The thought of leaving sugar behind is potentially the scariest thing on planet earth. While that may sound very overdramatic, which it is, most people cannot function without sugar. In fact, living life sugar-free may not even be a life worth living, in the eyes of some people. Chronically overdoing it with the sweet stuff can lead to some major health complications, though.
If you don’t keep track of your sugar intake, you can increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. That said, keeping your sugar in check is easier said than done. For optimal metabolic health, you need specific strategies that can help you monitor sugar intake. But before we get to that, it’s important to understand the difference between added sugars and natural sugars.
Added vs. Natural Sugars
Natural sugars exist, you guessed it, naturally in foods. Fructose in fruit, for example, is a natural sugar, and it is often accompanied by the fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals in fruit. Added sugars, on the other hand, do not exist naturally and food manufacturers add them during food preparation. Sugar packets, honey, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and more are all forms of added sugars. Not only are added sugars devoid of nutritional properties, but they are also calorically dense.
When you overdo it with added sugars, you increase your risk of cardiovascular problems and type 2 diabetes. Soft drinks, cocktails, condiments, snacks, and processed foods are common sources of added sugars, and chronic consumption of those foods can complicate your health even more. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help control your sugar intake on a regular basis.
Enjoy Fruit, But Don’t Make It Your Whole Meal
You don’t need to be afraid of fruit, but you don’t want it to make up an entire meal. An acai bowl, which is seemingly healthy, can contain 95 grams of sugar. Most of those sugars are natural, but 95 grams of any type of sugar in one sitting is quite a lot. Smoothies are another great way to consume a diverse mix of nutrients, but you want a solid mix of fruits and vegetables. Ideally choose low-sugar fruits like berries, a half of a banana, and some greens like spinach or kale. Don’t add sweetened juices or nut milks, either! Opt for water or unsweetened non-dairy milks for your liquids.
Minimize Or Skip Sugar-Free Foods
People see “sugar-free” on food packaging and think that they are healthier. Sugar-free foods may help you cut back on calories, but chronic consumption of sugar-free foods can interfere with glucose metabolism. Those foods also negatively affect gut microbiome and can increase sugar cravings. Sugar-free foods make you less satisfied and cause you to want more of that food. Just remember that a little bit of the real deal sugar is better than the artificial stuff.
Always Check Nutrition Labels
Although you don’t have to count every single gram of added sugar you consume, you should have a reference or the max amount you should consume daily. That is why reading nutrition labels can be very helpful in your health journey. If your packet of blueberry yogurt contains 22 grams of added sugar, that provides you with most of your added sugar count for the day. Look out for foods with five to six grams of added sugars per serving. Some days you may consume 20 grams of added sugars, while other days may amount to 27 grams of added sugar. That is completely acceptable, but just try your best to focus on more wholesome foods that are naturally sweet.
Omit Sugary Condiments
Condiments like ketchup, salad dressings, and other sauces contain more added sugars than you realize. Pasta sauce is another sneaky source of both sugar and sodium. Tomatoes are naturally sweet, so tomato sauce will have about four to five grams of natural sugars per serving. Tomatoes are also very acidic, so most brands add extra sugar to balance that acidity. Try to choose natural ketchup brands, or varieties that contain zero added sugars to help you control sugar intake.
Avoid Drinking Your Sugars
Although a cold can of cola is undeniably delicious, it is just as undeniably terrible for you. Sugar-sweetened beverages are some of the leaded sources of added sugars in the American diet. A 17-ounce can of Coke contains about 55 grams of added sugars per bottle, which is more than twice the amount of added sugars that you should consume daily. Juices, sodas, energy drinks, and sweetened coffees and teas all fall under the sugar-sweetened beverage umbrella. If you start your day with a flavored coffee, consider making your own coffee and adding less sugary creamers or sugar. A venti vanilla latte from Starbucks can serve up to 35 grams of sugars!