Sugar may be sweet, but, as more and more research shows, it's not so nice. It quickly turns into fat in our bodies, contributes to obesity, puts us at risk of type 2 diabetes, and plays a major role in the onset of other conditions ranging from insomnia to heart disease. On top of that, it's literally addictive. No surprise so many Americans are unhealthy, considering how much sugar most of us eat: about 22 teaspoons a day.
Some people, of course, choose to cut out sugar entirely. If you don't want to go that far — and who doesn't love a slice of cake once in a while at a party, or ice cream with the kids on a hot summer day? — a low-sugar lifestyle may be a more manageable option that still improves your health. mindbodygreen teamed up with siggi's dairy — whose yogurt contains a shockingly low 9 to 11 grams of sugar per 5.3 ounce serving (3-4 of which naturally occur in the milk) — to put together these 25 tips that will keep you on the path to a low-sugar lifestyle.
1. Reduce your sugar intake slowly.
Some experts recommend going cold turkey, but be aware that because sugar is addictive, eliminating it all in one fell swoop is likely to wreak havoc on your emotions — which, in turn, can stress you out and drive you back into its sweet, comforting arms. If you're going for low-sugar rather than no sugar, a gradual reduction may be easier.
2. Eat whole foods.
Whenever possible, stick to meats, fruits and vegetables in their original forms, which do not contain any added sugar.
3. Get your cookbook out.
You'll be far less likely to consume sugary foods — either accidentally or in a moment of weakness — if you prepare the bulk of your meals.
4. Take "sugar-free" with a grain of salt.
Artificial sweeteners trick your body into thinking it's getting glucose and then don't deliver — which just makes you hungrier. Watch out for "no sugar added," too: a lot of foods labeled that way include artificial sweeteners.
5. Watch out for fat-free foods.
"Fat-free" and "lite" options often contain extra sugar or sweeteners to compensate for the missing flavor and richness of fat.
6. Read and compare labels.
Some foods — like yogurt or cereal — come in a vast array of brands and options. If you're going to eat foods that contain sugar, pick those with the lowest amounts and that use nutritious ingredients and preparation techniques.
7. 86 the soda and juice.
The vast majority of these beverages are little more than sugar water.
8. Avoid diet soda, too.
Again, the artificial sweeteners in diet soda will just exacerbate your body's sugar cravings, without ever satisfying them. Let it go.
9. Start the day with protein.
A high-protein breakfast — eggs, a protein shake or yogurt — will not only keep your blood sugar in check and reduce cravings, but will also improve your metabolism for the rest of the day.
10. Don't skip meals.
Eat regularly throughout the day. Skipping lunch to finish a project makes you more likely to turn to sugar for a quick fix later on.
11. Have emergency snacks handy.
mindbodygreen contributor Dr. Mark Hyman recommends keeping an "Emergency Life Pak" on you at all times, containing healthy and filling options like nuts, jerky, and fresh fruit, so you're not tempted to hit up the vending machine for a candy bar if you have to miss a meal.
12. Stay hydrated.
Thirst frequently manifests as a craving for sugar or other food. Drink plenty of water.
13. Choose fruit.
Fresh fruit — which delivers fiber and water, which help your body metabolize fructose more healthfully — is a better way to satisfy your sugary urges than almost any processed alternative.
14. But choose veggies and nuts more often.
The sweetness in fruit will keep a sugar addiction alive. Try limiting yourself to one serving of fruit per day, and opt for raw vegetables, nuts and seeds as snacks.
15. Keep healthy fats around.
Healthy fats — like those found in nuts and seeds, extra virgin olive oil and avocado — will make you feel full, provide energy, and balance your blood sugar.
16. Find natural substitutes.
If you need to use a sweetener in a recipe, replace white sugar with options like honey or molasses (in small doses) whenever possible, as they provide more nutrients and better flavor.
17. Spice it up.
Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and other spices are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth without adding sugar.
18. Give black coffee a trial run.
If you've grown accustomed to sweetening your morning joe, give yourself a 7-day trial of drinking it black. Coffee is shown to reduce risk of diabetes and some types of cancer, and it's a proven metabolism booster. Take the time to savor the taste, smell, and warmth of your coffee — the experience itself is sweet enough, no sugar necessary!
19. Select dark chocolate.
When you need to feed a chocolate craving, the darker stuff — like, 85 to 90 percent cocoa — contains much less sugar.
20. Buddy up.
You're facing a world where sugar is thrust into your face at every turn, but you don't have to face it alone. Do you have a friend or significant other who might be interested in cutting back on sugar, too? Pair up to offer each other support and a sounding board when those cravings are out of control and you're worried you'll cave.
21. Learn its other names.
You're on the lookout for "sugar" in the ingredients list, but what about "agave nectar," "black strap molasses," "dried oat syrup," or "evaporated cane juice"? Some of these alternative sweeteners have other health benefits, but your body still treats them basically like sugar.
22. Never assume.
Sugar slips into sometimes surprising foods, like salad dressing, sauces, and meat glazes. Besides reading ingredients lists closely, have your server check when you're eating out, if you think a dish might have added sugar.
23. Don't take the glycemic index as gospel.
The GI scale measures only glucose, so it doesn't tell you anything about the fructose in a food. Sugars are all metabolized differently and have different impacts on the body.
24. Get a good night's rest.
When you don't get enough sleep — most human beings need 7.5 to 8 hours a night — your body lacks energy, and looks elsewhere for it, setting off cravings for sugar, which offers a quick hit.
25. Mind your emotions.
Before you reach for a sugary snack, ask yourself if you are truly hungry or just trying to fill an emotional need. If your answer is the latter, seek friends, family or a hobby for a more sustainable (and healthier) emotional fix.
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