Too much sugar in our food harms our health. So knowing how to cut back on sugar will benefit anyone with a Western diet…
Sugar physically damages our bodies directly by adversely affecting the chemistry in the body and indirectly by making us fat and sick.
However, it has also been shown that:
- sugar by itself is not necessarily harmful, and
- too much sugar is not the sole cause of all physical problems and misery.
But by now, it has become clear that reducing sugar consumption is a practical, effective and necessary step for improving public health.
Hence, the question is how to cut back on sugar in practice when eating and drinking.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to cut back on sugar? Introduction
- 2 Sugar consumption in your family and home environment: How to cut back on sugar?
- 2.1 Obesity is a social problem in the US
- 2.2 Leave the children at home while shopping
- 2.3 Our daily lives are dominated by sugar
- 2.4 Obesity is socially contagious
- 2.5 Obesity is also a class problem
- 2.6 Parents and guardians should function as nutritional gatekeepers
- 2.7 Making arrangements is the key to success
- 2.8 Some nutrition tips for cutting back on sugar at home
- 3 Guide with tips on how to cut back on sugar at the dinner table
How to cut back on sugar? Introduction
Sometimes we hear and read general advice like: “Get a maximum of 15% of your energy from sugar”.
Unfortunately, such advice is far too general and not hands-on enough for the average American.
Such percentage guidelines are easy to formulate, but they are far from effective interventions in our daily lives.
To appropriately and effectively intervene in sugar consumption, we must consider what our daily sugar intake looks like.
In essence, our sugar consumption is influenced by 3 factors:
- Our family: where someone with a sense of responsibility might read the food labels to limit how much sugar we eat.
- Our environment, including: general American society, government policies on sugar, supermarkets and their particular discounts, the contents of food and drink vending machines, etc.
- Our eating habits at the dinner table: we can take back control and learn to reduce our own personal sugar intake.
Below we will look more closely at the factors of family and our eating habits since these are the factors we can directly control.
Sugar consumption in your family and home environment: How to cut back on sugar?
Who is responsible for nutrition and sugar consumption in your home?
Which person in your family manages the sodas, alcohol, bags of potato chips, chocolate, donuts, and candy?
Of course, every adult is responsible for what they eat and drink. That includes their sugar intake.
Do you have children? As a parent, you will know that the healthy eating habits of your children should not be guaranteed by anyone but yourself.
The obesity problem in the United States of America is very much a social problem.
The environment and society largely influence what you eat.
Just look around you, and you will understand… You can find candy, snacks, cookies, chocolate, alcohol, and soft drinks everywhere. Fact about sugar: There is a real abundance of sugar in our society.
The soda machine at work and school, the snack bar at the corner, the fast food restaurant a 5-minute walk away, and the cafeteria at work.
But that’s not all. Near every cash register in every supermarket, there is an unreal amount of chocolate and candy.
And in the aisles closest to the entrance are shelves full of potato chips, nuts, chocolate bars, cookies, sweets, and other tasty ready-to-eat foods.
Leave the children at home while shopping
Tip: Avoid running errands with your children unless you enjoy endless whining.
They get tempted by all those goodies, and before you know it, your little angel turns into a little devil… The attractive and brightly colored packaging is a magnet for little ones.
Also, keep your children in the car when you fill up at the gas station.
We all know the little stores in gas stations, completely packed with sweets, candy, and other enticing treats that are best left out for your health.
At the airport, anyone who manages to reach their gate without snacking on anything is considered exceptional these days.
Even at innocent and unsuspicious checkout counters of toy stores, we also invariably find candy on offer.
By the way, have you realized how these are always relatively low to the ground while other items are at eye level so we can see them better? However, all that candy near the checkout is also at eye level, just not yours but your children’s…
Our daily lives are dominated by sugar
The backdrop of everyday life is full of sugar and candy.
For example, when we go to the movies, we are confronted with attractive nachos, popcorn, potato chips, doughnuts, candy, ice cream, and soft drink machines.
It has become impossible to enjoy a movie without the sounds of wrappers, munching, rustling, crackling, and slurping.
Then in the movies themselves, of course, there is endless product placement. All kinds of sweet products, junk food, fast food restaurants, etc., come to mind.
American researchers Christakis and Fowler showed that friends and acquaintances in your social network determine whether you are fat and how healthy you live.
In their scientific study, they argue that obesity is socially contagious.
And let’s be honest for a moment… Don’t we all know the contagious behavior of a group of friends organizing a reunion and having a good meal (and drink) as part of that?
Or think back to your school days or your school-age children… They walk into a store or supermarket and, wanting to belong, all leave the store with unhealthy snacks and soft drinks.
Source: N.A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years, The New England Journal of Medicine, 2007
Obesity is also a class problem
Since obesity is a social problem in America, consequently, it is also a class problem.
In a typical American city, the children living in poor neighborhoods tend to be somewhat chubbier than those in wealthier neighborhoods.
And unfortunately, children with foreign roots tend to be slightly plumper than the local kids.
Besides the specific eating culture, this may also have to do with predisposition.
Childhood obesity thus begins at a very young age and never ends.
And it is almost impossible to change anything in such an environment with an obesity epidemic. That, unfortunately, is the sad conclusion that every parent draws sooner or later.
Parents and guardians should function as nutritional gatekeepers
Consequently, the real action must come from within the family, from the parents or other caregivers. This is possible because they hold a key position in the household.
Parents do the shopping and cooking and determine what foods are purchased and who gets what. Parents can effectively control the food their children consume.
Parents should function as nutritional gatekeepers.
This term was borrowed from American researcher Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating and creator of an interesting 17-minute TED Talk you can watch below:
In the past, in every family, it was the mother who functioned as the nutritional gatekeeper.
Everything edible that went into those hungry little children’s mouths was neatly judged by the mother and purchased and prepared by her.
The mother made the plate of (fruit) porridge, spread sandwiches, and figured out what they would eat in the evening.
But growing women’s emancipation changed this.
The woman is no longer at home by the fireplace. In some families, it is even the woman who makes a professional career and the man less so.
These evolutions are causing significant changes in the structures of households and families. Consequently, the role of the nutritional gatekeeper is no longer connected to only the woman at home.
In other words, the role of nutritional gatekeeper must now be shared by both parents to provide the children with a proper and healthy diet .
Making arrangements is the key to success
In a household, arrangements can be made about what food is purchased and what is eaten.
For example, 2 days a week without meat: one day fish, and one day vegetarian.
Regarding snacks, you could, for example, agree that the kids only get a hamburger with fries on Fridays.
And that they are only allowed to snack on Wednesdays while relaxing in front of the TV or while playing a game.
You should also make such arrangements regarding sugary soft drinks, sweets, chocolates, and other snacks.
Some nutrition tips for cutting back on sugar at home
Cook your own meals as often as possible and have the children help you. As such, they’ll learn to roll up their sleeves from a young age.
Also, make your own desserts and use dishes that are low in sugar.
Ideally, prepare a generous portion of fruit several days a week and serve it as a fruit salad. This is only 10 minutes of work and is delicious and healthy.
On weekends, it is possible to cook large portions of delicious dishes, divide them into suitable portions, and freeze them.
While shopping, try to focus mainly on fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid the aisles with snacks.
If you have children, it is the perfect opportunity to teach them how to plan, budget, and estimate what is needed for a tasty family meal!
For example, during a given week, you could give the responsibility to the children to purchase fruits and vegetables.
You could also ask them to peel the potatoes for a family dinner and let them estimate for themselves what this will take. Do the same with a serving of pasta, and ask them to estimate the amount needed!
Tip: Learn to read food, jar, sauce, and package labels. What are the additives and flavorings to avoid?
Which difficult names are just synonyms for different kinds of sugar?
As for tea and coffee, drink these as pure as possible without adding sugar! Have a small cookie with it if you must but definitely not half a cake!
Guide with tips on how to cut back on sugar at the dinner table
Sugar is addictive, but fortunately, it could always be worse… The main proof that sugar is not as addictive as hard drugs is that you get off it relatively easily.
Once you start seriously moderating sugar, it will be easier than you think.
That intense craving for sweets, chocolate, candy, cookies, ice cream, cake, doughnuts, etc., disappears when you maintain moderation for a few weeks.
What helps is no longer having a jar of sweets in sight and no more cookies with coffee and tea.
Wrong automatisms related to sugar consumption are persistent. Still, those who pay attention and are determined will be able to recognize and unlearn them.
Here is a handy guide to successfully moderate sugar intake for you and your family:
Discover lesser-known alternatives to sugar
Fresh fruit is a sweet alternative to candy and cookies. It contains fruit sugar (fructose) but in small amounts per serving.
There is no objection to eating unlimited fruit, but the fruit should be whole, and if possible, it should also be eaten with the skin that is rich in fiber. So don’t just drink the squeezed fruit juice!
The sugar from pieces of fruit is contained in fibers that slow digestion. And that favors the rate at which sugar enters the blood.
The fructose from fruits has a regulatory effect on glucose absorption. A nice freshly made fruit salad should be a daily regular.
Tip: Yogurt is also ok. Whole yogurt and cottage cheese are softer in taste than low-fat yogurt. Thus, if you’re in the habit of adding something sweet, you’ll require fewer additional sweeteners, such as a drop of stevia, seeds, nuts, or dried berries.
Avoid fighting with your children over sweets
There are usually very few children who never whine for candy or cookies. It is actually nature calling because they need glucose.
But it is also the insanely large marketing budgets of the candy and junk food manufacturers driving children crazy.
So how should you deal with this as a parent? Give them occasional treats and avoid total abstinence.
Make clear and straightforward agreements about when and how much snacking is allowed.
You can create a clever damage control technique by intelligently rationing candy and replacing sweets and cookies with healthy alternatives.
Such healthy alternatives include a festive plate of fresh fruit, pieces of cucumber, radishes, carrots, cauliflower, nuts, etc.
While sugar is not as addictive as opiates, a strong habit and desire for sweetness can form (many Americans do have a sugar addiction…).
Using candy as a reward is teaching children an undesirable habit.
However, a total ban on sugar is not a good idea. Such a battle for candy between parent and child only leads to even greater eagerness, frustrations, and problems.
Conclusion: Occasional sweets are not a problem for a child who otherwise has healthy eating rules.
Be careful with substitutes for sugar
There is strong evidence that calorie-free sweeteners interfere with satiety and influence cravings. This is because our brains respond to the sweet taste, regardless of calories.
So switching to light soft drinks is not the way to a healthier eating habit! It does not make the cravings go away; it only makes you more hungry. Moreover, habituation to the sweet taste remains.
If you must have soft drinks, opt for those with aspartame or stevia and without sugar.
Aspartame is also approved for children and poses no problems, especially in small amounts.
Tip: Don’t want to ingest unnecessary chemicals? Then squeeze oranges yourself from time to time.
Fresh fruit juice is healthy, especially if it contains as much pulp (fibers) of the original fruit as possible and has not been filtered.
Please don’t throw away the fresh, healthy fiber (pulp); drink it as well. This is good for the functioning of your intestines, digestion, and bowel movements.
Drink less sugar
The easiest way to eliminate a lot of sugar from your daily diet is to stop drinking beverages with sugar.
The primary source of unnecessary sugar is soft drinks.
Beware, lemonade, fruit juices, dairy drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks are also full of sugar.
So always check the label on the bottle before purchasing that attractive drink. It may well be that it contains far too much sugar.
The alternative is simple: Drink water.
Also, avoid alcoholic beverages because they contain, on average, twice as many empty calories as sugar.
As for tea and coffee: try them without sugar. It’s not hard to learn to drink tea and coffee without sugar, though it will take some time to get used to.
There are different types of coffee, so find out which kind you like best when black without sugar.
Some helpful tips to add some flavor to your water:
- Dilute your fruit syrup (grenadine) directly in the water bottle so that you pour less of the pure stuff into your glass per serving.
- Consider diluting your (fresh) fruit juice with carbonated spring water, as this makes for a surprisingly drinkable alternative to soda.
Be careful with milk! Milk is recommended as a healthy substitute for soda, but this is actually not quite true after all…
This is because milk contains lactose, which has as many calories as regular sugar. Add to that the extra calories from the milk fat, and it turns out that it is not wise to drink a lot of milk.
Finally, a tip for parents with school-age children: Do not provide sweet drinks in the school bag but plain water for recess and school lunch.
Cook your own meals
There is often a lot of sugar and salt in convenience foods. But those who cook for themselves will usually use very little sugar.
You can easily verify this by checking the countless recipes and cookbooks. If sugar is used in a recipe at all, it is very little (not including cakes, desserts, and pastries).
Although it is impossible to bake a decent apple pie without sugar, you can easily omit some of the sugar from most recipes.
Wheat flour, all fast carbs, can also be partially replaced with whole wheat flour or flour made from chickpeas or almonds.
Tip: Use dark chocolate, nuts, raisins, and other dried fruits to create a sweet taste.
Other things, such as ground spices like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cumin, and coriander also add a unique flavor that makes you forget about sugar.
Even homemade applesauce can taste just fine without adding a scoop of sugar.
Follow the Glycemic Index
Those serious about eating less sweet not only cut back on sugar but also follow the Glycemic Index.
The Glycemic Index ranks carbohydrate-containing foods according to how quickly they are digested.
At the top of this list are the things that are digested in the blink of an eye.
These are also called fast or bad carbohydrates. Examples include white bread, cookies, regular pasta, cereal, white rice, etc. The body processes these products the same way as sugar, so there is very little difference chemically.
At the bottom of this list are the things that are much slower to digest. These are also referred to as slow or good carbohydrates. Examples include fruits and vegetables, whole-grain bread, beans, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, etc.
Good carbohydrates gradually release their glucose in the intestines, delayed by the fiber contained in these high-fiber foods. As a result, insulin levels do not fly up and down as much.
A consistently low insulin level in the blood contributes significantly to our health and is needed for successful weight loss.
Several popular diets, such as the Paleo diet, use this approach with slow, good carbohydrates.
The Glycemic Index is a helpful tool for picking out the healthiest foods.
By the way: Sugar by itself is not very high on the Glycemic Index. This is due to the presence of fructose, which does not produce an insulin response.
Don’t overdo the portions
Candy and junk food do not satiate, so a whole bag of potato chips or popcorn and a bottle of sugary soda is eaten and drunk in no time.
Therefore, control the portions you eat and do so starting in the kitchen:
- Keep candy and other snacks out of sight.
- Put the bag of potato chips back in the cupboard and the bottle of soda in the refrigerator after taking some.
- Serve no more than 1 or at most 2 cookies with coffee or tea.
- Allow yourself a small bowl of potato chips and a glass of soda no more than once a week during a relaxation moment in front of the television, for example.
- Do you cook desserts? Bake fewer pancakes, a smaller apple pie, fewer cupcakes, smaller cookies, etc.
As such, you can already incorporate portion control when preparing meals.
Tip: Portion control works better using small plates, bowls, and glasses. Both adults and children get used to it.
One more piece of advice for parents with children: Children quickly become sensible negotiators if limits are set on their sweets and cookies and if responsibility is shared.
You can even try outsourcing the management of the candy jar to one of the kids, in turn, based on clear agreements. You’ll need to allow for some candy theft sporadically because that’s part of it.
However, this exercise will undoubtedly benefit from teaching them that consuming less sugar is important.
Recognize sugar in all its forms (and names)
Food manufacturers use sugar under a variety of names. Fructose, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrin, glucose-fructose syrup, invert sugar, candy, lactose, fruit syrup, molasses, sucrose, etc. In the end, it is all sugar.
On the packaging of so-called “light” cookies that are seemingly healthy, there are easily 3 or 4 of them on the label.
So-called healthy alternatives like cane and palm sugar, maple, date, and agave syrup have a good image because of their organic stamp… But that’s clever marketing because they contain mainly glucose and fructose.
Also, don’t be fooled by the statement “no added sugars” because sugar is and always will be sugar. So whether the sugar was already in the raw base ingredient or added later doesn’t matter.
Practical tip: Honey is still the best sugar substitute:
- It is very sweet due to the high amount of fructose,
- it has a lot of flavor, making a small serving already tasty, and
- it also contains natural plant substances.
By the way, it’s not just sugar that behaves like sugar in the body. Rusks, white bread, crackers, rice cakes, and other products made from white flour all produce an insulin response the same way sugar does.