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Tips to Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Tips to Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Americans have developed a serious sweet tooth. As processed foods with lots of added sugar have become an ever-larger part of our diet over the last several decades, our palates have evolved (devolved?) to like—and crave—increasingly sweet foods. Things most people would have found unpleasantly sweet 50 years ago are now the norm for many of us. 

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that high sugar consumption is bad for you. It’s linked to chronic, serious health problems like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Sugar is high in calories and basically devoid of nutritional value. 

Simple sugar also saps your energy. It gives you a short-lived spike as your blood glucose levels become rapidly elevated, but then you crash. Then you don’t feel good or energized; you feel sluggish and often hungry again even though you recently ate. Read more about this in my article on good carbs and bad carbs. 

The standard recommendation for generally healthy individuals is that no more than 10 percent of your daily calories come from added sugar. We differentiate “added” sugar because some whole foods—fruit in particular—naturally contain a good deal of sugar, but this isn’t a reason to avoid them. 

Typical American diets are way,way off from this target percentage. So many people eat and drink far too much of far too many foods and beverages with added sugar.

Here are some easy, practical ways for you and your family—kids included—to eat healthier, feel healthier, and be healthier by reducing your sugar intake.

How to Lower Your Sugar Consumption

  • Read nutrition labels and avoid added sugar; there are more than 50 ways added sugar is named… for example, there’s brown sugar, raw sugar, malt sugar, invert sugar, sucrose and other words ending in -ose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, dried cane syrup, evaporated cane juice, crystal solids, and honey
  • Start buying sugar-free or low-sugar versions of the high-sugar foods you eat, like cereals, yogurt, or applesauce; gradually mix increasingly larger amounts of the less sweet products in with the sweetened ones to start re-training your palate to like less sweet food
  • Yogurt is a great snack, but most of it is heavily sweetened; buy unsweetened yogurt and add naturally sweet berries, melon, bananas, or other fruit to it
  • The above works well with other healthy foods like oatmeal and whole grain cereals that don’t contain added sugar; sweet fruits are also a great substitute for syrup on pancakes, waffles, or French toast
  • Gradually add a little less sugar to your coffee or tea; again, your palate will adjust
  • Skip the soda and energy drinks—even the diet stuff with artificial sweeteners; try a squeeze of lemon or lime juice of a few cucumber slices in your water if you want to add flavor
  • Buy canned fruit packed in water rather than heavy or light syrup
  • Bake your own sweets and cut the sugar content in the recipes by one-third or even one-half—you’d be surprised how much you can take out and still have an enjoyable end product, especially as your palate adjusts
  • Make your own granola, granola bars, condiments, salad dressings, pasta sauce, and other items that are high in added sugar if you buy them ready-made
  • Vanilla, almond, orange, and other extracts and spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice can sweeten many foods in place of sugar

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Jason Littleton, MD, also known as America's Energy Doctor, is a board-certified family physician offering concierge healthcare and the author of WellSpring: The Energy Secrets to Do the Good Life. The book's practical, insightful content and his resonant messages about nutrition, fitness, and balance have made Dr. Littleton a highly sought after, high-profile keynote speaker and national media commentator on TV and in print.