If you’re looking to cut out excess sugar and take back your health, you’re not alone. A diet full of sugar does not support signs of vibrant health, including optimal weight, great looking skin, healthy heart and mind!*
Why can excess sugar be such a problem in healthy people? Because we digest simple carbohydrates (sugars) very quickly, this leads to a sudden increase in sugar in the blood. The body tries to manage this spike in sugar by increasing the secretion of insulin, and it uses insulin to tell cells to take in fuel to feed our muscles and other tissues. The problem is that not all of this sugar is used to fuel immediate muscle activity, nor is all the excess stored as glycogen in muscles to fuel future activity. When there is too much sugar, it is converted into triglycerides and stored as fat. As a result, excess sugar in the diet makes it harder to maintain optimal weight and other factors of vibrant health.*
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to cut out excess sugar and help your cells stand up and pay attention!
1. Learn to Spot Simple Sugars
Simple carbohydrates aren’t just found in cakes and cookies; they are often hidden in the unlikeliest of places, such as:
- Bread and crackers
- Coffee drinks and energy drinks
- Granola bars and energy bars
- Some types of rice cakes
- Popcorn and chips
- Yogurt and other dairy products
- Salad dressings, sauces, and other condiments
Take a look in your cupboard or pantry for these foods and examine their labels for the amount of simple carbohydrates (sugar). Then ditch the worst culprits (take them to a food bank along with some healthy donated goods!), or work through these foods by pairing them with a high-protein, high-fat meal to slow down the absorption of the carbohydrates. Most importantly, leave these foods off your shopping list in the future!
2. Ditch the Soft Drinks (and Watch the Fruit Juice!)
Most people now recognize that soft drinks are a major source of sugar. Some soft drinks contain a staggering 300–500 calories per portion (20–25% of the daily recommended calorie intake for many adults!) while providing almost no essential nutrients. Unfortunately, fruit juice is often not that much better. Even juice marketed as a healthy alternative can contain just as many calories as soft drinks, as it is often little more than water with fruit flavoring, fructose, and other sweeteners. Rather than trying to wean yourself off these drinks, it’s often best to get rid of them altogether. That’s because the sugar and insulin roller coaster caused by one soft drink can propel thoughts for another.*
Instead, swap your soft drinks and juice for plain water, herbal tea, or water flavored with cucumber slices, fresh mint, or lemon slices. This cuts calories, and can help you better manage hunger levels and hydration.* Maintain your resolve by leaving soft drinks off your shopping list and carrying a water bottle with you to avoid impulse purchases.
3. Avoid Convenience Junk Food
After a couple of weeks of being soft drink-free, and as you work through any remaining junk foods in your kitchen, take some time to assess the junk food you consume outside your home. Cut out obvious sugar culprits such as cakes, cookies, candy, and ice cream. Also look at salty and savory foods that you might not think contain simple sugars, such as chips, popcorn, and pretzels, for instance. Some granola bars and energy bars sold as healthy alternatives are also packed with sugar, so read nutrition labels or, better yet, snack on fresh fruit, nuts, and water instead.
4. Snack Smart
If you regularly snack on sugary junk foods during work hours or when watching shows at night, take a moment to consider why you’re eating these foods. Are you genuinely hungry, or are you dehydrated and thirsty? Maybe you’re just eating out of boredom or habit.
Identifying the reasons behind your food choices helps you make healthier decisions. This may mean going for a walk with the family or a friend after dinner instead of sitting on the couch using a device.
People commonly reach for junk food mid-morning or mid-afternoon when hunger (and boredom) strikes. Instead of grabbing some cookies from the staff kitchen or vending machine, try drinking a glass of water and taking a five minute stroll outside or around the office. This gives your body a chance to rehydrate and recalibrate so you can decide if you’re actually hungry or just bored. Often the feeling passes and you can enjoy a healthy lunch a little later.*
If you are, in fact, hungry, make sure to have healthy snacks on hand, such as raw veggies and a healthy dip such as hummus, which provides proteins, fats, and the slow release of carbohydrates for more sustained energy. Or, try roasting chickpeas in a mixture of curry spices and bagging them so you have a healthy snack on hand that is packed with protein and antioxidants. A protein shake with fresh fruit and a green food powder is also a great low-glycemic index snack that includes antioxidants, fiber, and protein.*
5. Reduce Complex Carbs
At this stage, having cut out overtly sugary food items, foods with “hidden” sugar, and many unhealthy junk foods, you’ll likely be eating a more diverse diet with fewer calories, but which is considerably richer in nutrients. Some diets, such as many paleo and ketogenic diets, suggest trying to eliminate complex carbohydrates at this point. For many people, this is both unnecessary and potentially damaging to health, as whole foods that contain complex carbohydrates are often a great source of proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients. Cutting out these foods can result in a horribly restrictive and boring diet that is hard to maintain and more likely to lead to nutrient deficiencies.
However, it can help minimize your intake of some high-carb whole foods, such as potatoes, whole wheat bread and pasta, and rice. Try cutting the typical serving size of these foods in half and adding in chickpeas, beans, and pulses for extra lean protein, or choose a simple green salad (without the sugary dressing!) for extra phytonutrients.
Eating a whole food diet that includes a moderate amount of complex carbohydrates helps the body to better regulate blood sugar and insulin levels already in the normal range, and can support stable energy levels and overall health and well-being.* Such a diet typically provides powerful levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and other phytonutrients, and is so varied and interesting that a sugar-laden junk food diet seems wholly unappetizing!
- Lyon MR, Reichert RG. Altern Med Rev.2010; 15(1):68-75.
- Walford RL, Harris SB, Gunion MW. Proc Natl Acad Sci U.S.A.1992; 89(23):11533-11537.