According to the USDA, the average American consumes between 150 and 170 pounds of sugar in one year. This is troublesome because excessive sugar intake increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, obesity and many other chronic diseases.
The benefits of reducing sugar in your diet
When you reduce your sugar intake, you will notice some immediate benefits, including:
More energy and a better mood
When you cut back on the sweet stuff, your blood sugar level will stabilize, which will help you experience fewer energy spikes and crashes throughout the day.
The less sugar you consume, the less you will crave it. This makes choosing healthier options even easier in the long run.
Again, it’s all about blood-sugar stability. Studies have shown people report better sleep after reducing their sugar intake because their cortisol (stress hormone) levels are lower.
Sugar can cause inflammation, which can lead to acne flare-ups and a breakdown of collagen and elastin, which can cause wrinkles and sagging.
Watch out for added sugar
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently mandated that food labels clearly state the amount of added sugar in a food product. “Added sugar” is defined as sugar that is added during the processing or packaging of food. It includes white or brown sugar, syrup, honey and concentrated fruit juice or vegetable juice.
Sources of added sugar
Sugar is added to many packaged foods, even ones you wouldn’t consider sweet. Check your labels — you may be surprised to find added sugar lurking in your pasta sauce, bread, salad dressing, ketchup, baked beans, barbecue sauce, peanut butter and coleslaw, just to name a few.
As Americans, we also consume a lot of sugar in our soft drinks, juices and smoothies. Again, read your labels. You could be consuming hundreds of calories and multiple teaspoons of sugar by drinking just a few sodas a day. Cutting back on sweetened beverages is an easy way to not only get healthier, but also to lose weight. Since soda isn’t filling like food is, cutting it out won’t leave you feeling hungry.
Stevia can be a great alternative way to decrease sugar intake and still provide a sweet taste. Stevia will not raise your blood sugar and is 150 times sweeter than sugar, so you can use less of it. While honey, agave nectar and maple syrup are less processed than other forms of sugar, they are still high in sugar and should be enjoyed in moderation.
Healthy swaps to beat sweets cravings
One of the best sugary food replacements is fruit. It contains naturally occurring sugar as well as vitamins, minerals and fiber. Trail mix is another good option for a healthy snack, just read the nutrition label to make sure there aren’t added sugars. Choose a trail mix that contains nuts, seeds and dried fruit, and skip varieties that contain candy or nuts that are coated in sugar.
One of my favorite healthy snacks is energy bites. There are many recipe ideas for energy bites, but my favorite contains dates, which are sweet and high in fiber. Here is my personal favorite recipe.
Cocoa-walnut energy bites
1.5 cups raw walnut halves
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup soft dates, pitted (about 10 Medjool dates)
1 to 2 tablespoons water (more or less as needed)
Additional cocoa powder for coating energy bites
Put walnuts into a food processor and grind into a mealy texture.
Add all the other ingredients except the additional cocoa. Blend until mixed well.
Take mixture and roll into bite-sized balls. Roll them with additional cocoa powder and place on parchment paper. Put them in the fridge or freezer for at least an hour, then enjoy.
For more health and wellness tips or to learn more about Pardee Bariatrics and Weight Loss, visit www.pardeehospital.org.