Do you have a sweet tooth? Many people have serious sugar cravings and know all too well how enjoyable the sweet stuff can be, but fear not! While we can agree that sugar alone isn’t a healthy food, a lot of information is floating around. In this article, you’ll better understand sugar and suggested guidelines, how to be mindful of your sugar intake, and learn strategies that may help reduce cravings.
All sugar isn’t bad sugar.
Sugar is found in a variety of foods, even “healthy” foods. Most of the chatter around sugar refers to limiting added sugar, which is added to make things taste sweeter. Added sugar is most commonly found in higher amounts in some beverages, baked goods, candy, and other sweets. It can also be in other processed food and beverage items in varying quantities. Added sugar is different from the naturally occurring sugar found in fruit, dairy (plain, unsweetened dairy products like milk or yogurt), and vegetables. Natural sugar sources differ from added sugar in containing vitamins, minerals, fiber, or other nutrients. This subtle difference can help you feel fuller longer and give your body essential nutrients.
Limit added sugar to support health.
USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, suggests limiting added sugar to less than ten percent of total daily calories. For a 2000-calorie diet, that would be less than 50 grams of added sugar per day. The limit appropriate for you will be different based on your own daily calorie needs and goals (less for a lower-calorie diet and more for a higher-calorie diet).
The American Heart Association suggests limiting added sugar more strictly. They recommend no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day for men and no more than 24 grams per day for women.
These general recommendations pertain to most adults. Although the suggested limits from these two health organizations are different, both agree that sugar can fit into a healthy lifestyle in limited amounts. Alternatively, when these limits are regularly exceeded, it makes it challenging to maintain eating habits that promote health.
Be mindful of how much added sugar you consume daily.
Instead of completely excluding added sugar, aim to be more mindful. Check the Nutrition Facts label to see if a food or beverage item includes any added sugars. Keep in mind the Total Sugars listed takes into consideration both added sugar and naturally occurring sugars. You want to pay closer attention to the Added Sugars listed. If you are a visual person, every 4 grams equals about 1 teaspoon of sugar. If you need to reduce your added sugar intake, consider smaller portions, consuming certain items less often, or choosing options with less added sugar.
Strategies to reduce cravings and stay within your added sugar quota.
Maintain a well-balanced diet that includes enough lean protein, fiber from fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and complex carbs. Diets that lack these nutrients can cause instability in our blood sugar, crashing energy levels, and fullness that doesn’t last. This may have you inadvertently reaching for a sweet treat to stabilize blood sugar, improve energy levels, or to feel full. Avoid meals or snacks that contain solely carbs. Consider nuts or seeds for an easy source of healthy fats and protein on the go. A small handful of almonds, walnuts, or cashews can go a long way. Greek yogurt is a fantastic source of protein, and when topped with granola or fresh fruit, it can satisfy your sweet tooth. Salads with colorful veggies and complex carbs, like farro, can be surprisingly satisfying, mainly when you include a variety of textures and flavors.
Maintain healthy lifestyle habits. Lack of sleep can cause an imbalance in hormones that affect hunger and fullness and increase the likelihood of you reaching for the quick energy a sweet treat provides. Aim to sleep at least 8 hours per night. Next, use water to stay hydrated! Sometimes, our bodies confuse thirst with sugar cravings.
Have fresh fruit available. Instead of reaching for candy or soda, grab a piece of fruit. Nature’s candy, as some like to call it! Eat any fresh or frozen fruit you prefer. Try adding berries to oatmeal for a tasty, antioxidant-packed snack. Using water or milk as the base, add in a convenient frozen fruit blend to make a smoothie.
Undereating can lead to overeating. Calories give your body and brain the energy needed to perform optimally daily. Be sure you are optimally fueling with calories each day. Depriving yourself in this area may cause your body to compensate for the needed fuel, which can result in increased cravings.
Completely depriving yourself of sweet treats may cause you to overeat them later. A little bit each day can help you learn to enjoy fun foods in moderation and stay ahead of cravings while still honoring your health.
It’s all about making small, sustainable changes to your diet.
If you are currently overdoing it with sugar, cutting back doesn’t have to be painful. Maintain a healthy, balanced diet and include items higher in added sugar, like sweets, in moderation within daily suggested limits using mindful portions. If you don’t know where you stand, pay attention to the added sugar listed on food labels.
People in different age ranges or with certain health conditions may have different needs regarding added sugar. Consider consulting with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalized guidance on added sugar that considers individual health goals.