For most people, the simplest way to make a dramatic difference in your diet, and its effect on your waistline and energy levels, is to reduce your sugar consumption. However, simple doesn’t always mean easy and cutting down on sugar is no exception. When it comes to our brain, sugar (especially in continuous and excessive amounts) acts like a drug. Considering the almost nefarious addition of sugar into almost every processed foodstuff at the grocery store, it can be hard not to consume too much sugar.
As with any complicated and multi-layered problem, the first step is awareness. If this is news to you, your nutrition goal for the week would be to start with just paying attention to what you eat throughout the day. This could take the form of a food journal followed by a quick peruse on the internet for sugar content of your diet at the end of the day. You could also log your food into an app like My Fitness Pal. Be as honest as you can – did you grab a Jolly Rancher off of Linda’s desk? What about that half a cookie in the break room from Geoff? At this point, focus on awareness. If logging your food makes you conscious of how many times you grabbed for a mini Snickers and you decide not to, great! But after you log breakfast, lunch, and your snacks, don’t decide to skip dinner because you feel poorly about your choices. Don’t feel bad! Eat dinner. And continue to pay attention to what you are eating. Make changes next week.
If you are already aware of the insidious nature of sugar in the food supply, but haven’t done much about it, just cut out the excess. Depending on your sugar habits, this could take the form of:
- Cutting back on pop, or cutting it out completely
- Swapping sugary snacks (granola bars, candy, crackers, etc.) for protein and fat
- Cutting back on sugar in your coffee
As you go through your day, find the spots where you are consuming extra sugar, especially if it’s the mindless type of consumption, and just start cutting back.
NOTE: Do your best to NOT substitute sugar for sweeteners, natural or otherwise. They can have a deleterious effect on the body not too different from sugar and the artificial ones are particularly nasty from a health perspective. Part of cutting out sugar (and why you shouldn’t replace with sweeteners) is resetting your body to the sensation of sweetness as well. If you’ve ever cut out sugar in the past, you’ve probably experienced the over sweetness of things that previously were pretty bland. Thus allowing you to be satisfied with smaller amounts of sugar and sweets.
If you have already cut back on extra sugar, you don’t drink pop, you don’t eat candy, you don’t eat pastries or their relatives (donuts, cookies, etc), it may be time to look at the other sugars in your life, more commonly villainized as CARBS. Carbohydrates are not good or evil, they are simply a macronutrient comprised of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that illicit a physiological response when consumed. Depending on your goals, lifestyle, and personal biology, your carbohydrate consumption is going to look different than others. The best way to figure out what types and amounts of carbohydrates work best for you is to test it. When it comes to cutting back on excess sugar and carbohydrates, here are some different tactics to try:
- Shift your carbohydrate consumption to later in the day. Protein and fat for breakfast and a smaller amount of carbohydrates for lunch (Open face sandwich? Half the rice? Only one serving of fruit?). Highly recommended for those who eat breakfast and are hangry monsters by 10 am.
- Cut back on consumption of grains and/or switch to whole food carbohydrate sources. Cut back )or cut out) crackers, bread, pastas, snack bars etc. for white rice (my personal preference for rice, but you do you), squash, potatoes (white OR sweet!). [We’ll talk more about grains when we talk about inflammation. Today, we’re focused on sugar.]
- Swap out added sugar foods for no added sugar foods. Focus on the packaged products that you buy. You’d be surprised how much sugar (corn syrup, fructose, glucose, etc) is added into processed meats, dressings, and canned goods.
- If you’ve already cut out grains and most forms of carbs, but think you could feel better, you might want to try adding in small amounts of whole food sources like fruit and starchy vegetables to dinner or lunch. Go for adding 25-50g to your day about 2-3 weeks at a time. See how it goes
If you’ve tried all of this before and you just can’t seem to cut your sugar cravings, something like a Whole30, 21-day Sugar Detox, or some other complete (temporary) elimination diet may be for you.