Most of us know that in general, Canadians eat far too much sugar. While sugar certainly can feel like a treat and make many foods more palatable, eating too much of it has clear health repercussions that most people would like to avoid. Since life is about moderation, I’m happy to grant myself a little bit of the sweet stuff when it’s worth it (say, in the form of a deliciously prepared dessert), but most of us are consuming huge quantities of sugar without even realizing it — namely in pre-prepared foods and take-out items.
Cutting down on sugar means changing habits, which can be difficult, but once you get used to it, it becomes much easier. Here are some tips to cut down on unnecessary sugar intake, which will keep you healthier and make you feel less guilty when you do decide to indulge in that special piece of cake or pie:
- Read food labels and learn alternative terms for sugar
It’s shocking how many seemingly savoury items have large amounts of sugar into their ingredient lists: everything from seemingly “plain” yogurt to spaghetti sauce can be full of far more sugar than you’d expect. Read your labels to see if your brands of choice are secret sugar bombs, keeping in mind that ingredients like anhydrous dextrose, cane crystals, corn syrup, liquid fructose, and malt syrup are all names of added sugars. If you can find a brand with less added sugar (without turning to chemical-heavy sugar substitutes), go for that instead.
- Cook from scratch
Better yet, ditch the pre-prepared foods altogether and make as much of your food as possible from scratch. Cooking from scratch lets you control how much sugar goes into your food and if you gradually decrease the sugar in recipes, your palate will eventually get used to the lack of sweetness. Making your own desserts, sauces, and even condiments (ketchup is easy to make, I swear!) can make a huge difference.
- Use alternative flavours
If food tastes bland or boring without added sugar (and let’s face it, if you’re concerned about sugar, you’re likely also cutting down on salt), try different flavours to add a little bit of zip to your salad dressing or marinades. A squeeze of lemon can go a long way, as can a dash of cinnamon. Experiment with different flavours to see what works with different dishes.
- Watch your drinks
A huge portion of many people’s sugar intake comes in the form of beverages, which can be the easiest thing to cut out of one’s diet. Pop is clearly a no-go here — it is so full of sugar and carries no nutritional value. Juice is also a no-no in a low sugar diet: even if you choose a juice with no-sugar added fruit is full of natural sugars and if you’re drinking your fruit rather than eating it, you’re taking in more sugar that is typically in a single piece of fruit and missing out on the fibre. Water is the best choice to stay hydrated — if the taste is just too boring, infuse it with a little bit of lemon or cucumber.
- Get rest and exercise
If you need a sugar jolt partway through your day, consider that you may not be getting enough exercise or sleep. A healthy sleep and exercise schedule will give you the energy you need to get through the part of your day when you may most be craving sugary snacks.