Are You Ready to Stop Eating Sugar?
As a nurse practitioner specializing in weight management, I tell my patients all the time that they need to eat less sugar, and even stop eating sugr. These are the most common responses:
“I don’t think I eat much sugar.” (while eating yogurt with more sugar than 2 donuts)
“How can I sweeten my coffee?”
“How can I get over my sweet tooth?”
Telling someone to stop eating sugar is like trying to get an addict off of crack. No, seriously. I’ve been there! It’s not easy and it actually takes time. But, it’s so important for your health and if you’re wanting to lose weight, sugar is the first thing that has to go. Too much sugar in your diet has been linked to heart disease and a variety of other health problems, which can be avoided by cutting back.
Sugar is a HUGE problem in the United States. It has become such a problem that the USDA (finally!) created a dietary guideline that we keep our sugar consumption to no more than 10% of our overall calories.
That is equal to about 6 teaspoons of sugar a day for women and 9 teaspoons of sugar a day for men. Currently, the average American eats a whopping 22 teaspoons of sugar!
Salad dressing, “diet” foods, canned soup, bread…. Just because they don’t sound sweet doesn’t mean they don’t contain large amounts of added sugars. There are actually 62 names for sugar!
The GOOD news is that you CAN learn how to cut down on sugar without feeling like you are being tortured. I’ve compiled a list of simple ways that can help you stop eating sugar or eat less of it, so you can lower your chances of diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and other health problems. And, help you lose or maintain weight.
TIPS TO STOP EATING SUGAR INCLUDE:
1. GET EDUCATED
Know the difference between healthy and unhealthy sugars. Just because a food has sugar in it, doesn’t mean it’s bad altogether. For example, naturally-occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables won’t have a negative impact on your body like sugars in a bottle of cola will. Your liver won’t process it the same way. The fiber in fruits and vegetables slows the absorption of sugars, which helps you maintain stable blood sugar levels.
2. CUT OUT THE OBVIOUS
It’s pretty hard to stop eating sugar all at once. So first, cut out the obvious. That means sodas, candies, ice cream, baked goods like muffins and cookies, and other foods that are well-known to be high in sugar. Then as time goes on and you become more and more aware of hidden sugars in foods, you can make that checklist a bit bigger.
3. LEARN GROCERY STORE LAYOUTS
Has this happened to you? You go to the supermarket to grab ONE thing. About an hour later, you have a whole cart full of stuff, some of it that definitely doesn’t fit into a healthy lifestyle. You didn’t know it would happen, but the supermarket did. It’s designed to tempt you to make impulsive decisions.
At the beginning of the entrance, there are flowers or a small florist shop. This is meant to give consumers an idea of freshness, and also provides a cheap and convenient way to please your partner back at home and make them feel special.
After that, there is produce. You were just back near the flowers having a sense of “freshness,” which prompts you to buy some fresh fruits and vegetables (which I am definitely not complaining about. I hope you spend the most time there!).
In the corner beyond the entrance is the bakery. It gets your salivary glands going and makes you feel hungry. And the hungrier you are, the more stuff you will buy. AVOID this area.
Then there’s the deli in one of the front corners. Smelling the bakery scents must have made you hungry, right? How about a sandwich?
The dairy, meat, eggs, and other staples (probably what you went there for, just some milk?) are along the back wall of the supermarkets. These are the farthest out of reach from the entrance so that customers will impulsively buy other things along the way.
To prompt you to go to the inner aisles, there are “endcap displays.” These are the ends of each aisle that are filled with things that are on sale. Everyone loves a good bargain. Buy one get one free potato chips? How can one resist! Oh! And the beer is right down that aisle. Perfect!
Then, the checkout aisles of course have the candy, chips, and bottles of soda to grab while waiting.
To avoid buying lots of unnecessary things, especially packaged foods that are loaded with sugar, stick to the outside parameters of the supermarket and try to avoid what’s in the center. Visit the produce, dairy, meat, and flowers (if someone deserves them!) and then head for the checkout line with blinders on. Less sugar brought home is less sugar that ends up in your body. That’s a good way to stop eating sugar.
4. DON’T SHOP HUNGRY
When you’re hungry, it’s easier to make impulsive buys and you’ll be much more likely to buy things that are sweet or processed and packaged (which means added sugars).
5. LEARN HOW TO READ LABELS
Think you’re making a good decision for buying that vitamin water? Check the back label and you’ll find that it contains added sugars. How about the protein bar that is advertised as “only 2 grams of sugar?” Check the back label and you’ll find that although there are only 2 grams of sugar, there are also 10 grams of sugar alcohol. Like I said before, there are plenty of other names for sugar.
Also look for serving size. That bottled drink only has 4 grams of sugar? That’s because it’s for one serving, and there are 2.5 servings in that small bottle. See, things like this may trick you!
6. FIND BALANCE AND STOP EATING SUGAR
If you want to stop eating sugar, or eat less of it, you need to find balance. Obviously, never eating sugar again is not going to happen. It also doesn’t need to happen. You can be very healthy while still enjoying a sweet treat from time to time. Just make sure you are eating a balanced diet with plenty of protein, fruits, and vegetables, and pay attention to portion size for treats. Instead of having an entire chocolate bar, break off just a square to satisfy your sweet tooth. Don’t make it a meal.
7. THINK BEFORE YOU SIP
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of Americans get a substantial amount of calories from sweetened drinks. At the same time, we are becoming more unhealthy each year, plagued by obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more..
Drinking your calories is an easy way to get too many. And, it’s a quick way to consume too much sugar as well.
Opt for water and if needed, make your own sweet and fizzy drink by adding some lemon or lime juice into seltzer water, with a pinch of sugar. Even if you added in a couple of teaspoons (8 grams of sugar), you are going to consume wayyyy less sugar that way than what is found in a bottle of cola the same size (65 grams of sugar)
Making your own probiotic drink will not only cut down on calories, but will also revitalize your gut. Don’t let the sugar in probiotic drinks fool you because most of it is processed by the healthy bacteria inside.
8. CLEAN OUT YOUR PANTRY
In order to have a healthier body and cut back on sugar, or stop eating sugar altogether, you need to remove the temptations. If something isn’t there, you won’t eat it. Go through your pantry at home and remove candies, chips, pancake mix, cake mix, brownie mix, sugary cereals… And then give it away so you don’t feel bad for throwing it out.
9. CLEAN OUR YOUR FRIDGE
The same goes for your fridge and freezer. Toss the ice cream, sugar-laden yogurt, corn syrup-laden condiments, soda, sugar-laden fruit juice, bottled smoothie drinks, syrup, sweetened soy and almond milk…
For more tips on cleaning up your pantry and fridge, you can watch my video here.
10. CHOOSE UNSWEETENED
When you shop for almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, applesauce, or canned fruit, look for “unsweetened” on the label. This will drastically lower your sugar and calorie intake, and bring you closer to stop eating sugar.
11. FIND SWEET ALTERNATIVES
Can’t get rid of that nagging sweet tooth? Find a sugar alternative. But STAY AWAY from artificial sweeteners. They can cause sugar addiction, according to Harvard University.
Here’s a list of artificial sweeteners to AVOID:
- Acesulfame potassium
- Sweet ‘N Low
If you need a healthier option, choose Stevia.
12. EAT PROTEIN
Often, we crave sugar because we are hungry. Simple carbohydrates (sugars) are the fastest source of energy, so it makes sense that is what our brain tells us to eat when it needs more energy. Eating protein will help curb cravings by keeping you feeling full longer. Aim for 25-35 grams of protein at each meal when trying to lose weight.
13. BEWARE OF “DIET” FOODS
Have you ever been on a diet before where you were pushed to buy their packaged, processed low-fat but high-carbohydrate products?
Do these look familiar?
The problem with these high-carb, low-fat foods is that they don’t hold you over until the next meal, they spike your blood sugar, and they don’t have much nutritional value. You end up hungry, wanting to eat more of them, and you eventually consume more calories than you would have if you ate something high-fat, high-protein, low-carb. Sure, they say “100 calories per serving,” but if you look at the label, they’re loaded with “empty calories” (sugar).
14. USE TUNNEL VISION IN THE CHECKOUT AISLE
There’s a reason why the checkout aisles at supermarkets are loaded with candy, soda, and chewing gum. People can’t resist sugar and it’s a fast fix. The next time you are checking out at the cashier, don’t look to the sides. Just focus on paying for your groceries and getting out of there.
15. GET YOUR ZZZZ’S
Like I said, your body wants sugar when it needs energy because sugar is instant energy. Research has found that sleep deprivation changes brain processing and makes people want to eat junk food, and in addition, people who sleep less tend to be more overweight or obese. Make sure you are taking care of yourself and getting 8 hours of sleep each night.
If you have a hard time falling asleep earlier than usual, create a bedtime routine. Have some chamomile tea, read a book, or whatever else you find relaxing and try to do it at the same time each night. Calcium and magnesium can also help.
16. RELIEVE SOME STRESS
When you are stressed, your body produces higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Research has found that increased cortisol levels are linked to sugar cravings.
If you want to avoid sugar cravings caused by stress, take a walk and call a friend to blow off some steam, hit the gym, take a meditation class, or anything else you find to be calming.
One of the best ways to change eating habits is to find someone who wants to change theirs, too. Sharing your food diary with a friend or loved one can keep you held accountable. Plus, you can motivate each other.
18. PLAN AHEAD
Planning is key when adapting to a healthier diet. It’s not always easy to find something fast but also healthy to eat when you’re in a rush. Grill a bunch of chicken and veggies on a Sunday and keep them in the fridge for lunches during the week. Watch here on how to build a healthy mason jar salad.
19. GO FRESH
Skip the canned foods and go for fresh. Instead of canned spaghetti sauce that contains added sugar, make your own and can it yourself. Or, skip it and top your pasta with sautéed tomatoes and some extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Opt for fresh fruit instead of canned fruit, which is usually packed with syrup.
It is true that sugars found in dried fruit are mostly the same sugars naturally found in fresh fruit (fructose and dextrose). However, some dried fruits are too tart for most people to want to eat them as a snack, so sugar is often added to them when they’re dried.
21. MAKE IT 70% DARK
You don’t have to give up chocolate when you want to stop eating sugar. But, you have to be more selective. Most chocolate found on store shelves is not “real” chocolate and is made from cocoa, which is a refined version of cacao (cocoa bean). Confusing? If it ends in –oa, it is refined/processed. If it ends in –ao, it is right from the cocoa bean. Milk chocolate also has more sugar than dark chocolate, so Hershey bars and KitKat are out of the picture. When you buy chocolate, read the label. If it says “70% cacao” (or a higher number), then it is dark chocolate. The higher the number, the less sugar it contains. Curb your cravings with a small piece of dark chocolate, which can satisfy your sweet tooth, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and insulin resistance.
22. GO GREEK
Yogurt is often a hidden sugar bomb. In fact, some yogurts have more sugar than donuts!
Plain Greek yogurt is much higher in protein and contains less sugar than other yogurts on store shelves. Instead of buying it mixed with fruit, sprinkle some cinnamon on top.
23. SUBSTITUTE WITH APPLESAUCE
Did you know that you can use unsweetened applesauce as a substitute for sugar? Not only is applesauce a great alternative for adding sweetness to your oatmeal or plain yogurt, it is also great for baking! You can use a ratio of 1:1 when substituting applesauce for sugar.
Aside from saving yourself from an onset of diabetes, a cup of unsweetened applesauce has about 100 calories and a cup of sugar has about 775 calories. That’s a big decrease in calories, which means less weight gain. Read more here.
24. MIND THE MILK
Read this: A baby cow weighs around 80 pounds at birth. That baby cow is going to need a lot of energy from food to grow from 80 pounds to over 1,000 pounds in a short period of time. It mostly gets that from its mother. It’s no wonder why milk contains a lot of naturally-occurring sugar called lactose. A cup of whole milk has 12 grams of lactose. Cow’s milk is not meant for humans. It contains higher amounts of sugar, calories, and also hormones that are meant to help baby cows develop into massive animals. Humans are not meant to grow to that size or that quickly. Just some food for thought…
P.S. Did you know that 1% milk has more sugar than whole milk? Sure, it’s only 1 more gram, but that adds up.
25. BE CAREFUL WITH CONDIMENTS
Barbeque sauce, honey mustard, ketchup…. These are some culprits that many people don’t think about when trying to stop eating sugar.
Some healthy choices for adding more flavor to foods:
- Mustard (Stone ground, Dijon, Yellow)
- Olive Oil Mayonnaise
- Dry or Fresh Herbs and Spices
26. DON’T KILL YOUR SALAD
I see it all the time at the salad bar. Someone creates a very fresh and healthy looking salad. Lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, green peppers adorn the plate like the Garden of Eden…. And then the dressing comes. Ranch, blue cheese, or creamy Italian dressing is poured all over the salad until you can’t see what’s underneath anymore. No more paradise. The salad has been killed. What they may not have known is that they just totally defeated the purpose of having a salad instead of a cheeseburger with fries. Laden with unhealthy oils, additives, preservatives, and SUGARS, their salad is now probably UNhealthier than the fast food meal they skipped for something “healthy.”
Do yourself a favor and make your OWN dressing. It’s actually pretty easy and fast! Here’s a very simple recipe:
EASY VINAIGRETTE RECIPE
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup vinegar (your choice: Balsamic, white, cider, red wine, etc.)
Salt & pepper to taste
optional: 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Add ingredients into a glass jar, cover, and shake. Refrigerate.
For some healthy salad ideas, watch THIS VIDEO HERE.
27. MAKE YOUR OWN COFFEE-ON-THE-GO
Leaving for work in the morning? Bring your own coffee or tea with you. Besides saving a ton of money, you will also drastically cut down on sugar by making your own instead of stopping at Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or other drive-thru cafes.
28. DON’T QUIT COLD TURKEY
To make long-term lifestyle changes, one must usually take baby steps. That’s why crash diets don’t work. Trying to stop eating sugar drasticaly is hard. By slowly cutting back on foods and drinks that contain a lot of sugar, it will be much easier to continue doing that. Start small, such as bringing your own coffee on-the-go instead of picking something up at a drive-thru. Then replace your yogurts, then your salad dressings, and so on..
Your body needs fat. You need fat in your diet. And don’t think that by avoiding fat will help you lose weight or stop eating sugar. It’s actually the opposite. When you eat fat, your brain is signaled that you are getting enough energy and should stop eating, which will prevent you from eating too many calories or craving sugar. Read this if you want to know exactly what to eat to lose weight (and stop craving sugar).
Choose healthy fats. That means extra-virgin olive oil instead of vegetable oil. Butter instead of margarine.
In addition, don’t be afraid of saturated fat.
30. GET CHECKED OUT
Sometimes it takes a health scare to make changes. Get checked out by your doctor. He/she should do a fasting blood sugar test to see if you are on your way to diabetes (or if you already have it).
Diabetes is becoming increasingly common and can lead to heart disease, damaged blood vessels, foot problems and amputations, and more.. Just imagine having no foot. That should be enough to push you to stop eating too much sugar.
31. PRACTICE MINDFUL EATING
With our busy lifestyles, we often don’t pay much attention to what we put in our mouths. This leads to overeating and also making the wrong food choices, including too much sugar. By practicing mindful eating, you can learn to make better choices, quit eating too much sugar, and also enjoy your food more. Learn more about what mindful eating means.
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