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SALT LAKE CITY — It doesn’t take a genius to know that sugar, especially refined sugar, is more harmful than helpful to health. High sugar consumption is linked with the development of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
While it’s true that all foods can fit into a healthy eating plan, most people can benefit from reducing their sugar intake. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six to nine teaspoons (24-36 grams) of added sugar per day, even if it comes from something like honey. Follow this step-by-step guide to determine how much sugar you are consuming and decrease it in a sustainable and manageable way.
1. Be aware
The first step in any behavior change is to be aware of your current habits. Without a solid understanding of where you’re at, it’s hard to determine the best way to get where you want to go.
Many people find it helpful to keep a food log of every meal, snack, and beverage for at least one week. Don’t change your habits at all during this week; just record it so you have an idea of your normal habits.
After you have recorded for a week, take the time to look through your log and do two things. First, seek out patterns. It may help to highlight all of the foods and beverages that you know contain sugar. Look to see if there is a common time of day you reach for something sweet, or if the amount of sugar in some of your commonly eaten foods surprises you.
Second, figure out how many grams of sugar you’re eating by reading the food labels of the sugary items on your list. Don’t forget to multiply the number of grams on the label by the number of servings you actually ate or drank.
Tracking your habits in this way can help to make you aware of the two fun-sized Snickers bars you snag from the secretary’s desk every day at noon, the three large sodas you drink throughout the day, or other times you eat or drink sugar without thinking about it.
2. Start with the obvious
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you think about all the foods that have sugar added to them. Don’t sweat the small stuff when you have bigger fish to fry. Look at your food log and determine what the highest, most consistent source of sugar is. Then choose one area to focus on.
Some people are more successful by making small cuts (i.e. drink one less can of soda per day and gradually taper down) whereas others are more successful by making larger changes (i.e. eliminate soda completely).
Adding healthy habits in place of sugar sources can help to mentally reframe these changes into positives. Rather than dwelling on the fact that you decided to skip dessert after dinner, focus on filling your sweet tooth with a piece of fruit instead. Think about the extra bottle of water you will drink each day rather than the bottle of soda you won’t have.
You may even choose to focus less directly on sugar by setting a goal related to balancing meals. Meals filled with lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables and fiber-rich carbohydrates can help keep cravings for sugar at bay by balancing blood sugar.
3. Pick your next battle
Once the change you made in step two feels comfortable and normal, it’s time to re-evaluate and decide what comes next. Maybe your next step is to taper back your first goal even farther (have one less sweet treat per week). Maybe you feel so confident about the goal you’ve already accomplished that you decide to focus on another area entirely (you’ve eliminated soda and now want to think about your 3 p.m. snack).
It may help to revisit your food log from step one to determine the next most important change. Regardless of what you choose, maintain your first goal and pick a new area to improve on.
4. Indulge mindfully and rarely
It’s far from realistic to assume that you’ll never want sugar again once you’ve followed these steps. While a lucky few are never tempted by sugar, most people will still want it from time to time. When you think it might be one of the rare occasions that warrants a treat, indulge mindfully. Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I actually hungry? Would it be better to wait until I am hungry to eat?
- Is there something else healthier that would do the trick?
- Do I really want this right now, or is it just available?