You know that eating a diet high in sugar could lead to weight gain. It could also increase your risk for getting heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Eating lots of sugary foods could also affect your mental health: the spikes and slumps in your blood sugar levels could cause mood swings and may increase your risk of depression. And dermatologists are also warning that a high-sugar diet could cause acne and lead to accelerated skin ageing.
The key, of course, is to eat less sugar. But it also important to first understand the different types of sugar in food. Not all of it is bad.
So what’s not okay for your health: Processed foods – it’s when sugar is added to food that it becomes a problem. Sugar from these empty calories eventually turns into fat, so limit eating them to help your health. Here are six ways to do it.
1. Don’t drink sugar
We don’t just mean soft drinks. Sugar is also found in packaged smoothies, fruit juices, energy drinks, flavoured waters, iced tea and bottled coffee drinks.
Stick to good ol’ water. Want more flavour? Add a squeeze of lemon or lime, or add fruit slices to your jug of water for flavour, or splurge on sparkling water if you fancy something fizzy.
2. Don’t buy low-fat items
When a food item claims to be low-fat or fat-free, chances are there’s a lot of added sugar in it. When fat is removed from a product, sugar is often added in its place, to give it more taste. For example, natural yoghurt is healthy but the fat-free version generally has a lot of high-fructose corn syrup added to it. Steer clear of such “health” options – they’re not as healthy as they sound.
3. Eat more fruits and vegetables
You know these are good for you but did you know that fruits and vegetables could also satisfy your sugar cravings? Just stick to eating them, which also gives you a whole lot of beneficial nutrients. It’s when fruit is juiced that the fibre is removed, leaving you with a lot of sugar and not much else
4. Eat healthy desserts
It’s tempting (and very satisfying) to end a meal on a sweet note. But most desserts like ice-cream, cake or chocolate are loaded with sugar that make you feel tired soon after – and may even worsen your sugar cravings.
You don’t have to deprive yourself totally. Treat yourself to a ‘proper’ dessert for a special occasion. Or save it for a fortnightly treat, perhaps.
5. Read food labels
Reducing your sugar consumption is more than just avoiding sweet foods. Added sugars crop up in various food items so always read the label before you buy.
Look out for this list of words, which are all added sugars: high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, sucrose and molasses.
Ingredients are listed in decreasing order so if sugar in any form is listed at the beginning of the ingredient list, it’s probably not the healthiest choice as it has a high quantity of it.
6. Wean off slowly
There’s no need to completely cut out sugar from your diet from day one. Do it slowly and gradually. If you usually have two teaspoons of sugar in your tea/coffee, reduce this to one teaspoon for a few weeks, then eventually not add any sugar at all. Or, don’t immediately stop visiting that fruit juice stall you love – just cut your thrice-weekly treats to twice a week, then once a week. And then say goodbye to drinking fruit juice and hello to eating fruits.