Are you one of the estimated 42% of Americans that had “lose weight” at the top of their resolutions this year? If you are, what’s been your biggest struggle so far? Is it finding the time to work out or meal prep? Or, if you’re like me, is it turning down the cookies your coworker keeps bringing in? Since sweets are my number one weakness I decided to attempt to go sugar-free for a month, and boy was I in for a rude awakening! At first I thought I could just stop having dessert after dinner everyday and that would be enough. But I found out that The American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day for men and no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day for women. I started to add up all the added sugar in my usual daily diet and realized I was consuming around 50 grams of sugar before I had even made it to my lunch. I would say I have a fairly healthy diet, but sugar was constantly sneaking in. I’m not just referring to the candy bar I sometimes had with lunch but to my “healthy” smoothie which rang in at 30 grams of sugar. That’s when I realized I needed to make more changes than just cutting out dessert. So now I want to share with you a few ways I was able to reduce my added sugar.
Trying to say goodbye to soda and other sugary drinks
Someone once told me “don’t drink your calories.” While I do find that as good advice, we aren’t talking about caloric intake right now, so let me tweak that advice and say “don’t drink your sugar.” This means reducing the number of sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, coffee creamer, and yes margaritas you consume daily. If you’re consuming one or multiple sugary drinks a day, try slowly phasing them out. Simply start by only giving yourself one a day. You will appreciate that one drink so much more if you know you’re not getting another one. I used to drink Dr. Pepper with breakfast, lunch, and dinner but when I stopped I saw a huge decrease in my weight. I even got compliments from other people about my weight loss, and that was the only change I had made to my diet. I wasn’t eating any differently or working out more; it was all due to cutting out soda.
One good alternative I’ve found is adding some lemon and lime to soda water to make a mock-sprite. As far as the sports drinks go, unless you just got done with an intense workout, do you really need it? Just one 20 oz Gatorade has 34 grams of sugar. If you’re just drinking it for flavor then try doing a fruit-infused water. You can use orange slices, strawberries, blueberries, or mint. Think about the flavors you lean towards in your sports drinks and use the fresh versions of those flavors instead.
If you find yourself getting a little heavy-handed with your coffee creamer and sugar or waiting in line at Starbucks for a sugary drink on a regular basis, it’s time to start looking at how much sugar that is putting in your body. I completely understand when someone says they don’t like black coffee because I’ve been there too, so I will go a little easy on you here and suggest slowly cutting back. Start by actually measuring how much creamer and sugar you add to your coffee, so you don’t use more than the recommended serving size. If you’re making your coffee at home and like it on the sweeter side, try pouring yourself less coffee. You’ll get the sweetness you’re used to, but won’t need as much creamer or sugar. Typically one tablespoon of coffee creamer will contain five grams of sugar, while one grande vanilla latte from Starbucks contains 31 grams of sugar. So, if you’re a fan of lattes or cappuccinos request that the barista add half the amount of flavoring that the drink recipe usually calls for and try switching to a milk alternative. I’ve found that whole milk can contain around 11 grams of sugar while most almond milks don’t contain any.
If you absolutely can not do black coffee or ditch the energy drinks, try switching to tea instead. Tea does have less caffeine, but if you are desperate for a caffeine fix it’s better than nothing. If you prefer flavored drinks don’t limit yourself to only drinking black tea, you can also try green tea, chai or mint. Also, I feel like I can handle black coffee or unsweet tea better when it’s on ice.
Why are most breakfasts full of sugar?
Cinnamon rolls, pancakes, lucky charms, pop-tarts… These should be dessert, not our first meal of the day. Breakfast was when I was eating way too many sweets and calling it a meal. I’m guilty of hitting snooze one too many times and not giving myself enough time to put thought into what I’m having for breakfast and just grabbing something quick as I run out the door. Instead of cereal, try a cup of plain Greek yogurt with a small serving of granola and berries. How about a veggie omelet topped with salsa and avocado? I like to keep Kind almond bars in my pantry for mornings when I’m running behind. Replacing my quick on-the-go breakfast with more whole foods kept me full longer and I was less tempted to grab a mid-morning snack. Speaking of mid morning snacks, this might be something that you should consider replacing with an apple, banana or carrots and hummus. If you know you’ll be short on time some mornings, just start checking the labels of your breakfast snacks before you buy. Getting in this habit will really shine a light on how much sugar most store-bought snacks contain.
Lunch and dinner
When I was assessing my daily diet I was a bit surprised to find the least amount of sugar was in my lunch and dinner choices. I really enjoy cooking at home, and it’s rare for me to grab fast food for lunch so I think that made a big difference. Salads are of course an easy option for lunch and a great time to add in some veggies. Just make sure your salad dressing isn’t hiding any sugars. Many store-bought dressing, particularly shelf stable ones, have an insane amount of sugar. When you serve dinner, challenge yourself to make the veggies the star of the dish. That’s an easy way avoid added sugar and get full from nutrient-dense ingredients.
You don’t have to eliminate dessert
Good news: dessert isn’t completely off the table. Yep, you read that right! Instead of cookies or ice cream, make a fruit salad or have a small piece of dark chocolate (it has a lot less sugar than milk chocolate). If you’re at your niece’s birthday party, you don’t have to leave before the cake is served. Just limit yourself to one small slice. Did you have a super busy week at work and still managed to make healthy decisions? Why not reward yourself with a small bowl of ice cream? The point is you don’t have to completely deprive yourself. If you cave into your craving for something sweet, don’t beat yourself up and call it quits. Being aware of your sugar intake is half the battle. Some days will be easier than others.
You’ve got this!
If you’re thinking “so I just need to replace all my sugary foods with fruits and vegetables?” The answer is YES! And aiming for whole ingredients will automatically help your sugar reduction. Unfortunately for us, most processed foods are going to contain sugar. Even if the ingredients don’t list it, sugar might be hiding under a different name. Anything containing the word “syrup” or ending in “tose” is the code name for some kind of sugar. Even processed foods that aren’t sweet, like salad dressing and many frozen meals, will have hidden sugar that you only know by reading the labels. You will also find that you will have to do some meal planning. If you’re not prepared with meal ideas and groceries for the week, you will be more likely to choose a last minute, not so healthy meal instead. So give yourself some time to sit down and write down the meals you want to make and start on that grocery list.
Oh, and do not go to the grocery store on an empty stomach. Good luck!