Quick Ways to Cut Down on Processed Sugar Right Now
1. Know Good Sugar vs. Bad Sugar
First of all, it's important to understand the difference between essential sugars your body needs to function, and excess sugars which just add to your waistline. "Our body needs sugar daily to function properly, however the type of sugar matters," says White. "Fruits and whole grains are carbohydrate sources that provide energy along with beneficial nutrients, such as fiber. Added sugars provide energy too, but are deplete of beneficial nutrients, making them an empty source of calories." Steer clear of packaged foods, sweetened beverages and overindulging on desserts as a first step to cutting back. While it's fun to treat yourself once in a while, processed sugar, if eaten excessively, has a negative impact on your health. We're talking issues with weight gain, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and even dental caries. The FDA recommends eating no more than 50 grams of sugar in one day, on a 2,000 calorie diet. (FYI, that's about as much sugar contained in one 16 oz can of soda.)
2. Pause Before You Reach for Sweets
If you're grabbing for more sugary foods than usual during quarantine, it's crucial to take a pause before you consume. Sugar activates the feel-good reward systems in our brain and the desire to consume sugar can often be a result of simply wanting to feel better. (Hey, things are nuts, we don't blame you.) That's why they call it a sugar high and it's good to be aware of. "It's important to slow down and first, understand the reason behind the behavior," says White. "Are you hungrier than normal? Try incorporating a protein-rich or high-fiber snack instead that will help keep you full for longer."
If you’re not hungry, he says, try to identify other feelings or emotions that bring you to the pantry. "Do you find yourself worried, bored, sad, fearful, or stressed? Choose to replace eating during these times with nonfood related behaviors, like going for a walk or jog, calling a friend, petting an animal, listening to music, or reading a book," he says.
3. Set Up a Specific Time to Indulge
If you just LOVE the taste of sugar and have to have it, make sure your consumption is intentional and mindful. Instead of hitting the pantry for the first sugary snack you see, build a dedicated "dessert" time into your routine. This way you can keep track of how many grams of sugar you're really eating, and give yourself limits to help you control your intake. "Keep a nutrient-dense treat on hand for when sugar cravings arise outside this specified time," says White. Try sweeter, healthier options such as fruit and nut butter, yogurt and granola, or trail mix.
4. Avoid Overeating as a Coping Mechanism
Overeating is a common coping mechanism for many people dealing with high stress situations, or moments of intense feelings, according to White. (And if COVID-19 hasn't been intense, we don't know what is.) "Sugar can be especially habit forming due to the physiologic reaction occurring in our brains," he says. "Added sugars and processed products are manufactured to be hyperpalatable and rewarding when consumed." If you eat too much of it, sugar can trigger neuroadaptations which stimulate reward-system pathways that contribute to addictive behavior, overindulging, and ultimately, create poor health outcomes. (That's how type 2 diabetes develops, essentially.) So stay strong, be mindful of your sugar consumption, and look for other, smarter ways to cope—like busting out burpees.