Many of us would admit we consume too many sugary foods, so reducing them is one of the first healthy changes we try to make when starting a fitness center program. We all know that excess sugar causes tooth decay, heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain, but it’s a hard habit to beat. The American Heart Association recommends men consume less than nine teaspoons (37.5 grams) and women less than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugars a day, but most of us consume at least twice that amount. Yikes!
As you work to eliminate excess sugar from your diet to more closely align your eating habits with your fitness gym goals, consider these six tips.
Beware of Sneaky Sugar
Why is it so hard to avoid sugar? One of the biggest reasons is that it’s a ‘sneaky’ ingredient in many foods, so we’re consuming sugar without even realizing it. In other words, that ice cream sundae you enjoyed for your treat meal probably wasn’t the biggest problem with your diet. It’s easy to spot obvious sugary foods – doughnuts, snack cakes, candy bars, the list goes on — but take a look at these ‘healthy’ foods that frequently contain alarming amounts of added sugars:
- Fruit Juice, creamers, nut milks
- ‘Healthy’ breads, cereals, and packaged oatmeal
- Healthy salad dressings and condiments
- Yogurt cups
- Canned fruit
- Nut butters
- Electrolyte drinks
Checking labels for total grams of sugar per serving is a good place to start. Keep the recommended limits in mind and plan your sugar consumption accordingly.
Watch for Sugar’s Aliases
Sugar isn’t always called sugar. Anything that ends with ‘ose’ or has the word ‘syrup’ in it is sugar. The more names of sugar on one label and the higher up they are on the ingredients list, the worse the product is for you. Even though they’re metabolized slower than refined sugars, even natural sugars like honey should be consumed in moderation.
Choose Unsweetened or NSA Options
Unsweetened varieties of applesauce, fruit juice, nut milks and other processed foods are good alternatives. They may contain some sugar naturally, but they’ll have way less than their counterparts.
Avoid Unnatural Artificial Sweeteners
The market for sugar-free products has explored in recent years as consumers are realizing the dangers of excess sugar. The problem with these artificial sweeteners is that they mess up the body’s ‘sweet’ sensor. Studies show that when we eat something sweet, our bodies anticipate accompanying calories. When they don’t follow, that ‘sweet switch’ stays on, leading to continued cravings, higher calorie consumption, and weight gain. There aren’t enough studies yet to show whether this holds true for ‘natural’ zero-calorie sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit. It’s still wise to remember that, because they don’t contain sugar calories, sweetener alternatives may lead you to consume calories elsewhere in your diet.
Add Sweetness Without Sugar
There are many other ways to satisfy a sweet tooth without consuming added sugar. Raw fruits are some of your best options. Add fruit to yogurt, oatmeal, baking, smoothies and healthy desserts. Other options include vanilla extract, citrus zest, sweet spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and raw cocoa powder.
After you start reducing sugar in your diet, you’ll be able to appreciate the natural sweetness of fruit and spices a lot more. It may take a while for your taste buds to accept these substitutes, but don’t be surprised if you start preferring them. Wean yourself gently, and use these tips to say goodbye to excess sugar for good!