So I’ve written a pretty scathing article in the past on my views on sugar. I talked in some pretty great detail about why it’s so bad for you, and how it’s hidden in pretty much everything you eat (about 74 percent of processed foods according to UCSF). It’s one thing to write about sugar, to help you realize just how prevalent it is in the things you eat, and to encourage you to avoid the stuff as much as possible. It’s another thing entirely to try to reduce or cut it out of your diet. Again, that 74 percent number above in relation to processed foods means CONVENIENT foods. Things that make it easier to come home after a long day at work and have a meal that doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare.
In short, it sucks.
So what can you do about it? How can you realistically minimize the amount of sugar you’re consuming?
Taming the Beast
Look, It’s not easy, I know! I’ve been cutting back my sugar intake over the past year, and if nothing else, I feel like when I consume it, it’s at least a choice that I’m aware of instead of something that a food manufacturer is sneaking by me. Here are a few tips that have helped me to ‘tame the beast’:
- Cooking at home. By preparing your own meals, you’re keenly aware of what you’re putting into them! By preparing your own foods, it gives you FAR greater control over how much sugar you’re consuming. Just be wary of the ingredients you’re purchasing! Read labels in stores to see how much sugar is in the items you purchase, when possible, purchase low/reduced sugar options, or better still sugar free options. Sometimes finding ingredients can be tricky, things like tomato sauces are usually loaded with sugar, but if you read labels, you can find lower sugar options. It’s important to make the distinction here of whether you’re trying to eliminate sugar from your diet, or simply cut back.
- Meal Prep. If you tell yourself that you’ll watch your sugar content at every meal, you’re setting yourself up for either failure, or a lot of work! This is where meal prep can be a life saver! Prepare low sugar foods on the weekend, so you can just heat them up during the week when you’re more time poor. This is a generally great idea for any healthy diet as convenience foods are typically loaded with sugars, calories, fats, vegetable oils and a host of other ingredients that you might want to avoid.
- Read Labels! As previously mentions, read labels on the foods you buy. Start with the carbohydrates, you’ll see sugars listed there. If you’re going for removing sugar from your diet, don’t be fooled by “Added Sugars” that’s referring to just what it says – added sugars, but a lot of sugar occurs naturally in foods as well, and it’s not any better for you simply because it comes from a natural source. Our digestion is evolutionarily programmed to handle small amounts of sugars (that which we could find in berries and fruits, and the occasional dip into honey if we got lucky) but not the massive amounts that we can so easily consume today!
- Be careful eating out. You have no idea what restaurants are adding to their food, and if you ask them, it’s likely the staff won’t know either. Restaurant food is either prepared in advance by a separate staff than the cooks who prepare it, or it may be purchased by a third party service who has already prepared the foods that you’re just having combined and warmed up. Even if the staff does know, it’s unlikely that they can remove the sugar from their dishes as they’re pre-prepared – it’s not like removing onions from a burger. So when eating out, you really need to be careful what you order. In additions to the obvious things like desserts, salad dressings and sauces are often loaded with sugar. If it’s sweet, it probably contains sugar. If you’re going out, do your research! Find the restaurant’s menu online and further research the things that you like, or may buy when there. You can find a lot of nutrition information for restaurants online, if not, look for a similar food, there’s a good chance similar foods contain similar sugar amounts. It may not be perfect, but it will give you a guideline!
Reducing, or eliminating sugar from your diet is a GREAT goal, it’s probably one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself, but don’t get to fixated on it. As previously mentioned, it’s not easy to do. If you take gradual steps, and aim to reduce your sugar intake, you’ll see some pretty great changes in the way you feel, and probably in the form of some weight loss too. It’s a tough fight, but with a little concentrated effort and attention to good food choices, you can tame this beast!
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