In my last blog post, I wrote that certain sweeteners can be part of a healthy diet in moderation. So you might be asking yourself, what exactly does “moderation” mean when it comes to sweeteners? How do I satisfy my seemingly endless sweet tooth in a way that’s healthy? Here are some tips for cutting back on sweeteners if you think you’re getting too much in your diet.
Take stock. The first step, as in most paths to self-discovery, is to figure out where you’re starting from.What sources of added sweeteners are already in your diet? Some common sources are fruit juices, sports or vitamin drinks, bread and baked goods, pasta sauces, condiments, dairy products, breakfast cereals and salad dressings. Start reading the labels of these and other packaged foods, focusing on the ingredients list rather than the nutrition facts label. You will probably find sugar where you least expect it.
To find all the sources of sugar, you’ll have to learn some new vocabulary since manufacturers use many different forms of sugar in their products. Some other names for sugar are: cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn sugar, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, isoglucose, lactose, levulose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, and syrup. When you see one or more of these words on the label, consider buying another brand that doesn’t have added sweeteners, or make it from scratch.
Revamp your pantry. Once you’ve identified where the sugar is coming from, you can change your buying habits. The easiest way to cut back on sugar is to eliminate fruit juice and soda. And since added sweeteners often come from snack foods, stock up on some alternatives like fresh fruit, nuts, cheese, or hummus with whole grain crackers or chips. Try making salad dressing from scratch (here’s a recipe). Buy unsweetened dairy products and add fresh fruit for natural sweetness.
Examine cravings. Next time you have a craving for something sweet, take a moment to assess before you answer that craving with a treat. The first thing to determine is whether you are truly hungry. A good question to ask yourself is, Am I hungry enough to eat an apple? If you don’t like apples, substitute another healthy but pleasurable food in this question. If the answer is yes, then why not just eat the apple?
If you’re not hungry, then what triggered the craving? Are you stressed? Bored? For me, cravings often arise when I’ve hit a roadblock in my work and am having trouble finding a way forward. Many of us are programmed to try to quash uncomfortable feelings with something sweet. If this is true for you, keep reading for some strategies for responding to cravings.
Find pleasurable substitutes. As I said earlier, if you’re hungry enough to eat an apple, go ahead and eat an apple! Fruit is naturally sweet and can satisfy both your craving and your true hunger. Better yet, snack on something with protein. Nut butter or nuts, beef or salmon jerky, hard-boiled eggs, string cheese… these are filling and satisfying options. On the other hand, if you’re not hungry, the substitute doesn’t even have to be food. Find something to do that will distract you from the craving. Get up and take a quick walk around your office or home. Call a friend, watch a funny video online, take several deep breaths, take a nap, sing a song, do a little dance. Many people find their cravings disappear if they just wait them out.
Mindful eating. Another way to approach sweets is to eat less of them but enjoy them more fully. Many of us eat without truly enjoying what we’re eating, paying more attention to the TV show we’re watching, for instance. Mindful eating is the practice of paying closer attention as you eat. Try enjoying your next piece of chocolate with your eyes closed in a quiet room without other distractions. As the chocolate melts on your tongue you’ll find yourself noticing nuances of texture, aroma and flavor, and therefore feeling more richly satisfied with that small bite.
After all this self-examination, you may discover that you’re already doing a good job of moderating your intake of sweeteners. If so, congratulations! It’s not easy to resist the temptations of sweet treats. Going into the holiday season, it gets even harder. What works for you in terms of moderating sweets? We’d love to hear from you!
Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.