Sugar is all the buzz these days. As a dietitian, I spend a lot of time educating clients on how sugar in the diet can be a huge contributor to weight gain. I’m often asked about artificial sweeteners, natural sweeteners, how much sugar we should be consuming per day (hint, it’s not much!) and what to do about it all. Here are a few ways you can reduce sugar in your diet in order to set yourself up for weight loss success.
1. Read labels. The back of the label that is. Currently, the guidelines for sugar intake per day are 24g (6 teaspoons) for women and 36g (9 teaspoons) for men. That might seem a like a lot, especially if you consider that 1 teaspoon is equal to 1 packet of sugar, but in reality sugar is hidden in a lot of processed foods and beverages, so you may be getting way more then you think. To put it in perspective, the average can of regular soda has 36 grams of sugar – the daily allowance for men. If you were to consume a 20oz bottle of regular soda per day, you would consume a 4lb bag of sugar in less than 1 month! And it’s not just beverages that we need to worry about. Even some “healthy” foods contain a huge amount of sugar. Take yogurt for example. Some fat free yogurts contain close to 30g of sugar per serving. Talk about sabotaging your efforts to maintain a healthy weight. When reading a food label, look at the grams of added sugar and read the ingredients list! If you see sugar listed (especially within the first 3-5 ingredients) put it back. Sugar has many guises, so even if it says ‘evaporated cane juice’, ‘agave’, ‘rice syrup’, ‘dextrose’, its all sugar. Remember, to get the facts read the back!
2. Avoid fat free or “diet” products. The fat free craze has done more harm then good over the years when you think about it. Obesity is at an all time high. Why? Because when fat is removed from a product it needs to be replaced with something to make still taste good. This is typically sugar, artificial sweeteners, or sodium. Eating fuller fat products will provide satiety and fullness, and will help reduce cravings.
3. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are 200-600x sweeter then sugar. When you consume them, your palate is stimulated along with the sensory receptors in the brain. While they are marketed as a safe alternative to sugar, there is evidence to suggest that they do not help to promote weight loss. In some cases they may even make it harder to lose weight. Whether this is because they stimulate cravings for sweet foods or because they are chemically derived and therefore not metabolized the same as sugar is not totally clear. In any case, these are not natural alternatives and therefore are not something that I recommend.
4. Balance your carbs. We need carbohydrates in the diet to provide us with fuel and energy. The problem is most people tend to eat too many carbohydrates and, they tend to eat the wrong kinds (think simple vs. complex). Choose carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables, fruits, and certain grains such as quinoa or rice as your main source and reduce processed simple carbohydrates such as breads, pastas, cereals, and sugary granola bars. Simple carbs create a high glycemic load (too much sugar coming into the body at once) and ultimately a sugar crash (your body’s response when your blood sugar rises rapidly, then falls dramatically). Blood sugar crashes cause the body to crave more carbohydrates and sugary foods which ultimately leads to an endless cycle of carb craving and consumption. Eating complex carbs, paired with a quality protein source and a healthy fat will balance energy levels, lessen the glycemic load, and will ultimately be your best defense against sugar cravings.
5. Eat every 3-4 hours. This is what is known as preventative eating. Each time you eat a meal you should feel hungry enough to eat a meal, but not starving. When we are starving, we tend to overeat, which can impact blood sugar levels by causing a rapid rise then fall. The most common time of day reported by clients is late afternoon. Think of yourself nodding off in that afternoon meeting. When blood sugar falls, the body will signal us to eat more (you guessed it) sugar! This is usually about the time you are arriving home from work and raiding your cabinets for carb dense snacks. Sound familiar? Eating a balanced meal or snack every 3-4 hours will keep your blood sugar stable and will help to prevent crashes and cravings. Try it, it works!
6. Track your intake. Keep a food log or journal for one week. Track your sugar intake and determine how much you are getting per day. The average consumer gets approximately 97g of sugar daily! Once you determine how much you are getting try to gradually reduce wherever possible. A good goal to set is to reduce by 4g (roughly 1 packet of sugar) per day for the first week and continue to reduce until your intake meets the daily guidelines. Reducing gradually will allow your taste buds, your brain, and your metabolism to gradually adapt to this change.
Practicing these key principles will make a big difference in your overall sugar intake. Once you are aware of how much you are getting (and make strides to get sugar our of your diet) you’ll notice some big changes. You’ll feel better, have more energy, have less cravings, and more then likely see a big difference in your waistline!