Would it surprise you to learn that, according to the American Heart Association, Americans consume an astounding 22 teaspoons of sugar per day on average? It’s safe to say this has factored into the rapidly escalating rates of obesity in the U.S., as well as diabetes and other health issues. And many people are not even aware of how much they take in. That’s because refined sugar is literally everywhere, making it almost impossible to avoid if you consume processed food. Not only is sugar added to everything from soup to nuts, but many foods and beverages actually contain multiple sweeteners.
If you want to scale back on added sugar, you’ll be glad to know that it’s much easier to accomplish when you start replacing commercial products with fresh, whole, natural foods. That doesn’t mean you have to give up treats, however, which even health-conscious folks enjoy. The key is being discerning about the types of sweets we choose. These tips can help:
While many products are obvious sugar bombs, like desserts, sweet snacks, doughnuts, cakes, pies, baking mixes, etc., sugar is an insidious foe and often hides in plain sight. Scanning labels is the best way to detect it, as it can take many forms. These include sucrose, lactose, dextrose, maltose, fructose, and the worst offender, high-fructose corn syrup, as well as more nutritious sweeteners like honey, agave nectar, molasses, and fruit juice concentrate. Ingredients are listed in descending order of quantity on product labels, so if sugar ranks among the first few ingredients, the product will contain a significant amount.
Monitor processed foods
While you would expect to find mucho sugar in packaged, processed desserts, you might be surprised to see it lurking in so many non-dessert items such as packaged oatmeal, dry cereal, condiments, pasta sauces, BBQ sauce, canned soups, and more. Again, label reading is key. The power play in optimizing your wellness and trimming your waistline is to start phasing out heavily processed food products, and base your meals on natural, whole foods like fresh veggies, fruit, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains like brown rice, oats, and high-protein quinoa.
Delete sweetened drinks
Sweetened beverages are a primary culprit in our obesity epidemic. Especially as many commercial sodas contain the equivalent of 10 or more teaspoons of sugar in a single can! Popular “sports” beverages and fancy coffee drinks are equally sugar-laden. Would you believe that a hefty portion of the average American woman’s daily sugar intake comes from sweetened beverages alone? Healthier alternatives include pure water, hot or iced tea, plant-based milks, kombucha drinks, stevia-sweetened lemonade, and zero-calorie natural sodas.
Embrace healthy alternatives
Once you start eliminating refined sugar, a miraculous thing starts to happen. Your taste buds begin to evolve, and become more attuned to natural food flavors. Fresh fruit starts to seem like a treat again and you may find yourself happily rediscovering gorgeous sweet pineapple, mango, papaya, berries and more. And while it may seem “decadent,” pure, organic dark chocolate in moderation is a great choice, as it is chock-full of health benefits. You may also fall in love with banana “soft serve” which you can make in a snap by blending frozen banana chunks in a high speed blender with a little nut milk and optimal add-ins like cacao nibs, vanilla or peppermint extracts, berries, etc. Stevia-sweetened hot cocoa is another winner!
Savor and enjoy
When you do choose a sweet treat, remember, a little goes a long way when the quality is high. It’s easy to distance yourself from cheap, processed junk when you realize once and for all that you deserve better. The key is being discerning about what you choose, and then taking the time to relax and savor it. Here’s to your health!