check out a few options for natural sugar substitutes so you can satiate that sweet tooth without the negative side effects.
A few diet tweaks can help you quickly reduce your sugar intake, knock down your disease risk, and protect your ticker. Bonus: you’ll probably drop some pounds in the process.
Weâ€™re swimming in sugar: Americans take in more than 22 teaspoons of â€œadded sugarâ€ each day. That’s the kind put into food, either by manufacturers, such as cookies and candy, or by you, like stirring sugar into your coffee. This sticky habit snowballs into the equivalent of more than 14 four-pound sacks of sugar per person each year. And all that sweet stuff is affecting our health.
According to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published in the journalÂ JAMA Internal Medicine, the added sugar the average American consumes can increase their risk of death from heart disease by almost 20%â€”regardless of other health problems. And for the 10% of Americans who get a quarter of their calories from added sugar, the risk more than doubles.
Fortunately, a few diet tweaks can help you quickly reduce your sugar intake, knock down your disease risk, and protect your ticker. Bonus: youâ€™ll probably drop some pounds in the process. Put these five simple sugar-reduction steps into action today:
Nix sweetened beverages
Nearly 40% of the added sugar in Americansâ€™ diets comes from sugary beverages like soda, sweet tea, lemonade, and fruit punch. Just one 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 140 calories, all from added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to less than 100 calories daily for women and 150 for men, which means that a single soda meets or exceeds the limit. Kick the habit, and replace sweet drinks with good, old-fashioned H2O spruced up with healthy, flavorful add-ins like lemon, lime, fresh mint, cucumber, or a little mashed fruit.
Scope out hidden sources of sugar
Sugar hides in dozens of foods you might not suspect. Unfortunately, thereâ€™s no way to look at a Nutrition Facts label and tell how many calories come from added sugar. And even the grams of sugar can be deceiving, because thereâ€™s no distinction between naturally occurring sugar versus sugar thatâ€™s been added. For example, if you look at the label on a bag of frozen raspberries, the only ingredient is raspberries and yet youâ€™ll still see 6 grams of sugar listed, even though none was added to the bag.
The best way to scope out added sugar (the type the study focused on) is to read ingredient lists. Look for words including brown sugar, corn syrup, maltose, fructose, dextrose, molasses, agave, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, cane syrup, and evaporated cane juice. By law, ingredients must be included in descending order by weight, so the higher up on the list you see one of these additives, the more sugar per bite. And you may find multiple types. These 12 products donâ€™t seem overly sweet, but they typically contain some form of added sugar in the ingredients: ketchup, salad dressing, soup, crackers, flavored yogurt, spaghetti sauce, bread, frozen dinners, granola, protein bars and shakes, and sushi.
Buy plain foods and sweeten them yourself
Itâ€™s becoming easier to find plain versions of many foods these days. Iâ€™m not talking about products made with calorie free-sweeteners (which I donâ€™t recommendâ€”check out my previous post on 5 Steps to Quitting Artificial Sweeteners), but truly unsweetened goods, including Greek yogurt, oatmeal, and almond milk. Switching from sweetened vanilla almond milk, which contains evaporated cane juice, to unsweetened vanilla, which lists no added sweeteners, saves the equivalent of about three teaspoons of sugar per cup. If you need a little sweetness, add it yourself to control the amount and type you use. For example, some of my clients prefer swirling a teaspoon of organic honey or maple syrup into yogurt or oatmeal at breakfast, both of which provide some nutrients and antioxidants, rather than buying pre-sweetened versions made with more refined sweeteners.
Trade sweetened foods for naturally sweet fruit
One of my favorite tricks to share with my clients is how to replace foods laden with added sugar for fruit which is naturally sweet and just as satisfying. For example, in place of strawberry jam on PB&Js, use warmed up frozen strawberries. Just one level tablespoon of jam packs 50 calories and is typically made with three sweeteners: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and sugar. A half cup of frozen strawberries (about eight times the volume), warmed up on the stovetop and seasoned with a little cinnamon or ginger, contains less than 25 calories with no added sugar, and has bonus vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. Fruitâ€”whether it’s fresh, baked, grilled, or pureedâ€”makes a great replacement for sugar in lots of dishes, from cookies to coleslaw. For more on fruit, check out my previous post on Why Fruit Isn’t Making You Fat.
Limit sugary treats to once or twice a weekÂ
Itâ€™s not realistic for most people to go through life never having a sweet splurge. But setting some limits on how often you indulge in sugar-rich foods is certainly reasonable. Pick a day or two a week, maybe Wednesdays and Saturdays, to enjoy canâ€™t-live-without goodies like candy, baked goods, or ice cream. Just knowing that you have a pre-planned treat to look forward to can help you avoid giving into temptation more often, and can result in seriously slashing your overall sugar intake.
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