Whether you’ve had a weekend binge or you’re starting to notice repetitive patterns in your diet, before you enjoy some sweet snacks, it’s worth considering how much sugar you consume in a day.
The American Heart Association estimates that Americans consume an average of 77 grams of sugar each day; for women, this is more than three times the recommended limit.
Think your diet may have too much sugar? Good news: With a few minor adjustments, you can eat less of it.
Why is Sugar Bad for You?
Sugar is everywhere (and seemingly in everything), and it can wreak havoc on your health over time. In fact, the amount of sugar you consume now may increase your likelihood of developing certain diseases—such ashigh blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity—later in life.
While a little bit of sugar isn’t necessarily dangerous to your health, sugar is overabundant in food products and many people struggle to manage their intake. The reason health professionals talk about sugar intake so often is because it’s easy to overconsume and is highly addictive.
If you find that you have a particularly strong sweet tooth, you’re not alone. Humans are hardwired to enjoy sugar because of the body’s survival instincts to search for energy.
What is Sugar?
Sugar, in essence, is a carbohydrate. It’s a concentrated source of energy. In early human evolution—in hunter-gatherer communities—the sources of sugar available to us were not harmful. Humans mainly found natural sugar in fruits, which was an excellent source of energy for the body.
However, modern times have given way to sources of sugar that can be harmful, so now our instincts for carbohydrates can be harmful to our health if we aren’t mindful of them—especially excess sugar intake from refined sources.
What is Sugar Addiction?
Sugar triggers an addictive response in most people. In fact, it activates the opiate receptors in your brain and affects its reward center, which leads many people to compulsive behavior. This can make sugar as addictive as cocaine, heroin, or morphine.
Many people are surprised to learn that almost all food products contain added sugar. The most heavily concentrated food products with obscene amounts of excess sugar include sugar-sweetened beverages, packaged snacks, alcoholic drinks, and processed foods, such as cereals.
You may already be addicted to sugar without realizing it. Here are some signs of sugar addiction:
- You need something sweet after every meal
- You have spikes and drops in energy levels
- You get bloated after meals
- You need to eat every two to three hours
- You can’t or won’t give up sugar
To overcome sugar addiction, many people believe artificial sweeteners are the solution—but they aren’t much better. While they may have few calories and often taste the same as regular sugars, artificial sweeteners are synthetic in nature.
Artificial sweeteners can also be just as addictive, if not more addictive, than regular sugar. Reduced calories in these products often lull people into a false sense of security, which may only encourage them to eat more sugar from other substances.
6 Tips for Reducing Sugar in Your Diet
It’s smart to reduce sugar in your diet to keep it from taking a toll on your health. Even if you don’t have health issues now, scaling back on sugar is a wise move for your future self. As with any addiction, your taste buds and body will adapt to the changes over time.
Here are some tips to help you eat less sugar:
1. Eat More Fruit
Fruit is a natural source of sugar. Consuming fruit is a healthy way to satisfy your craving without consuming artificial sugar. While it might not be as satisfying as scarfing down a brownie, it will help train your taste buds to consume less sugar over time.
2. Compare Nutrition Labels
Added sugar can sneak into your diet through several products you might assume are lower in sugar. Pasta sauce, canned soup, yogurt, salad dressings, and coleslaw have shockingly high levels of sugar. Compare labels on these products to choose a lower-sugar alternative.
3. Watch Your Drinks
Sodas, juices, coffees, and energy drinks are notorious for containing copious amounts of sugar. Avoid these drinks or choose alternatives that have less sugar.
4. Use Honey or Applesauce as a Substitute
When cooking or baking, swap sugar for honey or applesauce. These more natural alternatives will taste similar while helping you reduce the amount of sugar you consume.
5. Eat Full-Fat Foods
If you find that you’re craving sugar often, try adding more full-fat foods to your diet, such as avocados or extra virgin olive oil. Fats are slow-burning fuel and they keep your body satisfied for longer. You’re also less likely to need a quick hit of energy when you eat more fats. Furthermore, low-fat or non-fat products may contain more sugar to make up for the fat they’re replacing and to improve the taste of the product.
6. Make Your Own Products
If you can’t find low sugar or sugar-free replacements for your favorite foods, do some research into creating your own versions. By making homemade granola, salad dressing, pasta sauce, or other types of meals, you’ll be able to control how much sugar you’re consuming.
The Bottom Line
The most successful way to reduce sugar in your diet is to start slow. Implement one slight change until it becomes a habit, then try another adjustment. Before you know it, you’ll be eating much less sugar than you were before. And while your palate adjusts, have fun finding natural sweeteners and tastes you enjoy.
Do you have a favorite tip to reduce sugar intake? Let us know in the comments!