Sugar consumption has become one of the most significant dietary problems in the developed world. A widely accepted World Health Organization guideline recommends that added sugar make up less than 10 percent of our total energy intake - and suggests that dropping the level below 5 percent would be even more beneficial. For the average American, that would mean roughly 25 grams, or about 6 teaspoons.
Unfortunately, people in the U.S. eat about 20 teaspoons of sugar a day on average, over three times what they should be consuming - and overloading the body this way has major negative effects. The empty calories from added sugars can lead to stress, inflammation, weight gain and spikes in blood glucose levels. Cognitive impairment, especially dementia, is also a possible result, according to research. And for those who have been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, sugar consumption presents an even greater risk, according to the American Heart Association.
Keeping tabs on how much sugar you're consuming is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but it can be very difficult to cut back. Here are 25 easy ways you can put a dent in your daily sugar habit.
Be aware of what goes into your body, because many foods have hidden sources of sugar. To figure out the number of teaspoons of sugar in a serving, divide sugar grams displayed on the label by 4 (there are about 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon). Sugar may masquerade under different names, but any ingredient that ends in "-ose" most likely means sugar.
Include protein in every meal
Protein keeps you satisfied for longer and leads to lower production of the hormone ghrelin, which signals to our brains that we are hungry. People tend to reach for comfort foods, such as sweets, when they are very hungry. Protein can help stop that.
Drink some tea
Try drinking a mug of tea the next time you have a craving for a sugary drink. Choose a naturally sweet tea, like cinnamon tea, to trick the pleasure centers of the brain without actually consuming sugar. Hot water also has many additional health benefits, such as improved digestion and blood circulation.
Satisfy sweet cravings with fruit
If you're craving chocolate or cookies, why not try an apple instead? There are many ways to add more produce into your meals every day. The natural sugars and fiber in whole fruits will provide the sweetness you are craving, without the blood sugar spike, keeping energy and moods lifted. But if you really want the cookies, we say go for it. Listening to your cravings can help you find balance in your diet.
Avoid flavored yogurt
Flavored yogurt is often filled with added sugar and artificial sweeteners. An 8-ounce serving can easily have more than 20 grams of sugar. If you want to eat fruit-flavored yogurt, try stirring fresh, chopped fruit into plain yogurt, rather than buying it pre-mixed.
Dehydration can masquerade as hunger. To avoid this, drink at least one large glass of water every hour. The body actually craves sweets when it lacks water. Studies have shown that people who drink more water every day maintain a healthy weight and have an easier time losing extra weight when they attempt to.
Don't go grocery shopping on an empty stomach
Ever find yourself at the grocery story just before dinnertime, and suddenly you feel like you are too hungry to take the time to cook a healthy meal, so instead you grab a frozen pizza or some other pre-packaged item that you just have to nuke? Impulse purchases like frozen pizza are usually surprisingly high in sugar as well as salt. Many personal trainers don't even go near them.
Eat more greens
Adding greens to your diet is one of the best ways to keep energy levels up and eliminate sweet cravings. Try any of these ways to sneak more greens into your meals: A green smoothie for breakfast (though all-fruit smoothies can be full of sugar), veggie soup for lunch, or a green vegetable stir-fry for dinner.
Brush your teeth
"If the urge to continue eating is all too consuming, put your napkin over your plate, push it away and get up and brush your teeth," says Angela Martindale, a celebrity nutritionist and fitness trainer based in Utah. "This is my favorite trick."
Consume more whole foods
Jumpstart your health by eating real whole foods to help cleanse your body of toxins and give you more energy. No powdered supplement can offer as robust a nutritional profile as actual, delicious food. Finding healthy food you genuinely enjoy, whether it's avocado spread on whole wheat toast or just a crisp whole pear, can make that candy bar seem less appealing.
Make healthy swaps
If you always eat dessert right after dinner, you don't have to give it up! Try a compromise: Make a smart swap by having a healthier dessert, like cinnamon baked apples or dark chocolate-drizzled kiwi.
Get enough sleep
Some studies have shown that fewer hours of quality sleep can result in weight gain. Sleep deprivation affects the brain in a way that makes you want to eat more and not process food efficiently. It sparks a vicious cycle that leaves you feeling tired, slowing your metabolism and playing tricks with your hormones.
Chew some gum
Chewing gum can reduce snack cravings and possibly decrease consumption of sweet snacks. According to one 2009 study, men and women who chewed sugar-free gum consumed fewer snacks. Specifically, their overall snack intake was reduced by 40 calories per day and sweet snack intake was lowered by 60 calories.
Avoid canned fruit
Canned foods can sometimes be a healthy and economical alternative to fresh produce, but added sugar can easily sneak in. Many fruits (like peaches, pineapple, and fruit cocktail) are canned in heavy or light syrup, so it's important to read labels to understand what you're buying. Choose fresh fruit, or if you buy canned, choose fruit that's been canned in its own juice.
Choose quality over quantity
Studies have shown that restriction often leads to overeating. Among the 103 women in the research, chocolate-deprived restrained eaters consumed more chocolate food than did any other group. Restrained eaters experienced more food cravings and were more likely to overeat the foods they craved. The occasional dessert won't hurt you, but try choosing a sweet-tasting treat that also packs a nutritional punch, like dark chocolate and ricotta cheese with fresh fruit.
Exercise might (at least temporarily) take your mind off sweets. Snacking can sometimes be a stress coping mechanism, but exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Exercise helps release endorphins, also known as the feel-good chemicals in the brain.
Avoid excess stress
Stress can lead to the impulse to eat junk food, especially sweets filled with added sugar; research shows that sugar alters some physiological responses normally produced in the brain and body during stressful situations, creating a feedback loop that encourages stress eating. Managing stress better can help you avoid the habit of grabbing unhealthy food during stressful moments.
Don't skip meals
Your body responds to skipped meals by slowing down the metabolism and secreting stress hormones. Hunger-related hormones (like ghrelin and leptin) can also get out of whack, setting you up for overeating. After fasting for several hours, most people reach for convenient, satisfying, sugar- and calorie-rich foods because they provide a sense of well-being that comes from the surge in blood sugar levels.
Ditch the diet soda
"Sugar cravings get drastically reduced after our clients have quit drinking soda," Andrea Moss, holistic nutrition coach and founder of Moss Wellness, says. "And if you're a diet soda drinker, not only do sugar cravings get reduced when you quit, but often people find themselves naturally gravitating towards smaller portions," she adds.
Forget the fruit juice
Fruit juice can be one of the worst drinks for your body. Juices sold in stores are pasteurized, which means that nutrients that are heat-sensitive get destroyed and what remains is just lots of sugar, Carly Pollack, certified clinical nutritionist, says. Fiber, which makes us full and slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, is usually removed in the production of most fruit juices, so in a short period of time, you can consume upwards of 20 grams of the sweet stuff while missing many of the benefits of eating whole fruit.
Choose naturally sweet flavors
Don't resort to refined sugar when you have a sweet tooth. Reduce the sugar content in any dish by adding more spices, like nutmeg and cinnamon, for a boost of natural sweetness. You can also try vanilla, almond, cardamom, and cloves as a healthy alternative. Try adding them to your coffee or tea.
Avoid dried fruit
Most dried fruits, which are a more concentrated source of nutrients, are more than 50 percent sugar, according to Livestrong. Among the dried fruits with the highest sugar content are currants, sweetened dried cherries and sweetened dried cranberries. Watch your portion size, and enjoy dried fruit in moderation.
Swap pasta sauce for real tomatoes
One cup of the ready-to-use tomato sauce can contain more than 10 grams of sugar - that's more than 2 teaspoons of the sweet stuff. Pay special attention to the dressings labeled "light"- to reduce fat, manufacturers often replace it with sugar. Try making pasta sauce from scratch using fresh tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil, basil, and oregano.
Eat better bread
White bread is a sneaky source of sugar. Just one slice of commercially prepared white bread can have 1.4 grams of sugar. Many commercial types of bread contain sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, just like other processed foods.
Re-organize the kitchen cabinets
Eliminate any sources of temptation by being in control of your environment. Make it easier on yourself to choose nutritious foods by storing them in locations that are easy for you to access (like front and center in the refrigerator). And remember: Nothing is wrong with indulging in a sweet treat! Just do your best to find balance in what you eat, and when you do indulge, you'll enjoy it that much more.