The average American eats more sugar in one day than our ancestors did during an entire lifetime. They prized sugary foods for their abundant calories and quick energy spike. Thus, now we are wired to reach for the cookie jar over and over and over – even though we have no lions to outrun.
Sugar has a very high caloric content and virtually no nutritional value. Besides causing weight gain, it also encourages inflammation and infection, compromises the immune system and raises insulin levels. Insulin encourages the storage of fat, elevates triglyceride levels and promotes cardiovascular disease, asthma, mood swings, diabetes, gallstones, hypertension and arthritis. Still want that piece of cake?
We all know that sugar can cause health problems, however our eating culture revolves around sugary, salty, fatty, unhealthy foods. Even those without a raging sweet tooth will find that it's almost impossible to avoid eating refined sugar these days, as grocery manufacturers routinely add it to everything from bread and pizza dough to spaghetti sauce and salad dressing.
Eating less sugar is one of the best actions you can take to improve your current and future health, but saying "no" to sweets isn't as easy as it seems. If you can't cut out sugar completely (who can?), then try the following tips to quickly and painlessly reduce your sugar intake. It seems this becomes increasingly handy during the holiday season...
1. Cut down on processed and packaged foods. Salad dressings, spaghetti sauces, soups and even pizza crusts contain sugar. If you make your own soup, you will unlikely be adding a cup of sugar to the stew pot, however this is exactly what manufacturers do. Try to purchase groceries with the least amount of packaging as possible.
2. Indulge in the highest-quality sweets that you can afford. You will get more satisfaction from enjoying one divine chocolate truffle than you will from six crappy little sandwich cookies. Resolve to only eat sweets that you really, really like. Forget the rest, and then don't beat up on yourself when you have a sugary treat that you really enjoy.
3. Free sweets aren't free. Many work sites, businesses or offices always have on hand candy, doughnuts or other sweets to snack on. It is human nature to grab these cheap calories and ingest them, however you will pay for the free treats later with poor health and a belly roll.
4. Banish the candy jar. Do you have a candy jar on your desk at work, school, or some other handy and convenient place? Remove it, and you will reduce your sugar intake. Even just moving a candy dish from your desk to a table across the room will drastically decrease the amount that you eat.
5. Know your sugars. Fructose, glucose, lactose, maltodextrin and dextrose are all types of sugar masquerading under their scientific names. Read grocery labels so that you know what you are putting into your body.
6. Don't drink liquid candy. Soda is basically that – liquid candy. Most Americans think of soda as a beverage, and most Americans are overweight. Think of soda as a special treat rather than a daily occurrence, and you will enjoy it even more and avoid all those empty calories. Besides, we've got the Top 10 Reason to Banish Soda.
7. Watch your breakfast. Deep-fried dough topped with icing and candy sprinkles isn't anywhere near healthy, but doughnuts are a tried-and-true American breakfast. Just say no. Also passing as breakfast: giant muffins (muffins = cake), frappuccinos and smoothies – these are basically milkshakes. Starting your morning off with a sugar overload like this will offset your energy and unbalance your system for the rest of the day.
8. Indulge your sweet tooth naturally. Fruits, honey, maple syrup and molasses all contain natural sugars. Although these foods are no health superstars, they are a better option when the sweet tooth strikes and you are craving some sugary action. An apple will give you a sweet burst of flavor along with beneficial vitamins and fiber. Check out our Guide to 10 Natural Sweeteners.
9. Go black and never go back. Resolve to drink your coffee and tea without sugar and milk; this small change of mind can save you several sweet teaspoons every single day, and you will most likely find that you do not miss it. And besides, ordering a straight-up black coffee or espresso is infinitely cooler (and cheaper!) than ordering the triple-no-fat half-caramel grande Flufficino with whip and chocolate drizzle. Don't let your daily caffeine requirements become an excuse to load up on sugar.
10. If you just have to have something sweet at the end of every meal, keep a pile of your favorite gum on hand and enjoy a piece for dessert. This will give your brain the sweet sensation it desires and will keep your mouth occupied from chewing other more high-calorie dessert options. Of course, conventional gum isn't healthy either, but you can find natural and even organic gums at your local health food store.
image: Pink Sherbet Photography