In my previous post, I discussed what happens when you consume sugar, along with health issues that can occur when you ingest too much of it. As promised, in this post, I will talk about ways to reduce your intake, including natural sugar substitutes that can make that reduction easier.
Understand where sugar lurks
Keeping your sweet tooth at bay may be your biggest challenge, but identifying the hidden sugar in everyday foods can prove equally difficult. Clearly eating a piece of candy, a doughnut, or drinking a soda adds excessive sugar to your diet. But what about the other foods you tend to think of as being healthy? You'd be surprised at just how much sugar many of these "healthy" foods contain. For example, I just discovered that my organic vanilla yogurt has a whopping 32 grams of sugar in a single serving!
One of the best ways to control your sugar intake is to prepare your food from scratch. That way, you know exactly what’s in it. But let’s be practical. Most of us can’t always make our own bread, yogurt, cereal or other common staples, so we purchase some (hopefully minimally) processed foods. How do you evaluate whether a processed food has too much sugar in it?
When you buy a processed food item, simply look at the label for the grams of sugar the food contains. This amount represents both added and naturally occurring sugar, so also look at how early on a sugar appears in the list of ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity included, with the ingredient of the greatest quantity listed first. When a sugar is listed as an ingredient, it is the added sugar in your food.
In addition, get to know the names of various added sugars; they may not be so recognizable as being a sugar. For example, not everyone knows that dextrose or maltose is an added sugar. The American Heart Association’s Sugar 101 web page provides a handy list of names for various sugars.
Substitute natural alternatives for sugar
You can also try substituting sugars with natural alternatives, like honey or syrup. Although honey is mostly sugar, it has more nutritional value and takes more effort for the body to break it down, as Keith Kantor, PhD, a nutritionist, explains to Huffington Post. Similarly, maple syrup has greater nutritional value than table sugar, containing trace minerals that play a number of important roles in the health of your body. Another popular sugar substitute is stevia. Stevia is derived from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, an herb in the Chrysanthemum family.
For information on more sugar substitutes, this excellent post on TotalBeauty.com highlights 10 sugar substitutes that have a lower glycemic index than sugar. The glycemic index ranks a food based on its effect on blood sugar levels in comparison to the effect of consuming an equivalent amount of pure glucose. Pure glucose has a glycemic rating of 100. High blood sugar levels require more insulin to be processed, so foods with a lower glycemic index ranking tend to be healthier. This great chart with glycemic index ratings for many sweeteners might also be useful.
Start with small steps
I know it’s almost impossible to eliminate all sugar from our diets, but we can certainly strive to reduce our intake. Given all the health issues that come with consuming too much of it, and the many healthier alternatives available, it seems that the effort to reduce intake and switch to sugar substitutes might be well worth taking.
My advice for getting started? Simply become aware of your sugar intake by reading labels. That alone may surprise you at how much sugar you actually consume and spur you to reduce that amount. If that doesn’t convince you that you can cut back on sugar, consider making this Apple Salad with Honey Vinaigrette recipe that I posted last month. Reducing sugar does not have to mean reducing flavor!