We all love it.
Even as babies, we gravitate towards sweetness. While including fruit and sweet whole foods in our diets isn’t a bad thing, most of us consume far too much sugar. In fact, recent studies put the average American annual total at 130 pounds of sugar. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that sugar is making us fatter. It’s also been linked to everything from Alzheimer’s to adding to the length of colds and flus.
So what do we do about it? As a society, we aren’t that good at doing things in moderation. If you look around at most popular diets, it tends to be an all or nothing scene. The raw, vegan crowd shuns any animal products at all. The Paleo fans want meat, lots of it, and as wild as possible (hold the bun, please). Our sugar problem doesn’t lie in the once-in-awhile ice cream cone on a hot day; the problem is that we’ve pumped sugar into every product imaginable.
Instead of trying (and failing) to ban sugar all together, here are a few steps toward balance:
1. Become a label reader.
If you are eating a processed food, take a look at the sugar content. While switching to equally problematic sugar substitutes isn’t helpful, choosing condiments and snacks with less added sugar is a step in the right direction.
2. Eat real food.
As Michael Pollan put it, choose foods your great-grandparents would recognize as food. I try to choose “single ingredient snacks” whenever possible, i.e. if I’m having a peach, I don’t need to wonder how many types of sugar and preservatives have been added.
3. Drink more water.
So many of our popular drinks are filled with sugar. Twenty years ago, it never would have seemed appropriate to order a giant milkshake for breakfast, but take a look at the Starbucks menu and millions of people are doing just that. Staying hydrated can help with sugar cravings in other ways as well; we often mistake thirst for hunger and seek out a snack when what we really need is a glass of water.
4. Eat enough protein and fat.
This is a tricky one, because the idea of “enough” protein has become a debate of religious proportions. Add fat to that discussion and you can have a full blown war on your hands. Protein and fat are nutrients we need and they keep us satisfied far longer than simple carbohydrates. If you are hungry, consider a snack that includes some protein and fat so you are actually sustained by it instead of hungry again a half hour later. An apple with some almond butter is a better option than a bag of potato chips.
5. Instead of demonizing sugar, save it for celebration.
I try to limit my sugar intake, but it’s unlikely I’d ever ban it altogether. If we look at the way our grandparents and great-grandparents treated sugar, we’ll be on the right track. Instead of including sugar in foods that don’t need to be sweet (like breads and condiments) and guzzling down sugary drinks all day, we can save sugar for desserts that we thoroughly enjoy on an occasional basis. This helps cut down on our overall sugar intake, and increases our enjoyment of it when we do indulge.
Tomorrow: What Your Body Wants You to Know: You Need to Drink More Water.
Photo credit: Flickr / jeffadair