We live in a society that runs on sugar. There’s tons of the sweet stuff in most beverages Americans drink, like soft drinks, and it’s hiding in many seemingly innocent foods like yogurt, canned fruit, and spaghetti sauce. When you consider how common sugar is in the Western diet, it’s not surprising that sugar makes up 25% of the average person’s daily calories – and that’s not a statistic to be proud of.
Sugar has no nutritional value, and when you fill up on foods that contain it, you have less room for healthier options like vegetables – not to mention the bad things it does to your pancreas. Too much sugar makes the pancreas work overtime pumping out insulin to push glucose into cells. This leads to insulin resistance and, possibly, type 2 diabetes as the pancreas tires of producing so much insulin. If you’re like most people, you’re probably not aware of how much sugar you’re getting in your diet.
Keeping Tabs on Sugar
Before cutting back on sugar, you need to tally up how much sugar you’re getting every day. First, be aware that sugar wears many disguises. Most food makers don’t list “sugar” on food labels. Instead, they use words like corn syrup, dextrin, maltose, rice syrup, dehydrated cane juice or any of a number of terms that add up to the same thing – empty carbs. Familiarize yourself with these sugar disguises so you can recognize them on the products you buy. Read the label, and take note of how many grams of sugar each serving contains.
Keep a food diary for a week to see how much sugar you’re consuming each day. Write down the grams of sugar in the packaged foods you eat and the drinks you drink. Keep track of how many teaspoons of sugar you’re adding to your tea or coffee. One teaspoon is equivalent to about 4 grams of sugar. Don’t forget to include condiments such as barbeque sauce, salad dressings, and ketchup. There’s lots of sugar hiding in these products. You’ll probably be surprised at just how “sweet” your diet really is.
Cutting Back on Sugar
Once you know how much sugar you’re getting, it’s time to cut back. How much is acceptable? Most dieticians recommend that no more than 10% of your total calories come from sugar. A teaspoon of sugar contains around 16 calories. If you’re getting 1,600 calories a day, no more than 10 teaspoons of sugar should pass through your lips daily. Considering a 12 ounce can of cola has around 10 teaspoons of sugar, you can see why soft drinks are the first thing you should give up.
Gradually Cut Back on Sugar
The key to successfully reducing the amount of sugar in your diet is to make gradual changes. If you slowly cut back on sugar, it’s less likely you’ll experience sugar cravings. Start small by adding less sugar to your coffee or tea or by drinking one less soft drink a day. Be aware of how much “hidden” sugar you’re getting from condiments like spaghetti sauce and ketchup. Most people don’t think of those when they tally up their sugar intake. Look for lower sugar versions of these products.
Continue to slowly cut back on the sugary foods and drinks over several weeks or months. You’ll gradually lose your desire to eat things that are sweet. In fact, you’ll probably find some desserts you used to enjoy now taste sickeningly sweet. That’s when you’ll know you’ve conquered the habit.
If you crave something sweet in the meantime, reach for an apple or a bowl of fresh berries. These foods contain fructose, but their high fiber content slows down how rapidly they’re absorbed so they don’t work your pancreas as hard.
The Bottom Line?
You can kick the sugar habit. First, be aware of how much sugar you’re getting in your diet. Then make small daily changes to incrementally reduce the amount you’re taking in. You’ll feel better and will probably end up a few pounds lighter.