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Sugar is everywhere. So often it feels like it is being added to just about everything we consume, which is frustrating because it’s no secret that a diet high in added sugars is linked to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association the amount of added sugars consumed per day should not exceed 36 grams for men (150 calories or 9 teaspoons) and 25 grams for women (100 calories or 6 teaspoons).  It doesn’t take much to meet that limit.

Sadly, sugar is incredibly addictive (hence the cravings). So how can we rid it from our diet for good? To successfully minimize/eliminate it from our diet, we have to wean ourselves off. For example, if you usually add 2 teaspoons of sugar to your coffee or tea, try cutting back by 50% (1 teaspoon) for 1-2 weeks, then reduce further. Overall, this should be a slow and steady process as both your palate and body adjusts.

Reducing our intake of processed foods is yet another way to decrease our added sugar intake. To give consumers a clear view of just how much added sugar is in their food, the Food and Drug Administration is requiring a new Nutrition Facts label. Manufacturers are required to list the grams of added sugars (you may have already noticed this on some of your packaged goods), among other changes.

So now you may be wondering if there are any “good” ways to add a little sweet to your foods? YES! Let’s explain…

Sweeteners to ditch:

By now most of us know that high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, cane sugar and the like are on the “avoid list” as they are highly refined and offer no redeemable health characteristics. Here are a couple more to add to the list:

  1. Artificial Sweeteners: In the spirit of eating real foods, we think it’s best to avoid anything that includes the word “artificial” in the title. Furthermore, artificial sweeteners can affect the body’s ability to estimate how many calories are being consumed. According to Harvard Health, the brain responds to sweetness with signals to eat more. By providing a sweet taste without any calories, artificial sweeteners cause us to crave more sweet foods and drinks. And no wonder – both artificial and no/low-calorie sweeteners (see below) are several hundred times sweeter than table sugar (the yellow packet is 300 times sweeter!).
  2. No-Calorie and Low-Calorie Sweeteners: Don’t be fooled by the marketing calling these products “natural.” Yes, sweeteners like stevia and agave nectar are derived from plants, but they’re still a processed product. Plus, because they’re so much sweeter than table sugar, they too don’t help the weaning process!

When you want a little sweet:

  1. Raw Honey: A natural sweetener, honey contains an abundance of cancer-fighting antioxidants. It also boasts antimicrobial, antiviral and immune boosting properties. All this gives it a “thumbs up” in our book. Limit yourself to a teaspoon if you use honey as a sweetener for tea, yogurt, etc. Less is always more!
  2. Pure Maple Syrup: This syrup comes from the boiled down sap of maple trees and is lower in calories and contains more trace minerals, including zinc and manganese, compared to honey. However, don’t be tricked with standard grocery store syrup, which is a flavored high fructose corn syrup. Instead look for a product that reads “100% maple syrup.”*

*UPDATE: Previously, we recommended Grade B maple syrup, but with a new grading system, this no longer exists. Instead, you will find only Grade A maple syrup with 4 classifications. To choose what was formerly Grade B, look for Grade A: Dark Color and Robust Flavor.

Overall, instead of searching out ways to feed your sweet cravings without additional calories, try setting the goal to wean yourself off the need for sweets all together.

Erin Pellegrin RD, LDN

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