If you want to be your healthiest self, reducing your intake of sugar is a must. The average American consumes 17 teaspoons of added sugar every day — which comes out to about 57 pounds of added sugar in one year.
Those numbers should be enough to make anyone pause; sugar has also been linked not only to diabetes and obesity but also to heart disease, depression, fatty liver disease, and chronic inflammation.
And yet, even after learning these facts and being fully aware of the dangers of sugar, cutting down on it is hard to do. No one wants to say goodbye to dessert forever — and many of us are used to enjoying something sweet at least once a day.
But what if I told you that you could lower your sugar intake and still enjoy dessert? According to Dr. Bindiya Ghandi, integrative medicine physician and founder of Revive Atlanta MD, it is possible. Here’s how it’s done:
1. Be able to identify sugar in all its forms
When you think about your sugar intake, you have to take into account way more than just how many teaspoons you add to your morning coffee. “People often forget that fruit, honey, and maple syrup have sugar,” says Dr. Gandhi. And while these sources of sugar may be healthier than granulated cane sugar, especially fruit since it contains plenty of antioxidants and fiber, at the end of the day “sugar is sugar,” she continues.
To make matters more difficult, sugar is often under disguised under a different name. In fact, there are at least 61 different names for sugar on food labels and over 70% or packaged foods contain added sugar. Being able to spot many of these names is the first step to reducing your overall sugar intake.
2. Cut down on hidden sources of sugar
You might be wondering how being able to identify less obvious sources of sugar will help you still have dessert. Here’s the thing: Many of us are unknowingly consuming a ton of sugar in everyday non-dessert items like granola bars, sauces, dressings, and cereals. As Dr. Gandhi says, “even though you’re eating ‘clean’ and healthy always check labels, you’ll be surprised to see hidden sugars in pasta sauce and soups!”
When we can pinpoint those sources of sugar and reduce them, we can save our sugar intake for actual dessert — instead of wasting it on ketchup, flavored coffee drinks, or nut milk that we don’t really want to be sweet anyway. As Dr. Gandhi puts it: “Finding hidden sources of sugar will help you prioritize actual dessert instead of sugar-filled beverages that aren’t all that satisfying anyway.”
A great way to identify the hidden sources of sugar in your life is to start reading labels and keep a food diary for a few days. You might be surprised to find that foods like yogurt can contain as much as 29 grams of sugar per serving and even breakfast bars marketed as “healthy” can contain upwards of 15 grams of the sweet stuff.
3. Have a daily sugar maximum
If 29 grams of sugar doesn’t seem like a lot, you should know that Dr. Gandhi recommends that we aim to eat no more than 30 grams of sugar in an entire day, which means you’d be wasting an entire day’s worth of sugar on that one serving of yogurt. “That 30 grams can go by fast with hidden sugars in nut milk, creamers, and bread,” says Dr. Gandhi.
A great way to limit your daily sugar intake is by having a personal daily maximum. Obviously, you won’t be able to keep it under 30 grams every single day — but its a great reference point when you’re evaluating how much sugar is in a food item. If you don’t get added sugar from any other source in a day, you can spend that 30 grams on something really satisfying.
4. Indulge mindfully
Once you’ve cut down on your daily intake of sugar, you can enjoy dessert and sugar in moderation. “Don’t deprive yourself, I don’t,” says Dr. Bindiya. She recommends enjoying a dessert on special occasions or at dinners once in a while but trying not to make large amounts of sugar a daily habit.
She makes an important point here, because how often you’re indulging is often just as important as how much sugar you’re eating in a single setting. “Day after day of just a few cookies will still throw off your hormones and actually disrupt your cortisol hormones and sleep,” explains Dr. Gandhi.
5. Learn to love low-sugar desserts
Lucky for us, we can also lean on low-sugar desserts when the sweet tooth hits. This way, we get the satisfaction of eating something after dinner — without the negative health consequences. “I’m personally a huge fan of anything dark chocolate,” says Dr. Gandhi. “Just a small piece (look for chocolate that is greater than 70% cacao) will help you get antioxidant benefits as well as that sugar fix,” she continues.
Her other go-to low-sugar dessert is chia pudding, which she makes with nut milk, chia seeds, cocoa powder, and berries. “It makes me feel like I’m eating chocolate mousse,” she says. If you need more inspiration, you can also check out these healthy (but fun!) frozen desserts.
Cutting down on sugar while still enjoying dessert is possible. As long as we get savvy about our overall sugar intake, we can save our sugar intake for the treats we love the most.
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