These days it’s hard to find a packaged food that doesn’t contain sugar in some form or another. And while I have no problem with a little sugar in certain foods, it’s the amount of sugar in food that really irks me. We know foods such as cookies, ice cream, and soda are packed with sugar. But it’s often also abundant in foods that you expect to be healthful, like whole grain cereal, yogurt, bread, crackers, and granola bars.
Food manufacturers have long known that the sweeter a food, the more likely it is you will enjoy it and buy it again. A lot of sugar was also introduced into our food back in the low-fat era when we thought fat was the villain and added sugar to replace it. Of course, it turned out that this was not the answer to reducing our waistlines. In fact, we need fat in our diets, but we definitely don’t need more sugar.
Unfortunately, people’s taste buds have become accustomed to the sweetness of the many foods we enjoy. We like our cereal sweet, we like our coffee sweet, we like our smoothies sweet, etc. Fortunately, it’s possible to retrain your body so that it needs less sweet. We are all different, and some of us have more taste buds than others, but we can all learn to cut back a bit. And a little bit makes a big difference over time.
So how do you cut back on sugar in this land of sugar?
- Well, first off: read labels. More low sugar and no sugar versions of popular foods are starting to appear in mainstream grocery stores. Look for products that have no sugar added or have sugar listed towards the end of the ingredient list. Skip the artificially sweetened foods since the point is to train your body into not needing as much sweetened food.
- Be sure you can recognize all the different names for sugar. Here are some common forms of sugar that you may see on an ingredient list: cane sugar, honey, brown rice syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, molasses, invert sugar, fructose, dextrose, maple syrup, agave nectar, and coconut sugar. While some of these forms of sugar may be less processed and therefore viewed as healthier—agave, honey, maple syrup, molasses—they are still sugar.
- Blend it. If your kids love Honey Nut Cheerios, try mixing half Honey Nut Cheerios with half plain Cheerios. Your kids will most likely find that it is still plenty sweet! Same goes for yogurt. Buy two big containers of yogurt, one sweetened, such as vanilla or strawberry, and the other plain. Mix them together and you still have a sweet treat, but with less added sugar!
- Add your own sugar. This is what I most often do. For example, I buy plain Greek yogurt and plain kefir and then add a dollop of honey, a spoonful of jam, or a drizzle of maple syrup if I want to sweeten it.
- Make your own homemade version of food you love. I realize we don’t all have time for playing around in the kitchen, but if you can, try to make your own foods now and then. In general, I try to make my own cookies and muffins instead of buying them. That way I can control the amount of sugar I put in them, and they are an occasional treat rather than an everyday treat. I also recommend making your own granola. It’s easier than you think. Smoothies and homemade popsicles can both be naturally sweet with minimal added sugar when you make them at home.
- Get your family involved. At home: Do smoothie taste tests and see if who can make a delicious smoothie without adding any sweetener or sweetened products. Or, make cookies and try cutting back on the amount of sugar listed. At the store: Challenge them to find a cereal that doesn’t have sugar as the first or second ingredient (it’s pretty difficult).
- Make water your beverage of choice. Water, water, it’s got what we need. Make it your beverage of choice and skip the soda and juice. Unsweetened tea and coffee, in addition to water, is also ok for adults. Smoothies can be a super healthful treat when sweetened with fruit, not sugar, but treat them as a snack, not a beverage. And if you work out for long periods of time and find that you need a sports drink to keep you going, try making your own.
- Make fruit your dessert of choice. On most days, make fruit the sweet treat added to your child’s lunch box. Also, make sure you sometimes serve fruit for dessert at home. Add a little homemade whipped cream or a side scoop of ice cream if your child is more likely to eat it that way.