Cutting Down on Sugar
Although fewer of us take sugar in our tea or coffee, and we sprinkle less on our cereals and desserts, we are actually consuming more sugar, hidden away in processed foods, leading to weight problems and obesity.
Even worse, as sugary foods often replace more healthy alternatives, nutrition experts say the influx of sweets indirectly contributes to diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer – all of which are directly affected by what we eat.
• Cut down slowly. Forget going cold turkey. Therein lies failure. Instead, if you normally have two chocolate bars a day, cut down to one. Then, next week, have one every other day. The following week, have one every three days, until you’re down to just one a week. If you normally take 2 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, use the same routine, cutting down gradually to ½ teaspoon. Eventually, get to the point where you’re using artificial sweetener if you still need the sweet taste. The more sugar you eat, the more you’ll crave. So cutting down slowly is the best way to tame a sweet tooth gone wild.
• Choose sugar-free and reduced-sugar alternatives to foods such as baked beans, tomato sauce and cereals, when available.
• Go half and half. Mix half standard fizzy drink with half diet version; half a pot of sweetened yogurt with half a pot of plain yogurt; half a glass of juice with half a glass of fizzy water. Do this for two weeks, then cut back to a quarter sweetened to three-quarters unsweetened. Continue until you’re taking only the unsweetened version.
• Grant yourself a daily sugar ‘quota’, and use it on the foods where it matters most. For the majority of us, that means desserts. Don’t waste it on dressings, spreads, breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks. Not only will this reduce your sugar intake in a day, but it will help you to lose your sweet tooth. The more sugar you eat, the less sensitive your tastebuds seem to become, so you want more. Train your tastebuds to become accustomed to less and you’ll be satisfied with less.
• Establish rules about dessert. For instance, have dessert only after dinner, never after lunch. Or eat dessert only on odd days of the month, or just at weekends or in restaurants. If you have a long tradition of daily desserts, then make it your rule to have raw fruit at least half of the time.
• Similarly, establish rules about ice-cream. A tub of ice-cream in the freezer is temptation defined. A recommended rule: don’t keep ice-cream at home. Ice-cream should always be a treat worth travelling for.
• Remember these code words found on ingredient lists. The only way to know if the processed food you’re buying contains sugar is to know its many aliases or other forms. Here are the common ones: brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, galactose, glucose, honey, hydrogenated starch, invert sugar, maltose, lactose, mannitol, maple syrup, molasses, polyols, raw sugar, sorghum, sucrose, turbinado sugar.
• Try xylitol. Xylitol is a natural sweetener as well as a sugar substitute, which is found in fruits such as strawberries, pears and plums. It is very like sugar in appearance, so is often added by manufacturers to sweets and chewing gums, as well as to medicated syrups and some mouthwashes and toothpastes. It’s safe for those with diabetes and it actually improves the quality of your teeth, as well as having fibre-like health benefits. Beware, though: eating large quantities of xylitol may have a laxative effect.
• Look for hidden sources of sugar. Cough syrups, chewing gum, mints, tomato sauce, baked beans and cold meats often contain sugar. Even some prescription medicines contain sugar. For a week, be particularly vigilant and scan every possible food label. Make a mental note of what you discover.
• If you must eat sweets, eat them with meals. The other foods will help to increase salivary flow, thus clearing the sugary foods from your mouth faster and helping prevent cavities. Of course, this does nothing for the kilojoules you’re consuming and won’t affect your weight, but at least you’ll have a healthier mouth.
• Seek out substitutes. With saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose all commercially available, you can still get the sweetness of sugar without the kilojoules. These sweeteners can be particularly useful as part of a balanced weight-reduction diet.
• Substitute pureed apple or prunes for half the sugar in recipes. You can also use them in place of the fat in the recipe.
• Choose the right breakfast cereal. Many are full of sugar. You want one with mostly fruit sugars rather than added sugar. Avoid cereals with ingredient lists that are loaded with sugary ingredients and instead use diced fresh or dried fruit to sweeten your cereal.
• Don’t skip meals. Are you too busy to eat? When you go without breakfast, lunch or dinner, your blood sugar levels drop, and that propels you towards high-sugar (often convenience) foods to quell your cravings.
• Don’t add sugar to foods. Many everyday recipes – including some for vegetables, soups, casseroles and sauces – call for sugar to add sweetness. In most cases, it’s just not needed. Try the recipe without the sugar first. If you think it needs sugar after tasting, you can always add it, but don’t do it automatically.
• Get your chocolate in small doses. Dip fresh strawberries into low-fat chocolate sauce, scatter chocolate sprinkles over your plain yogurt or eat a mini-piece of dark chocolate – freeze it so that it lasts longer in your mouth. Think rich and decadent but in tiny portions.
• Watch out for mixed alcoholic drinks. Have you ever stopped to think about the sugar quotient of a cosmopolitan? How about a margarita or mai tai? Drink mixers and many alcoholic beverages are absolutely loaded with sugar. Stick with beer or wine, or, if you prefer spirits, mix them only with unsweetened fizzy water or drink them straight. Of course, a glass of fizzy water with lime will also do just fine.
• Go for a walk when you crave sweetness. Studies find that athletes’ preference for sweetened foods declines after exercise. Instead, they then prefer salty foods.
• Choose fat-free if you must have sweets. Studies find that many sweet foods, such as doughnuts, muffins, ice-cream and so on, are also high in fat, more than doubling the energy load. When you do indulge in sweet foods, choose fat-free options so you get the full flavour of a favourite food with none of the kilojoules from the added fat.
• If you’re having a hard time cutting back on fizzy drinks or juices, try having a glass of iced water or fizzy water every other time you reach for a drink.