It's January so most of us are dusting off those New Year’s resolutions and recommitting to our (somewhat foggy) health goals. Right up there with actually using our gym membership and becoming a morning person? Quit sugar.
But as the BETTER team found out, the goal is a lofty one. Even those who thought it would be a piece of (sugar-free) cake found it easier said than done to make it 10 days sans sweetness.
One of the reasons the experiment proved challenging was because of the common misconceptions we all have about sugar — from our denial about having a problem to knowing where it lurks.
If you’re embarking on your own no-sugar challenge this month, here are five myths about quitting sugar to school yourself on first.
Myth: You Don’t Have a Sugar Problem
Fact: Sure, you enjoy a piece of candy every now and then, but you don’t battle a crazy sweet tooth. So you assume that your sugar intake is completely acceptable. But you’re probably wrong.
“According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, less than 10 percent of our total daily calories should come from added sugars. That equates to about 50 grams (or 12 teaspoons) of added sugars a day for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet,” says Rima Kleiner, MS, RD, and blogger at Dish on Fish. “While 12 teaspoons may seem like a generous amount, most Americans consume nearly twice that much every day.”
In fact, 75 percent of us are eating too much sugar. Think you fall in the other 25 percent? If you had a blueberry yogurt for breakfast, you’re already half way to maxing out your daily allotment — before you even left the house.
Myth: Sugar Is Easy to Spot
Fact: We are conditioned to think of desserts and soft drinks as the major sources of sugar in our diet. But as our staffers quickly realized, it’s not simply the vending machine at the office that is to blame for racking up our daily tally. The sugar is hiding in some pretty surprising places.
“There are so many products where added sugars lurk! When people decide to limit added sugars, they know to avoid the obvious offenders, like candy, cookies and baked goods. But, being a sugar sleuth gets really tricky when you buy packaged foods that are marketed as ‘healthy,’ says Kleiner. “Some of the biggest offenders are those that have been given a ‘healthy halo,’ like flavored yogurts, granola, energy bars, cereals, flavored applesauce, bread and spreads (like BBQ sauce or some nut butters). In order to determine how many added sugars a products contains, you’ll need to read the ingredients label. In addition to looking for the word ‘sugar,’ you also need to be on the lookout for sugar aliases, such as high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, corn sweetener, molasses, syrup, fruit juice concentrates and honey.”
If sugar appears within the first few ingredients, put it back on the shelf. “The higher up these sugars are, the more sugar the product contains," says Keliner. "However, by 2018, added sugars will appear on the food label as ‘Includes [x] g Added Sugars,’ which will ideally make it easier for consumers to calculate their daily added sugar intake.”
Myth: You Should Focus On Avoiding Certain Foods
Fact: Instead of focusing on the things you need to remove from your diet, you'll be much more successful in cutting back on sugar if you focus on adding to your current diet. “The easiest way to keep added sugar intake low is to choose minimally processed whole foods, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, beans, nuts and seeds,” says Kleiner. “If a client wants to go ‘no-sugar,’ I typically recommend that they focus on eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods and low in packaged or convenience foods. It may sound cliché, but think about it: A diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods is inherently going to be full of nutrient-dense foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole and ancient grains, seafood, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds. Simply put, I recommend following a Mediterranean-style diet if you want to avoid foods with added sugars.”
Myth: You Need to Cut Back On Fruit
Fact: The fruit bowl is safe. “Yes, it’s true that fruit contains sugar, but that sugar is naturally-occurring fructose,” Kleiner says. “Fruit also contains a boatload of important nutrients, like dietary fiber, vitamins (like vitamin C), minerals (like potassium) and antioxidants. These nutrients confer health benefits, like reducing inflammation, boosting heart health and reducing the risk of chronic disease. I advise my clients to think beyond single food components (like sugar) and consider the whole package of nutrients that work synergistically to help promote good health.”
Myth: You Have to Say Goodbye to Desserts
Fact: Cutting back on added sugar doesn’t mean you have to ignore your sweet tooth altogether. But when it comes calling, it’s best to have smarter recipes in your arsenal. Kleiner provides a few that will satisfy your sweet tooth, without a boatload of added sugar, including Choco-Oat Cookie Dough Energy Balls, EZ Freeze Chocolate-Zucchini Muffins, and Southern Spring Strawberry Jam.
And going homemade applies to other foods that tend to harbor sneaky grams of sugar as well. “Whether you’re looking for bread, canned soup, or yogurt, the best option is to make your own,” says Kleiner. “Make your own bread to control how much sugar is added, or flavor your own yogurt by adding homemade jam or fruit to plain yogurt.”