Wean Yourself Off Sugar
America is a country drowning in sugar. In fact, the amount of sugar we eat and drink every year has soared nearly 30 percent since 1983 and is likely a major contributor to the soaring rates of overweight and obesity in this country.
Even worse, since sugary foods often replace more healthy foods, nutrition experts say the influx of sweets indirectly contributes to diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer -- all of which are directly affected by what we eat.
Although the USDA recommends we get no more than 10 teaspoons of sugar a day, the average American downs about 34 teaspoons -- more than three times as much. Here we'll show you ways to get your sugar consumption down to healthy levels. But beware: Uncovering all the sugar in your diet isn't easy. Sugar often hides under several pseudonyms and turns up in even the most innocuous foods (like bread, crackers, salad dressing, ketchup, and mustard). But with the following tips, you should be able to have your cake and eat it too.
1. Cut down slowly. Forget going cold turkey. Therein lies failure. Instead, if you normally have two candy bars a day, cut to one a day. Then next week, one every other day. The following week, one every three days, until you're down to just one a week. If you normally take 2 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, use the same routine, cutting down to 1 1/2 teaspoons for a week, then 1, then 1/2. Eventually, get to the point where you're using artificial sweetener if you still need the sweet taste. The more sugar you eat, the more you'll crave. So cutting down slowly is the best way to tame a sweet tooth gone wild.
2. Go half and half. Mix half a regular soda with half a diet soda. Half a carton of sweetened yogurt with half a carton of plain yogurt. Half a cup of regular juice with half a cup of seltzer. Do this for two weeks, then cut back to one-quarter sweetened to three-quarters unsweetened. Continue until you're only drinking the unsweetened version.
3. Grant yourself a daily sugar "quota," and use it on foods where it matters most. For most of us, that means desserts. Don't waste it on dressings, spreads, breakfast cereals, and soda. Not only will this reduce your sugar intake in a day, but it will help you lose your sweet tooth. Sugar is incredibly addictive: The more you eat, the more addictive it becomes and the more it takes to satisfy you. The opposite is also true: Train your taste buds to become accustomed to less and you'll be satisfied with less.
4. Establish rules about dessert. For instance, only have dessert after dinner, never lunch. Only eat dessert on odd days of the month, or only on weekends, or only at restaurants. If you have a long tradition of daily desserts, then make it your rule to have raw fruit at least half the time.
5. Similarly, establish rules about ice cream. A half gallon of ice cream in the freezer is temptation defined. A rule we recommend: No ice cream kept at home. Ice cream should always be a treat worth traveling for.
Know Where to Look
6. Instead of downing sugary-sweet drinks like lemonade, make your own "sun tea." Steep decaffeinated tea bags in water and set the pitcher in the sun for a couple of hours. Add lemon, lots of ice and sugar substitute for a carb-free summer quaff.
7. Buy dietetic condiments at the grocery store. Given that 1 tablespoon ketchup can contain about 1/2 teaspoon sugar, buying sugar-free condiments can make a big dent in your sugar consumption. Most condiments and other packaged foods for people with diabetes are made without sugar or with sugar substitutes.
8. Remember these code words found on ingredient lists. The only way to know if the processed food you're buying contains sugar is to know its many aliases or other forms. Here are the common ones: brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, galactose, glucose, honey, hydrogenated starch, invert sugar maltose, lactose, mannitol, maple syrup, molasses, polyols, raw sugar, sorghum, sucrose, sorbitol, turbinado sugar, and xylitol.
9. Look for hidden sources of sugar. Cough syrups, chewing gum, mints, tomato sauce, baked beans, and lunch meats often contain sugar. Even some prescription medications contain sugar. For a week, be particularly vigilant and scan every possible food label. You likely won't forget what you'll find.
10. If you must eat sweets, eat them with meals. The other foods will help increase salivary flow, thus clearing the sugary foods from your mouth faster and helping prevent cavities. Of course, this does nothing for the calories you're imbibing and won't affect your weight, but at least you'll have a healthier mouth.
11. Try all-fruit spread. Sweet as sugar, but without the added sugar, all-fruit spreads are wonderful not just on toast, but melted into hot tea, mixed into cottage cheese and plain yogurt, and drizzled onto pancakes and waffles instead of syrup (heat for 10 seconds in the microwave to make it syrupy).
12. Substitute applesauce or pureed prunes for half the sugar in recipes. You can also use them in place of the recipe's fat.
13. Nix the sports bars and drinks. They're loaded with the "s" word! Same with many protein powders.
14. Try xylitol. A great sugar alternative, it's safe for those with diabetes and it actually improves the quality of your teeth. Plus, it has fiber-like health benefits.
15. Get your chocolate in small doses. Dip fresh strawberries into nonfat chocolate sauce, scatter chocolate sprinkles over your plain yogurt, or eat a mini-piece of dark chocolate -- freeze it so it lasts longer in your mouth. Think rich and decadent but in tiny portions.
16. Choose the right breakfast cereal. Many of them are loaded with sugar. You want one with less than 8 grams sugar per serving or, preferably, unsweetened altogether (steel-cut oatmeal anyone?). Use diced fruit to sweeten your cereal.
17. Don't skip meals. Too busy to eat? When you go without breakfast, lunch, or dinner, your blood sugar levels drop, propelling you toward high-sugar (often convenience) foods to quell your cravings.
18. Seek out substitutes. With Equal, Splenda, Nutrasweet, and the natural sweetener stevia now easily available, you can still get the sweetness of sugar without the calories.
19. Don't add sugar to foods. Many everyday recipes -- including those for vegetables, soups, casseroles, and sauces -- call for sugar to add sweetness. In most cases, it's just not needed. So if you're making biscuits, for instance, you probably can skip the sugar. Likewise, make your own barbecue sauce with fresh ingredients, which will cut out the extra sugar in the ketchup.
20. Watch out for mixed alcohol drinks. Have you ever stopped to think about the sugar quotient of a cosmopolitan? How about a margarita or mai tai? Drink mixes and many alcoholic beverages are absolutely thick with sugar. Stick with beer, wine, or if you prefer spirits, mix only with unsweetened seltzer or drink it straight. Of course, seltzer water with lime will also do just fine.
21. Go for a walk when you crave sweetness. Studies find that athletes' preference for sweetened foods declines after exercise. Instead, they prefer salty foods.
22. Go fat-free if you must have sweets. Studies find that many sweet foods, such as doughnuts, muffins, ice cream, and so on, are also high in fat, more than doubling the calorie load. When you do indulge in sweets, go fat-free so you get the calories from the taste you want -- but not from the fat.
23. If you're having a hard time cutting back on sodas or juices, try having a glass of iced water or soda water every other time you reach for a drink.