My posts this month are going to focus on very specific habits that may require patience, focus, and commitment. Since it’s a new year, I’m going to emphasize behaviors that can impact your health and your weight. If your primary goal is weight loss, then you should also focus on behaviors that improve your health. The two goals go hand in hand, and that dual purpose will allow you to slack on one, while still achieving the other. A weight loss resolution usually means weeks when the scale doesn’t budge. It will help you to know that during those static weeks, you are still improving your health. So, let’s get started with one of the hardest habits to change: limiting added sugar and high-sugar foods.
You’ve just wrapped up weeks of holiday parties, office celebrations, and festive food gatherings, and sugar was probably the guest of honor at every one of those meals. I know everyone was at a party where gluten-free options were the rage, so it’s astonishing to me that with the rates of obesity and diabetes in the U.S., we don’t treat sugar the same way. We now know that sugar contributes to heart disease. We also know that too much sugar in the diet can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and fatty liver disease. Most of us also know that sugar is irresistible, and that it’s in pretty much every food we buy that’s processed.
Did you know that if you’re the average American, you are eating around a quarter to a half pound of sugar daily? Just a few hundred years ago, the average person consumed as much sugar as you would find in a typical container of sugar - over the span of a year Folks back then were consuming their sugar in the form of fruits and vegetables. When sugar comes from those types of whole foods, it’s accompanied by water and fiber, so it’s not nearly as potent as several spoons of pure white sugar. Experts have compared the lure of sugar to drugs like cocaine, and drug-like substances like nicotine. Animal studies have shown that they, too, can crave sugar and actually become sugar-addicted. They also can experience withdrawal symptoms.
My fear is that if sugar is suddenly removed from the current processed food formula, food manufacturers will likely replace it with some other ingredient that will doom us into another addiction or series of health maladies. So, the answer lies in what is called self-governance, mindfulness, and attentiveness. You need to become the guardian of your sugar consumption. The FDA will likely help when it releases its new dietary guidelines, where added sugar is likely to be highlighted on food labels. Here are some other ways you can strategically limit sugar in your diet:
- Increase daily fruit and vegetable consumption (and let it replace some grain servings)
- Use plant-based proteins to replace grain servings
- Make fruit your go-to dessert
- Instead of soda, drink unsweetened tea and water with fruit slices
- Use pureed fruit as a sweetener in baked goods
- Don’t substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar - use fruit essence instead
- Don’t fool yourself with so-called "healthy" sugars like agave and honey - sugar is sugar
- Don’t turn to salt or unhealthy fats instead of sugar
- Add berries to foods like yogurt, whole grain cereal, and even salads in lieu of sugar
- Use healthy dips like guacamole, salsa, bean puree, and yogurt to jazz up plain vegetables
- Read labels to identify added sugar
- Use ginger, cinnamon, lemon, raisins, currants, unsweetened cocoa powder, dates, and pureed bananas as your go-to sweeteners
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”