The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, according to the Cleveland Clinic -- significantly more than the recommended 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men. Most of that sugar comes from sugary drinks, snack foods, baked goods, cereals and other processed foods. If you’re concerned about your sugar intake, Dr. Mark Hyman suggests going cold turkey. But according to Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, you can also wean yourself off the sweet stuff by gradually retraining your taste buds.
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Watch Your Beverages
Swapping out soda, iced tea, fruit juice or sports drinks for healthier drinks will pare down your sugar intake considerably. The Harvard School of Public Health reports that 12 ounces of cola or orange juice contain 10 teaspoons of sugar. The same serving of a sports drink yields 5 teaspoons of sugar, and of cranberry juice, a whopping 12 teaspoons. If you currently drink two or more servings of sugary beverages a day, begin the weaning process by replacing one serving daily with plain water or seltzer with a splash of lemon or lime or with fresh-brewed herbal tea. Every two weeks, reduce your number of servings again until the healthier options have completely replaced the sweetened drinks.
Balance Your Blood Sugar
Hyman recommends keeping your blood sugar steady throughout the day to reduce intense cravings for sweets that may occur when your levels plummet. Eat regular meals and snacks to supply your body with a steady stream of glucose, the fuel for your cells. All your meals and snacks should contain some healthy protein, such as lean chicken or fish, eggs, beans, nuts or dairy. For example, have eggs for breakfast, a salad with baked chicken or tofu for lunch and broiled salmon with steamed veggies for dinner. Snacks could be a handful of nuts or a serving of plain yogurt with fruit.
Eat More Whole Foods
If most of your food comes from a box or carton, rethink your choices. Even seemingly “healthy” processed foods are often loaded with sugar to enhance their taste. Ready-to-eat cereals, baked goods, granola and protein bars, fruit yogurt and even frozen foods may come with significant amounts of added sugar. In fact, in 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed changing the nutrition labels on processed foods to distinguish added sugars from naturally occurring sugars like those in fruit or dairy. Steer your shopping cart away from the center aisles of the store, where the processed foods are shelved, and load up on healthier whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, nuts, beans and seeds. Challenge yourself to reduce your processed food consumption a little more each week.
If an evening meal feels incomplete without a sweet finish, start by cutting back on the number of times you indulge in a week. Substitute some dried fruit or fresh-fruit sorbet for cookies or ice cream. Instead of a chocolate bar or slice of chocolate cake, try a serving of 70 percent dark chocolate or a “pudding” made with raw cacao and avocado. Continue weaning until dessert is the exception rather than the rule. As you reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, you will reset your taste buds so you lose your cravings for sweets.