Before I start, you should know that I’m not about to tell you to opt for fruit salad instead of birthday cake. Nope. To me, moderation is key when it comes to sugar, and I’m all for the occasional indulgence. The problem is when the occasional becomes the usual. A diet heavy on the sugar has been linked to a host of body issues, from a higher risk of diabetes to obesity to less healthy skin.
It’s easy to overlook your reliance on added sugar when you see others ordering double mocha frappuccinos with whipped cream while you choose a vanilla soy latte. But even that latte can pack more than a day’s worth of added sugar...and you haven’t even had solid food yet.
Sound familiar? If so, no judgment. I used to consume lots of sugar too. A couple of years ago, you could find me adding honey to my (already sweetened) breakfast cereal, squirting ketchup on just about everything, and snacking on foods with fruity flavorings. These items may not sound damaging, but they can send your sugar intake way up and actually make you more likely to crave sweets throughout the day, so you consume even more sugar.
So I want to share three simple changes that helped me strip my diet of added sugars and help me crave less of the sweet stuff too. Disclaimer: I’m no nutritionist (though I am about to embark on a degree to become one), and what worked for me won’t necessarily work for you. After all, every body is different. But is there any harm in trying swaps that may help you dial back your sugar addiction?
Ketchup used to be my condiment of choice, and not just for fries. I’d mix ketchup into rice (an admittedly weird choice), enjoy it alongside scrambled eggs, and add it to sandwiches. Obviously when it comes to bad diet choices, there are worse things than a Heinz habit. But if you consider yourself a healthy eater, it’s easy to overlook subtle sources of added sugars like ketchup.
Just one tablespoon of ketchup contains 4 grams of sugar (in the form of high fructose corn syrup). For perspective, the American Heart Association recommends women have no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day. In other words, adding just a drizzle of ketchup to your plate accounts for one fifth of your suggested sugar intake for the entire day.
To keep my scrambles sugar-free, I now opt for toppings that pack similar flavors sans added sugar,such as fresh or sauteed cherry tomatoes, a dash of hot sauce, or a spoonful of salsa (some salsa brands do have added sugar; look for one of the many brands that does not.)
Add your own flavorings
I grew up noshing on “fruit-on-the-bottom” yogurt cups, so a blueberry-flavored breakfast holds a special place in my heart. Unfortunately I’m less fond of the 14 to 22 grams of sugar that many flavored yogurts provide in a single serving. Sad but true: Just because a food is organic, pasture-raised, gluten-free, non-GMO, and contains no artificial flavors or preservatives doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Luckily I found a way to still enjoy the fruity yogurt of my youth without OD-ing on added sugar first thing in the morning. I place a third of a cup of frozen fruit (usually organic blueberries) in the bottom of a container, then top it with a serving of plain, unsweetened yogurt and refrigerate the combo overnight. I also like to add additional toppings, like cinnamon, rolled oats, ground flax seeds, or chia seeds on top of the yogurt.
By the morning, the blueberries sitting on the bottom are slightly defrosted and create a sweet blend that can then be mixed throughout. The result? A better-for-you flavored yogurt that takes little effort, can be personalized based on your preferences, and delivers zero added sugar.
Make friends with fat
It sounds counterintuitive, but some experts say that eating more (healthy) fat can help you break a bad sugar habit. That’s because foods packed with good fats are more likely to satisfy you, driving down cravings as a result. My experience may be anecdotal, but I can attest to the fact that adding more fat to my diet has made me less inclined to reach for a sugary 3 p.m. pick-me-up.
Of course the types of fat you choose matter. I opt for meals loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil and avocado. Choosing satiating sources of polyunsaturated fats like salmon, flax seeds, and walnuts is also key.
My all-time favorite fat sources are nut butters, whose creamy texture harkens back to dessert, in my opinion. Adding a sizable portion of almond butter to my oatmeal or melting a spoonful of peanut butter over a banana in the microwave tastes ultra satisfying and usually doesn't contain refined sugar (check the ingredients list on the jar to make sure).
Instead of snacking on granola bars made from refined grains and added sugars, I try to nosh on bars that contain straightforward ingredients I can pronounce, or are made exclusively from nuts and iron-rich dried fruit, and therefore contain natural sugars only.
Oh, and one last thing: If I’m out with friends, I order dessert. And I enjoy it. I may even scrape the last bit of chocolate sauce off the plate. And then I move on.