Refined sugar sneaks into our diets in everything from the obvious cookies and candies to less-apparent packaged goods, such as pasta sauce and frozen food. And added sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup, aren't the only problem; processed carbohydrates (such as that white bagel you wolfed down between meetings this morning) break down similarly in the body. How can you avoid getting too much?
10 ways to CUT BACK on sugar
- Stick to natural sources. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and even milk contain plenty of natural sugars that satisfy a body's requirements, says Anding. If you eat adequate amounts of these healthful foods, they will likely provide enough energy — along with other important vitamins and minerals — to get you through the day, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, of Sarasota, Florida. And though fresh fruit is high in natural sugars, you don't have to feel guilty about eating it. Not only does fruit contain health-boosting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants but its fiber slows down sugar absorption, says Cypess.
- Watch refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, regular pasta, and chips. “Your body treats refined carbs very similarly to simple carbs [sugars, jellies, jams, syrups],” says Ryan Bradley, ND, director of the Diabetes and Cardiovascular Wellness Program at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle.
- Limit some natural sugars. “Honey and molasses are often thought of as being good for you, but physiologically your body processes these sugars only slightly differently [than refined sugar],” explains Anding, “so eat them in moderation.” Honey may have a slight edge when it comes to healthfulness because it contains antioxidants and phytonutrients. “But that doesn't mean you should be drinking six cups of tea a day each with 2 tablespoons of honey,” she says. Molasses offers calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium, but it also doesn't warrant unlimited consumption.
- Sensitize your palate. “Retrain your taste buds so that you can taste the subtle nuances of sugar in healthier foods,” says Gerbstadt. For example, if you cut back on megasugary foods, you should be able to taste the hint of sugar in whole-wheat bread. “Sprinkle a little cinnamon on it for a healthy, sweet snack,” she says.
- Add protein and fiber. According to Gittleman, craving sugar or refined carbs can be a sign that your body needs more protein. Pairing protein with sugary treats can also stabilize blood sugar so it won't spike as much, says Gerbstadt. So if you plan to eat a piece of cake after dinner, make sure high-quality protein is part of the main course. “Or combine the sugar with something high in fiber,” suggests Sinatra.
- Spice it up. Gittleman suggests cooking with cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves, which not only taste great but may help regulate blood sugar, according to studies conducted at the USDA's Vitamin and Mineral Laboratory.
- Stock up on healthy snacks. It's easy to succumb to cravings when you're in a hurry or if you're particularly stressed out. Instead of sugary pick-me-ups, pack your pantry or tote bag with quick, sugar-free foods such as nuts, whole-grain crackers, or cheese, suggests Gittleman. These will be much more satisfying in the long run.
- Take B vitamins and chromium. “Having enough B vitamins in your body will help stabilize mood, energy, appetite, and blood sugar,” says Gerbstadt. And according to Bradley, chromium improves meal satiety and can reduce sugar cravings by balancing mood and improving the brain's sensitivity to insulin. Talk to your health care practitioner about specific doses.
- Don't squander your daily sugar allowance. “If your family really enjoys an occasional splurge on ice cream, then cut out all soft drinks during that day,” says Anding. “Personally, I will not drink a soda because I would rather have a piece of dark chocolate.”
- Model good habits. “Clean up your own diet first,” says Bennett. “Show your kids that you can still eat sweet foods without all the added sugar. Try freezing your favorite fruits and then blending them with plain yogurt.” Sinatra agrees: “Children follow what you do, not what you say.”