Did you know that the average American eats 100 grams of sugar a day? It takes some comparison to make sense of that number: the American Heart Association recommends that women eat 25 grams a day and men consume around 37 grams. The takeaway? We’re eating too much sugar!
Why is that? It isn’t just because it’s so delicious (although that plays a big part). Studies show that concentrated sugars can be addictive and stimulate similar parts of the brain that drugs do. Your cookie cravings don’t just stem from your love of them; your brain is literally hardwired to crave that sugar!
On top of that, it’s hard to avoid – sugar is used in around 75 percent of packaged foods in America. And while it may seem harmless, it’s not: a diet filled with too much sugar contributes to cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and more.
Convinced you should try to limit your intake of concentrated sugars? Let’s get started.
Eat Natural Foods
First things first: concentrated sugars pop up most in packaged foods. The sugar found in natural foods like fruits and veggies are paired with good-for-you nutrients and fiber that balance the sugars and lessen their addictive nature. Packaged foods, however, are manufactured with artificial sugar to improve the taste and shelf life. In starting to cut out sugar, the absolute best way to do so will be to transition much of your diet to natural foods like fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, legumes, and whole grains.
One tactic we love? Stay on the perimeter of the grocery store. Stores tend to keep all the packaged foods in the middle aisles, while the natural foods stay on the outside. Do your shopping around the perimeter first, then head to the middle as needed.
Check the Label
Of course, some packaged foods contain more sugar than others. Always check the label on something before you buy it to ensure that you know what you’re putting in your body. Cereal is a huge culprit; many cereals that are marketed as healthy have too many added sugars to be truly good for you. Look for cereals that have less than 5 grams of sugar, for example, to maximize the health benefits of the food.
Read the Ingredient List
Sugar sneaks into places you might not expect. Ketchup, soups, whole wheat bread, fruit juices, and nutrition bars can all be full of added sugar despite their healthy marketing and lack of sugary taste. Always look at the ingredient list before purchasing an item, and keep on the lookout for the various ways in which companies list sugar (corn syrup, malt sugar, molasses, corn sweetener, and high fructose corn syrup are all ways to list concentrated, artificial sugar).
When you’re out of the grocery store and in the kitchen, try substituting spices instead of sugar to flavor your foods. For instance, ginger, cinnamon, or nutmeg can sweeten and flavor a dish in a more complex and nutritious way than sugar can. Slowly transition sugar out of your coffee and tea, and cut back on the amount you add to baked goods (their flavor won’t suffer too much – we promise!). But don’t go cold turkey: evidence shows that cutting sugar out of your diet completely can increase cravings, making it even harder to quit in the long run.
Overall, cutting even a bit of sugar from your diet can improve your health. Try one or two of these tactics this week and let us know how it goes!