Sugar. We all know it's bad for us, but most of us can't get enough of it. Luckily, you won't need to quit processed sugar cold-turkey to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Julie Simpson, a Banner Health registered dietitian at Banner Children's Desert, sat down with us to discuss how we can decrease processed sugar intake.
What is processed sugar?
Also known as refined sugar, processed sugar has been extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets. This chemically produced sugar is typically added to premade foods like crackers, soda and even salad dressing to add flavor. However, processed sugar has little nutritional value and is high in calories.
“Per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is recommended that no more than 10% of calories should come from added sugars.” Simpson said.
However, not all sugar is bad. Natural sugars, like those found in fruit, have an important role in our diet. Furthermore, fruits provide essential nutrients that can prevent disease. You can use the next 6 swaps to reduce your processed sugar intake.
1. Add in flavor
For many, beverages can be one of the biggest sources of processed sugar intake. Whether you’re slurping down a slushy or sipping on an iced coffee, if it’s not water there’s a large possibility you’re taking in a whole lot of processed sugar.
When asked about decreasing processed sugar intake in beverages, Simpson recommended to “Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. You can always add fruit to your water to add some flavor like lemons, cucumbers and strawberries. Try unsweetened tea as well as black coffee.”
2. Eat fresh
While frozen meals are great timesavers, not all are easy on our bodies. Many frozen meals are packed full of salt, preservatives and—yes, you guessed it—processed sugars. Instead of opting in for a frozen pasta meal for dinner, try boiling premade pasta fresh and then making your own sauce with fresh tomatoes, spices and flavors. You’ll be surprised by how many calories you’ll save by adding only a few minutes onto your nightly routine!
3. Read the labels
It’s always a good idea to be mindful when eating, especially when decreasing processed sugar intake. Before checking out at the market or grocery store, always try to read the labels. Some food labels break down sugar into two categories: “total sugars” and “added sugars.” It’s best to try to find products with little or no added sugars. When in doubt, always try to eat fresh!
4. Add fruit
Do you often add syrup, brown sugar or even chocolate chips into oatmeal or cereal as a sweetener? Make the switch to using fruit like strawberries, blueberries and bananas to sweeten your morning meal without adding processed sugar.
5. Cut back
Many of us have a sweet tooth, and that’s totally normal! While maintaining a low-processed-sugar diet, you can still indulge yourself with baked goods and treats. When baking your treats like cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar called in your recipe by one-third or even one-half. Often, you won’t be able to notice the difference. Don’t forget, fruits can make delicious desserts, too!
If you’re still looking for a little more sweetness after trying to cut back the sugar in recipes, substitute sugar with processed sugar-free extras like vanilla extract, ginger, allspice, cinnamon or nutmeg.
By using these six steps, you’re making great strides towards your health. Speak to a Banner Health nutritionist or dietitian near you to discuss additional steps you can take to reduced your processed sugar intake.