1. Rethink breakfast and afternoon treats
Many people who decide to eat less sugar face two immediate challenges: what to eat for breakfast and finding a non-sweet afternoon treat, says Amy Chaplin, author of Whole Food Cooking Every Day (2020, Artisan/Workman Publishing Co., Inc.) which includes many sugar-free recipes. For breakfast, Chaplin suggests making your own muesli or granola using yakon syrup, a natural sweetener that is low on the glycemic index (GI) scale (meaning it doesn’t bombard your body with sugar because it is digested slowly). Other options: tofu scrambles and steel-cut oatmeal.
For snacks, go for apple slices with peanut butter, plain yogurt with blueberries or carrots and hummus. Instead of soda or fruit juices, drink chilled sparkling water with a slice of lemon or herbal teas.
2. Know what you are eating
“There are at least 200 other names for sugar on food labels, says Uma Naidoo, MD, director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of This Is Your Brain on Food (2020 Little Brown Spark/Hachette). Fructose, dextrose and maltose are just a few. And look for “added sugars” Dr. Naidoo advises. “Foods like ketchup, pasta sauces and salad dressings often have more added sugars than sweet foods where you expect sugar.”
3. Mind your carbs
Choose to eat complex carbs that are low on the GI scale such as apples, oranges, bran cereals and black beans, which are slowly digested, and skip simple carbs such as potatoes, French fries, white rice, white pasta and refined breakfast cereals which are high on the scale.
4. Try new ingredients
When cooking, use naturally sweet ingredients in place of sugar. “I like using freshly squeezed orange juice, berries and berry powders, beet juice powder, vanilla, coconut butter or dried coconut flakes,” says Chaplin. Medjool dates are another good choice, and spices such as cinnamon add extra flavor.
5. Be fruit-wise
Because fruit contains fiber and nutrients, it is digested slowly and its sugar is absorbed slowly too. Still, it’s wise to limit fruit. “I prefer lower glycemic fruit such as blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and Bing cherries. These options contain less fructose, the natural sugar in fruit,” says Dr. Naidoo. Two to three servings of fruit eaten throughout the day should be OK for most people, she adds, unless you are diabetic or have fructose intolerance in which case you should consult with your doctor.
6. Remember why it’s important
Sweet cravings are hard to resist. “Sugar-laden foods increase serotonin in the brain and make you feel good,” explains Dr. Naidoo. “The calming effect of serotonin may often be felt shortly after eating a candy bar, cake, or other foods high in simple carbs—this is a reason why these foods can be so addictive.”
Remind yourself that consuming too much sugar can raise the risk of life-threatening illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease when overwhelmed with a craving for a sugary sweet,
7. Enjoy dessert!
Don’t deprive yourself of luscious desserts. “Start to replace those sugary treats with healthier options that still taste good,” says Dr. Naidoo. “Another option is to switch to baking with erythritol—sold as Swerve—in recipes,” says Dr. Naidoo. Even when using artificial sweeteners, however, moderation is key. She also suggests making your own fruit-based ice cream. Amy Chaplin’s new cookbook features fruit-based desserts such as Berry Chia Pudding—“A crowd pleaser for sure!” Chaplin says. Click here for the recipe.