Stand in almost any aisle in the supermarket, and you’ll find products containing sugar. There are two kinds of sugar: naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Unlike naturally occurring sugars, which are an intrinsic part of fruit, vegetables, grains and dairy products, these sugars have been added to foods in the manufacturing process. Berries, green beans and cheese all contain natural sugars, but they are also full of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients. But other than calories, most added sugars offer little or no nutritional benefits.
Soft drinks are the largest source of sugar in the American diet, delivering one-third of all added sugars. Another three-fifths come from baked goods, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, candy and cereals. The remainder is found in unexpected places like barbecue sauce and other condiments, baby foods and deli specials like potato salad or coleslaw.
“Any form of sugar, whether integral or added, natural or manufactured, becomes a problem when you eat too much of it,” says Dr. Eric Westman, a co-author of The New Atkins for a New You and an associate professor of medicine at the Duke University Health System and director of the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic. “Although sugar is quickly metabolized, creating energy to power your body, excess sugar is converted to body fat,” he adds. According to the USDA, each person consumes an average of 154 pounds of added sugar a year, up from an average of 123 pounds in the early 1970s. This translates to an average of nearly 750 calories a day. We each consume an average of 53 gallons of sugar-laden soft drinks each year and get 16 percent of our daily caloric intake from added sugars. For kids aged 6 to 11, it’s 18 percent, and for teenagers, it’s 20 percent. For every daily soft drink, a child’s chance of becoming obese increases by 50 percent. “The twin epidemics of obesity and type-2 diabetes have occurred concurrently with the enormous increase in sugar consumption over the last several decades,” Dr. Westman says.
How to Say “See Ya” to Sugar
According to Dr. Westman, the best way to decrease your sugar intake is to cut back on most packaged foods and eat a whole foods diet. Vegetables, berries and other fruits, nuts/ seeds, Greek yogurt, as well as a variety of protein sources and olive oil and other healthy, natural fats keep you satisfied and in control of your appetite. And because the sugar intake is low, you will be more likely to burn body fat for energy. It’s even been reported that when people replace packaged foods and added sugars with whole foods, they often discover that their cravings for added sugar go away.
Here are additional tips for cutting back on your sugar intake:
Pump up the protein. When you add protein to your meals and snacks, it helps stabilize your blood sugar levels, keeping those sugar cravings at bay. Plus, consuming protein helps you burn more calories; in a nutshell, digesting and metabolizing protein burns twice the calories than when you eat carbohydrates. You can grill chicken, fish, steak or more and pile it on top of a salad packed with fresh vegetables. Enjoy quick snacks of chilled chicken, egg or shrimp salad wrapped in a romaine lettuce leave or boil up a batch of hard-boiled eggs for a quick protein-packed snack.
Revamp your drinks. Swap beverages laced with sugar and high-fructose corn syrup for those sweetened with non-caloric sweeteners, or better yet, sparkling water.
Go cold turkey. Initially, it sounds crazy to completely eliminate or cut back on sugar—especially if you crave it a lot. You would think you would end up craving it even more. But a 2011 study in the journal Obesity shows that the fewer carbs (i.e. packaged foods containing sugar) you consume (especially when you are consuming fat and protein in their place), the less you will eventually crave those carbs and the more you will be able to control your hunger.
Eat small, frequent meals. If you follow the standard breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule, try eating a smaller 200-calorie mini-meal every two to three hours, with the goal of taking in a minimum of 1,500 calories by the end of the day. This will keep your metabolism steadily burning calories from each meal, while preventing sudden drops in blood sugar—and cravings for that cookie or candy bar.
Drink up. Thirst can often be mistaken for hunger. Try to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. It will keep you cool, flush out toxins and prevent dehydration. You can jazz up your water with slices of lemon, lime or cucumber.
Plan ahead. Is it hard to resist the donuts at the office every Friday or that slice of cake or plate of cookies at social events? Make sure you have a protein-packed snack before you go, and drink plenty of water. If you can’t avoid your Great-Aunt’s homemade apple pie (made from the recipe that’s been handed down for generations) without appearing impolite, take a small bite or ask for a small slice and share it with someone. And make your next snack or meal is one that focuses on fresh vegetables, natural fats and protein.
Watch your stress. Very often sugar cravings kick into high gear when you’re stressed out or anxious. This is also a sign it’s time to take care of yourself. Instead of soothing your stress with a pint of ice cream, come up with a list of alternative activities you can turn to. Go for a walk or a hike with a friend, go to the gym, watch a funny video, hit the golf course or get a facial or a massage.