You don’t need to eliminate all the sweet stuff if you know what you’re doing!
A 60 Minutes report Sunday night has America talking about sugar and its effects on our health. In the segment, Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviews several experts about the impact of added sugar on heart disease and even its addictive properties. The average American takes in about 22 teaspoons of added sugar each day, not the kind put into foods by Mother Nature, like the sugar in fruit, but the type processed into foods, or the sugar you add to your coffee. That adds up to more than 17 four-pound bags per person per year. According to the American Heart Association the daily target should be no more than six level teaspoons for women, and nine for men—that’s for both food and beverages combined. So how can you cut back? Here are three small changes that can snowball into big results for your health:
Drink more water
The top source of added sugar in the US diet is sugary drinks. One 12-ounce can contains, on average, 8 teaspoons of added sugar. If you crave bubbles switch to sparkling water or all natural seltzer with a splash of 100 percent fruit juice or fresh fruit for flavor. Add a wedge of citrus and a few sprigs of fresh mint—it’s like sipping a refreshing virgin mojito.
Reach for fruit at snack time
Candy and baked goods are the second and third leading sources of added sugar but only about 30 percent of Americans meet the recommended two daily servings of fruit. Trading processed treats for fruit-based snacks is a great way to slash added sugar and up your intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Enjoy a sliced apple or pear with a dollop of almond butter, layer plain, nonfat organic yogurt (or non-dairy yogurt) with in-season fresh fruit, nuts, rolled oats and a dash of cinnamon, or whip them up into a smoothie. Fresh fruit is far less concentrated in fructose, the type of sugar linked to an increase in LDL or “bad” cholesterol. One cup of blueberries contains 7 grams of fructose, compared to about 25 grams in a can of soda.
Pre-plan your splurges
In my private practice I receive many of my clients’ daily food diaries. A common pattern I see is unexpected added sugar intake, from spontaneous treats, like free samples, treats at the office, or caffeinated drinks laden with added sugar. Keeping a journal can help you understand your triggers and patterns so you can systematically change them. For example, stashing healthy snacks in your desk may help you avoid office goodies, or sipping on flavor-infused green tea may keep you away from sugary alternatives. In addition, pre-planning splurges is a smart way to truly relish occasional treats without going overboard. Many of my clients tell me that they don’t even enjoy the sugary foods or drinks they find themselves consuming, so we work on choosing treats that are really worth it, like a restaurant dessert balanced out by a light entrée. Then we plan for those splurges in advance. There’s something about looking forward to your chosen splurge and savoring every morsel that satisfies cravings and decreases the desire to give in to the many not-so-worthwhile options that cross your path.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.