One of the best but most difficult commitments you can make to your health is cutting down on or cutting out processed sugars. We’re not talking about the natural sugars found in fruits and dairy—those are good for you. We’re talking about the empty, added sugars that plague packaged foods and baked goods. You might have already cut out obviously sugary things like soda and candy, which is a good start, but you might not realize all the other foods that have hidden sugars in them. Even foods and drinks that don’t taste sweet often have added sugars in them—including things that seem “healthy.”
Breads, ketchup, granola bars, sports drinks, salad dressing, iced teas…just about anything that comes in a jar or a package is going to have added sugar. You might have started the greatest workout and supplementation regimen out there, but it means nothing if proper nutrition isn’t also part of the mix. If you’re getting serious about fat loss, restricting your sugar intake has to be a part of that plan.
Thankfully, there is plenty you can do to avoid all these sugar traps and (relatively) painlessly cut processed sugars out of your life. We have 5 tips for how to avoid sugar and 5 suggestions of what to replace it with if you still need a little sweet in your life.
How you can avoid sugar:
Read labels: this seems obvious, but how often do you actually do it? It’s critical to know what you’re putting in your body if you expect to transform it. Below the “nutrition facts” section on the label, all the ingredients in the product will be listed. Read it closely—the ingredients are listed in order of how much they’re used. If sugar and sugar substitutes are at the top, that means there’s a lot of it.
Other names: sugar isn’t always called sugar, which makes identifying it trickier. Other code names to look for include: Florida crystals, maltodextrin, golden syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, fructose, glucose, sucrose and many, many more. Anything with the words “syrup” or “sugar” in it is a dead giveaway, as is anything that ends in “-ose.”
Eat healthy fats:though eating fatty foods may seem counterproductive to losing fat, healthy fats are an essential part of a balanced diet, keep you feeling full between meals and help curb your craving for sugar. Like there are healthy and unhealthy sugars, there are healthy and unhealthy fats. Healthy fats can be found in avocadoes, walnuts, peanut butter (natural to avoid excess sugar), salmon, almonds and olive oil.
Avoid flavored things:artificial flavors scream processed sugar in flashing neon letters. Check for “contains artificial flavors” on the label. Steer clear of products like flavored yogurts and juice from concentrate. Instead, buy plain yogurt and add fruit to it and buy fresh squeezed juice.
Make your own:believe it or not, you can replace most of these sugary staples with homemade versions. Even the most amateur home chef can make salad dressings, ketchup, mayonnaise, homemade granola, protein bars and more. Making your own bread or other baked goods might sound intimidating, but is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. It allows you to monitor what is being put inside the food you eat every day and cut down on your sugar intake—or replace it altogether with a healthier sugar substitute. Bonus—making your own versions of packaged foods means less calories and sodium too.
What to replace sugar with:
Stevia: Stevia is a powdered sweetener much sweeter than sugar that contains no calories. It is not good for baking, but can be added to coffee, tea, yogurt, oatmeal, shakes and smoothies and other things that you might normally add sugar or brown sugar to for a touch of sweet.
Maple Syrup: you can substitute maple syrup for brown or white sugar in baking. Make sure you have a natural, pure maple syrup, not something generic and full of processed sugar like Aunt Jemima. Use 2/3 cup of maple syrup for each cup of sugar the recipe calls for and reduce the overall amount of liquid called for in the recipe by ¼ cup for each cup of sugar replaced with syrup. For example, if the recipe called for 2 cups of some liquid(s), and you replaced 1 cup of sugar with 2/3 cup maple syrup, then you would only add 1 ¾ cup of the liquid(s).
Honey:like Stevia, honey is also good in tea, yogurt, oatmeal and some shakes and smoothies. It can also be used in baking. To use honey in place of sugar, add 2 tablespoons less honey than each cup of sugar called for in the recipe and add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. Also, reduce the other liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons.
Coconut Sugar: a naturally occurring powdered sugar that contains insulin, prebiotic fiber and has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar. In baking, use the same measurements as for regular sugar.
Molasses:molasses has a mild laxative effect and some essential minerals not found in regular sugar. It can also be substituted for sugar when baking. When using molasses, use 1 and 1/3 cups of molasses for every 1 cup of sugar called for, and reduce the amount of other liquids in the recipe by 5 tablespoons.
While it is nearly impossible to completely forego all sugar, it is not too difficult to cut it down and replace it with healthier substitutes. Try to get more natural sugars from fruits and dairy and work on incorporating some of these sugar substitutes into your life. When you can’t, make sure to use the tips we provided above to keep the intake as low as you can—the Food and Drug Administration recommends no more than 50 grams of added sugar a day (for reference, one 12 ounce can of regular Coca-Cola has 39 grams). Cutting down on sugar is extremely hard but once you are aware, it becomes second nature.