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How to reduce sugar in your diet

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

Not only does processed sugar have the same effect on our brain as cocaine, making it extremely difficult to eliminate it from our diet, but it also has a multitude of negative effects on our health. Processed sugar has been stripped of the beneficial enzymes and nutrients and, when consumed in high amounts, it leads to chronic inflammation. From weight gain and sugar crashes to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and more, table sugar is bad news.

If you are ready to live a healthier and more balanced life, have more energy and possibly loose a few pounds, here are four steps to follow, to significantly reduce your sugar intake:

Step 1: Replace all sugary beverages with healthy alternatives

The American Heart Association recommends that most American women eat no more than 20 grams of sugar, per day, and no more than 36 grams for men. To put this into perspective, as you can see on the left, a can of Coke will give you a whopping 39 grams of sugar! An 8 oz serving of store bought apple juice can give you as many as 30 grams of sugar.

This is one of the toughest habits to break so it's best to take it slowly. If you are used to drinking three cans of soda per day, for example, aim to consume just two per day for the next week and then one per day the week after that, before eliminating it completely. This applies to soda, ice tea, energy drink, sport drink, fruit juice, chocolate milk or any other sugary beverage you may be drinking.

Here are a few examples of drinks you can replace the sugary beverages with you:

  • plain water

  • infused water (here is an easy recipe)

  • unsweetened, loose leaf tea ( reap the benefits from the antioxidants they contain while enjoying thousands of flavors- fruity teas, minty ones, earthy, sweet, spicy and much more)

  • sparkling water

  • infused sparkling water

If you desire more flavor, add some freshly squeezed lemon juice, some pieces of fresh fruit and a few drops of Stevia to your teas or water.

Step 2: Replace junk foods with healthy alternatives

We often beat ourselves up for giving in to our junk food cravings, but it’s not by accident that they are so hard to resist. These foods are carefully combined to trigger reward pathways in our brain, leaving us wanting more of them. But while junk food can satisfy our hunger, it does not provide our body with the nutrients it needs for proper function; it is low in quality and high in calories. Regular consumption of junk food can leave our bodies depleted and at risk for many health conditions.

Start by making a list of the junk foods you eat and prioritize them, based on how often you eat each one of them. The one you eat the most of, gets replaced first.

A few tips to follow:

  • Find healthy alternatives, that you enjoy eating

  • Always keep those on hand both at home and at work

  • Always pack a healthy snack when leaving home so you don't give into a craving when you get hungry

  • Go grocery shopping after you ate; it's much more tempting to buy junk foods when shopping with an empty stomach

Proteins and fats provide you with a more steady source of energy and incorporating these with each meal or snack, allow you to feel full longer. A few ideas of great snack foods are:

  • hard boiled eggs

  • beef sticks

  • nuts and seeds (ideally sprouted or at least soaked)

  • green apples and nut butter

  • veggies and hummus or guacamole

  • veggies and canned sardines

  • cucumber and liver pate

  • avocado sprinkled with sea salt

  • full fat, coconut milk smoothie

  • chia seeds pudding

  • If you tolerate dairy: full fat, raw, plain yogurt mixed with berries; goat cheese stuffed dates, raw milk cheese with tomatoes are a few more examples

Week 3: Find refined carbs replacements

Most of the nutrients in refined carbs have been removed and we are left with only the starch, which has similar effects on our bodies as refined sugar. When you eat refined carbs, the level of sugar in your bloodstream rises fast which triggers a surge of insulin to clear the sugar from your blood. Because of all the insulin that gets released, your blood sugar drops again and you start feeling hungry soon after a meal, often craving more sugary carbs. This can cause you to overeat, put on weight, and over time this can lead to insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes.

Make a list of all the carbs you eat (bread, rice, pasta, cereal, instant oatmeal, etc) and prioritize them based on how often you eat them. The carb you eat most often gets replaced or eliminated first. Remove or replace one new food, each week.

Here are a few ideas for substitutes:

  • Cauliflower rice is a great substitute for white or brown rice

  • Vegetable noodles (like zucchini) or spaghetti squash are a great alternative for pasta

  • Instead of bread, you can use toasted sweet potato slices, peppers, cucumber (cut lengthwise) or lettuce leaves

  • Make cauliflower pizza crust instead of the traditional crust

This step may require a major shift in the way you eat. Instead of toast or cereal for breakfast, for example, try some eggs, sausages, fruit, sprouted oats with full fat coconut milk and fresh fruit (especially berries) or even some left overs from the night before. Replace your lunch sandwich with a salad topped with chicken, some seeds of your choice (sunflower, hemp are just a couple examples) or other healthy fat like avocados or a simple olive oil dressing. Use the search feature on my blog, to find recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, dressings, etc.

Week 4: Learn to recognize hidden sugars

There are many foods that we wouldn't normally associate with sugar. But about two thirds of the packaged and processed foods contain added sugars, in addition to those naturally found in the ingredients.

For example, ketchup will always contain some sugar because it is found naturally in tomatoes. But manufacturers often add more sugar to it, to make it sweeter and encourage our bodies to want more of it. The below is a screenshot of a bottle of Heinz ketchup: 4 grams of sugar in 1 tablespoon of ketchup- most of it is from added sugar.

When you start reading labels, you have to know what you’re looking for. Sugar is not always easy to find, and there are about 60 different names that sugar goes by. Here are some ways you can spot the added sugar:

  • syrup (examples: corn syrup, rice syrup)

  • the word ends in “ose” (examples: fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose)

  • “sugar” is in the name (examples: raw sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, confectionery sugar)

  • fruit nectars, concentrates of juices, honey, agave and molasses.

Start reading labels and choose options with low sugar content. However, if you have to choose between one with artificial sweetener and sugar, choose the sugar option. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to a host of health problems.

Here are some of the most common processed foods that can contain a fairly high amount of sugar:

  • Pasta sauce

  • Condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce

  • Salad dressings

  • Yogurt (especially if it has fruit in it or is flavored)

  • Dried fruit

  • Granola bars

  • Cereal

  • Peanut butter

  • Canned fruits and veggies

  • Canned soup

Make a list of the processed foods you still have in your pantry and start finding alternatives. You most likely already removed many of the processed foods by following the previous steps, so this list may be much shorter. Start with the one you eat most often and remove one new food, each week.

If one week for each step seems too fast paced for you, take your time. The goal is to make small, sustainable changes that will become part of your new normal. And it's OK if you make mistakes. It doesn't mean you need to start over. Keep going, taking it one day at a time. Your body will adjust after a few weeks, and your cravings will diminish, making it easier to overcome the desire to eat sugar.

If you have the time, making your own food is always the best option. But it's often not realistic to find the time to make everything from scratch. That 's why our family uses Primal Kitchen products. They have a host of healthy and delicious products but our favorite is their ketchup. It contains no added sugar and tastes delicious. Use the code WELCOME for a 10% off discount.

To view my affiliate policy, you can follow this link.

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