When mindlessly consumed, sugar is one of the worst things to put in your body. Surveys show that the average American consumes about 25 to 30 teaspoons of sugar each day. That’s approximately 360 to 500 calories from sugar alone—or over three times the recommended daily intake.
The bad news is that sugar’s impact goes beyond a simple increase in calorie intake.
Excessive consumption impacts organs throughout your body, especially your heart and liver. As a result, it can put you at risk for many chronic diseases. It can even affect the appearance of your skin and your thought processes.
Without further ado, here are some of the best science-backed ways to help you reduce sugar intake without losing your mind in the process.
Stop drinking your sugar
Sugary drinks are full of the worse type of sugar. The American Journal of Public Health found an undeniable link between soda intake and increased risk for chronic conditions, such as obesity and heart disease.
Research also reported that individuals who drink more than one sweet beverage per day have roughly 25 percent increased risk of developing type II diabetes than those who skip the sweet stuff.
That’s not the whole story. We’re also drinking too much of it.
The National Institute of Health reported that sweet drinks are the third largest source of calories in the average American diet. The Center for Science in Public Interest also reported that sweet drinks make up around half of the extra sugar in the average American diet.
For example, your typical 12-ounce soda has roughly eight teaspoons of sugar. That’s 130 calories from sugar alone—quite a lot.
What’s more, the human body cannot process calories from drinks in the same way it does for solid food. Overall, liquid calories are absorbed quickly, causing a rapid spike in your blood sugar levels, which in turn can lead to all sorts of cravings.
Instead of gulping calories, drink sparkling water with fruit essence for extra taste. You can also create your flavored water by adding fruit, cucumber, or mint and leaving it overnight in the fridge.
Or just stick to plain water—it’s good for you.
Eat your non-starchy veggies
It should come as no surprise, but vegetables are key to a proper diet, including for those trying to curb their sugar intake. But not all veggies are created equal. Some pack in more sugar than others, which is key when you’re trying to reduce body fat and improve overall health.
Overall, starchy veggies, as the name implies, contain more starch than non-starchy vegetables. Starch is a type of carb that the human body breaks down into glucose. They also contain less fiber, so they might not leave you feeling as satisfied as non-starchy vegetables.
Starchy vegetables include:
- White potatoes
- Sweet potatoes
- Green peas
- Acorn squash
- Butternut squash
Eat plenty of the non-starchy variety, including:
- Baby corn
- Bamboo shoots
- Brussel sprouts
- Salad greens
- Swiss chard
Note: remember that you’re better off consuming scratchy vegetables than processed foods.
Get rid of the junk
Not keeping junk food in the house at all can drastically help reduce your sugar intake.
This way, you make sure that you don’t cave in to temptation when you have a sugar craving.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Of course, you cannot control the world around you, but at the very least, you have a say on what to keep in (and bring into) your home. Don’t ruin your hard work with a cupboard full of snacks and treats ready to be cracked open when you feel most vulnerable.
Don’t take my word for it. Research reported that people who keep junk food at home are more likely to experience weight gain problems.
Go through your kitchen and give away as much junk food as possible—and that includes the soda, chocolate cookies, pop tars, candy, and other sugar-rich snacks. Instead of the junk, stock up on healthier alternatives that you can easily and conveniently consume to help you meet your nutritional needs and keep you sated.
Some of the best options include:
- Prechopped veggies
- Salt-free and sugar-free nuts
- Low-fat yogurt
- Dried seaweed
Read the labels
Although natural sugar exists in some foods like fruit and milk, added sugars have been sneaked into most food items during manufacturing.
There are various forms of sugar and as many as 60 names for it. And that’s not the whole story. Added sugar is pervasive. The sweet stuff can be incorporated into all types of ingredients in products, which makes catching sugar in the act easier said than done.
A survey reported that out of 600,000 food items studied, roughly 80 percent had added sugar in one form or another.
So what’s the solution?
Make it a rule to always check the food label list for sugar. The higher on the list sugar appears, the more sugar the food contains. Look for the following words when checking for added sugar:
- Crystalline fructose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Malt, corn, fructose corn, dried cane, brown rice, high fructose corn syrup
Just keep in mind that it will take you a while to learn how to read food labels. But once you do, you’ll be set for life. It might make your shopping trips a little bit longer, but it’s worth every minute.
The best way to make sure you’re not consuming any “hidden sugar” is to avoid all types of pre-cooked, pre-packaged, and processed foods altogether. This is hard to achieve in the world we live in, but it’s good to keep in mind. Try your best to eat whole foods and cook your own food instead.
Have more protein
Cutting sugar from your diet isn’t just about avoiding sugar-rich food. It’s also about adding the right types of food to your daily menu. Protein is a macronutrient that’s key for reducing sugar intake. In addition, research has reported that a high protein intake helps keep blood sugar levels steady, which can prevent cravings.
For example, this research reported that participants who had protein at breakfast experienced fewer cravings for junk food later in the day. But how come protein can help?
It’s believed that protein triggers the production of the fullness hormone PYY, which helps tame hunger and improves satiety. The macronutrient might also limit the release of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
For these reasons, I encourage you to add protein to your meals and snacks.
Some of the healthiest sources include:
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, etc.
- Legumes such as beans, lentils, chickpeas.
- Greek yogurt
- Whey protein, preferably from raw goat’s milk
Proper sleep is key for optimal health. “Bad” sleep has been linked to obesity, poor concentration, depression and reduced immune function.
That said, your sleep habits may also impact the types of food you eat, making you more likely to go for items rich in sugar, salt, fat, and calories. That’s why most people may experience intense hunger pangs following a terrible night’s sleep. The longer this goes on for, the worse things can get.
For example, research has reported that individuals who are sleep deprived consume more calories from junk food and sodas and fewer from vegetables and fruits than those who log in enough sleep time.
Another study found that sleep-deprived people are up to 55 percent more likely to get obese than those who get enough sleep. Additionally, British researchers reported that participants experienced fewer cravings when they increased sleep time. They also curbed their sugar intake by up to 10 grams after a good night’s sleep.
Another research out of Haya Al Khatib Kings College University found that a month of good sleep hygiene helps subjects spend around one hour longer in bed and extended their sleep time by an average of 20 minutes.
How come sleep is so vital?
Research has reported that sleep deprivation negatively impacts appetite-regulating hormones. More specifically, sleep debt increases the release of the hunger hormone ghrelin while limiting the release of the fullness hormone PYY. This, in turn, causes you to crave the easy source of fuel that often comes from sugar.
So what do you need to do?
Make sleep a priority. How much sleep is enough varies from one person to the next, but most experts recommend aiming for at least seven hours per night.
Quality matters. Here are a few tips to achieve better sleep hygiene.
- Sleep in a dark and comfortable room to improve melatonin production, which is the sleep hormone.
- Avoid bright lights and screens in the hour before going to bed. This might be hard, but it’s worth it in the long term.
- Establish a routine of going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Unwind before you sleep by reading a fiction book, meditating, or practicing breathing exercises.