When I told you about my top 5 secrets for keeping fit over 50, I left one out. I learned how to eat less sugar. A lot less.
I didn’t leave it out on purpose. It goes along with my focus on whole plants (#5). But with the number of inquiries I get from women who want help in doing the same, it really deserves a deeper dive.
My goal is not to argue for less sugar. I’ve made the decision and my desire is to help others who want to do the same. If you’d like to do the research, here are two resources to get you started: Sugar and Cardiovascular Disease and Does Sugar Lead to Weight Gain.
To be clear, I’m talking about added sugars. Not those naturally occurring in a food. The cool thing is that nutrition labels now highlight added sugars compared to total sugars for processed foods. Super helpful.
If you want to learn how to eat less sugar, try these five things:
- Get the majority of sweetness in your diet from whole plants. These natural sugars have less effect on your dopamine levels, helping to keep your consumption of these foods in balance. (E.g. ever notice that once you eat a cookie, you crave another? But you probably never crave a second or third banana or bowl of strawberries. One suffices.) My favorite “dessert” is 2-3 dates dipped in almond butter.
- Choose unsweetened beverages. Sodas and juices pack a huge amount of sugar per serving. Try a tasty cinnamon tea (my clients love this) or one of the many sparkling waters with a fruity essence. If you drink alcohol, here’s a helpful graphic to see the sugar content of various drinks.
- Make the switch. Beyond the obvious baked goods and candy, identify what you eat regularly that contains added sugars and consider switching to something with less (or no) sugar. Yogurt can be healthy, but sugar content varies widely among varieties and brands. My choice is plain, greek yogurt to which I add my own fruit. For peanut butter I always choose unsweetened (just like the peanut itself!). For bread and cereals, I look for those with the least added sugars. I really like Ezekiel products.
- Beware the condiment. Foods like ketchup, barbeque sauce, pasta sauce and salad dressings can have more sugar than you’d expect. Find options and brands that help you limit your intake. I tried a plant based recipe recently that called for a sauce I hadn’t tried before. Upon discovering the first ingredient was sugar, I decided to be creative and exchange it for something else. It was delicious.
- Stop fantasizing. If a client tells me how hard it is to not eat sugar and how much she loves something (like ice cream, cookies, etc.) I know she’s in for a long haul. Unless she stops ogling all the sweets. I can relate. I used to do it. I’d see something and tell myself how good it would taste. Especially something with chocolate. Or buttercream frosting. Or my afternoon cafe mocha. But all that thinking about sweets – and that I deserved it, of course – only made me desire it more. Start fantasizing about what you really want. Sugar is a disappointing substitute.
There you have it, five ways to eat less sugar. Once you put these steps into play it becomes easier, almost automated. Take it at a pace you can manage. Pick one thing and master it. Then go to the next. If you can do several at once, go for it. The most important thing is to keep at the forefront of your mind that this is a lifestyle. That you are discovering a new way of eating and being. Now, go fantasize about that.