Easter holidays are just around the corner, and that means chocolate, caramel and all kinds of other sweets will be sneaking their way into our homes and the workplace. But in addition to being a prelude to that most sugary of holidays, March is also National Nutrition Month, which makes it the perfect time to take a long look at your diet: starting with the sweet stuff.
“Sugar has zero nutritional value,” says Lynn James, Corporate Director of Health and Well-Being at Recovery Centers of America. “In addition to weight gain, it contributes to a host of medical issues.”
Studies have found that consuming too much of it can raise blood pressure, contribute to the onset of Type II Diabetes, and increase the risk for heart disease. For those who eat a lot of sugary foods, it can seem difficult to live without it, but James believes that with just a few weeks of hard work, you can retrain your body and mind to live without sugar.
“Cutting back on sugar isn’t easy,” she says. “You’ll feel tired and moody. Like most change, it’s uncomfortable. However, if you can withstand a few weeks of discomfort, your taste buds will adjust, and you’ll crave it less often.”
There are two classes of sugar found in food — naturally occurring sugars, such as the naturally-occurring sweetness from fructose, lactose, and galactose found in fruits, honey, root vegetables, and dairy and added sugar, the chemically processed stuff added to all kinds of commercially-available foods. It’s the added stuff you want to watch out for.
So how much sugar is too much? According to the American Heart Association, men should limit their added sugar intake to 150 calories or less — that’s nine teaspoons — while women should consume no more than 100 calories, or six teaspoons. That may sound like a lot, but it’s easy to blow past that limit quickly, for example, there are over nine teaspoons of sugar in a single 12 oz. can of soda!
Artificial sweeteners are not a great alternative as they carry their own health risks, and too much fruit juice is not much better. To ease back on sugar consumption, James recommends taking a gradual approach, replacing the harmful added sugar with naturally-sweet foods such as fruit. She also suggests increasing the amount of healthy fats and lean proteins in your meals, as this will help with sugar cravings.
If you find yourself craving sugar after a meal, that could be because the meal simply didn’t leave you full enough. Try incorporating more high fiber foods, such as berries or whole grains, into your cooking, as this will leave you feeling fuller longer.
Once you start looking for ways to reduce sugar, you’ll find any number of simple shortcuts that let your food taste sweet without harming your health. Cinnamon is an excellent addition to dishes like oatmeal, for instance, while lemon juice or balsamic vinegar can be used to brighten up savory dishes without resorting to adding sugar.
But most importantly, try not to stress about the numbers. Every step you take towards reducing your sugar intake, no matter how small, is a positive one, putting you well on your way to reducing consumption of what James calls “the single worst ingredient in the modern diet.”