There are so many different approaches to food these days, and everyone seems convinced that theirs is the best. Keto, vegan, vegetarian, paleo—ask anyone who loves their eating style and they’ll happily evangelize to you about why it’s the only right way.
One thing nearly everyone agrees on, though: Reducing sugar is important to good health. But what does it mean exactly to be on a low-sugar diet—given that very few of us are actually going to give it up altogether?
“I don’t really measure in grams or any specific measurement,” says nutritionist Aynsley Kishenbaum, who offers Sugar Purge, a 12-day program to help participants reduce the sweet stuff with support. “I would consider a low-sugar diet one that’s rich in real whole foods: Lots of veggies, some fruit each day, unsweetened dairy, meat, eggs, whole grains, and legumes. Most processed foods, even if they bill themselves as low sugar, aren’t as low sugar as eating something that didn’t come out of a package.”
“It’s unrealistic to assume that you can give sugar up altogether,and frankly I think it’s counterproductive,” says registered dietician Skylar Griggs. “You add a bit of drama to healthy eating when you try to avoid foods completely or mark them as off limits.” The simplest way to cut sugar is to avoid processed foods, even ones labeled as “healthy” or organic—or to be strategic when buying them.
“I recommend checking food labels and comparing based on sugar intake,” Kirshenbaum advises. “When buying bread for my kids, for example, I choose the lowest sugar of similar styles.”
Griggs recommends a mindfulness approach. “A trick I really like to use is, 4 grams of sugar equals about a packet of sugar or a sugar cube,” she says. “Take a look at the packaged item and ask yourself,‘Would I sit down with a bowl of sugar this size and eat it?’”
Another tip: Start by reducing added sugars, but worry less about the sugar in whole foods at first. “If there is naturally occurring sugar such as the sugar in fruits, I say go for it,” says registered dietician Nicole Hinckley. “If there is added sugar in things such as cakes, brownies, cookies, etc., avoid that as much as you can.” So you still get that sweet taste, but with the added fiber and nutrients in the whole foods.
Also, take advantage of foods that have a sweet flavor but aren’t sugary, such as cinnamon, coconut and vanilla—sprinkling cinnamon into your oats, grabbing a spoonful of coconut butter as a snack or stirring vanilla into your coffee can up the sweet quotient.
“Another thing I love to tell my clients is to drink an herbal tea,” Hinckley says. “I think so many of us (including myself) have made the habit of thinking we need something sweet after dinner or at certain times of the day. Drinking a tea still allows you to get the satisfaction of making something in the kitchen and putting something into your mouth, but it’s soothing. I think it especially important when you’re craving something sweet and it may be because you are either sad, bored, or angry.”
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