While there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a craving for a scoop of ice cream or margarita every so often, too much sugar has negative health effects and can be detrimental to weight loss. The FDA recommends getting no more than 10% of your daily calories from added sugars, and defines them as sugars added during processing or packaging. This includes syrups, honey and concentrated fruit or vegetable juices with more sugar than would be expected from the same volume of 100% fruit or vegetable juice of the same type.
Naturally occurring sugars in things like fruits, vegetables and dairy are much more nutritious than added sugars because they come with important vitamins and nutrients, as well as fiber and protein that slow their digestion and make them a more steady source of energy.
Finding ways to swap added sugar for naturally occurring sugar (or to cut down on sugar altogether) is a good idea for your energy levels and your overall health.
Here are a dozen simple ways to get started:
USE FRUIT AND CINNAMON TO SWEETEN BREAKFAST
Packaged cereal, granola and yogurt often contain sneaky amounts of added sugar — and adding honey, maple syrup or another sweetener yourself on top adds up if you’re not careful. Instead, opt for plain yogurt topped with fresh fruit and some nuts. Or make overnight oats with a hefty pinch of cinnamon (which can make things taste sweeter, even though it’s sugar-free) and later stir in chopped fruit and some unsweetened nut butter.
GO SAVORY FOR BREAKFAST
Another way to cut back on sugar at breakfast is to opt for savory foods instead of sweet ones. If you’re used to sitting down to waffles or pancakes, try swapping them for veggie omelets or sweet potato hash a few times a week. If you love the convenience of cereal or grab-and-go breakfast bars, try making baked egg cups at the beginning of the week, then reheating a few for breakfast each day.
READ NUTRITION LABELS CAREFULLY
Search for a store-bought granola with no more than 5 grams of added sugar per serving. KIND Peanut Butter Granola Clusters fit the bill, as does Bear Naked Granola V’nilla Almond. Both are lightly sweet, packed with whole grains and contain healthy fats from nuts.
OPT FOR COLD OR NITRO BREWS
Drinking a daily coffee with a spoonful of sugar is a habit that could easily sabotage your weight-loss goals. Instead, try a high-quality cold brew, or the increasingly popular nitro brews, which have a deeper but less-biting flavor than traditional drip or steeped coffees, making them easier to drink plain or with a splash of milk.
MAKE YOUR OWN COCKTAILS
Pre-mixed drinks like margaritas, daiquiris and fruity sangrias are loaded with added sugar since bartenders often rely on pre-made sour mixes or flavored syrups. If you want to indulge in an alcoholic beverage, try making these lower-sugar versions at home.
CUT BACK ON SUGAR WHEN BAKING
A little added sugar in pies is helpful for bringing out the sweetness of the fruit filling and creating an ideal texture. However, in most cases, you can cut the amount of sugar in your favorite recipes by 1/3, or even by 1/2 — smaller amounts still work well for turning already-sweet fruit into a more indulgent, but healthier, dessert.
BAKED WITH MASHED BANANAS
Ripe, dark brown bananas are packed with naturally occurring sugar, but also deliver important nutrients like potassium, which can help lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke. Many recipes call for mashed banana to be used in place of most of the sugar and some of the added fat, which makes a baked good more nutritious without compromising on texture.
CHOOSE IN-SEASON FRUIT
If you’ve ever eaten a blueberry in January, you know offseason produce isn’t nearly as flavorful as in-season picks — it’s less sweet, more tart and often less colorful. What fruits are in season and for how long depends on where you live, so your best bet is to ask vendors at your local farmers market.
SWAP SODA FOR FLAVORED SELTZER
Flavored bubbly water is a great option in lieu of sugar-laden soda, provided you look for ones that don’t have added syrups or sugar. Try a can of La Croix or make your own fancier version by combining plain seltzer with some mashed and sliced fruit.
BUY UNSWEETENED CANNED FRUIT
Canned fruit like peaches and orange segments get a bad rap because they’re often packed in sugar syrup. But, there’s nothing inherently wrong with canned fruit, and it can actually be a convenient and budget-friendly way to add more variety to your diet. Just choose fruit canned in water with no-added sugar.
SKIP HIGH-SUGAR CONDIMENTS
Ketchup and barbecue sauce are certainly tasty, but they’re often packed with added sugar. While some brands now sell condiments sweetened with things like date paste or fruit extract, even these “healthier” versions pack a lot of sugar without fiber and other nutrients. Instead, try limiting high-sugar condiments by using flavorings such as mustard, oil-and-vinegar dressing, pesto or even mayonnaise made with olive oil or another unsaturated fat. Some are relatively high in fat, so you don’t want to go overboard — but, healthy fats help you stay full for longer, and can actually increase the number of vitamins your body absorbs with a meal.
GET PLENTY OF SLEEP
Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep each night and not just relying on caffeine to keep you going. There’s mounting evidence that people who get less than the recommended 7–9 hours of sleep per night consume more sugary treats and sugar-sweetened beverages, on average, than those who get adequate sleep. The next time you’re wondering whether to cue up another episode on Netflix or head to bed, opt for the latter.
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