I could almost hear the collective deflation of enthusiasm this morning as the news about the American Heart Association’s (AHA) new guidelines limiting added sugar saturated the Internet.
The recommendations differ from age group to age group (see specifics here), but for the most part, the AHA suggests women eat or drink no more than the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar (100 calories) a day; men are limited to a little more than 9 teaspoons (150 calories) a day.
And it’s not just the stuff in the bowl that matters—it’s anything with sugar in it: sodas, fruit juice, Skittles, the pancakes studded with M&Ms and bathing in syrup that my son had for “breakfast” on Sunday (on a special-occasion visit to a make-your-own pancake place we don’t plan to frequent!). Even that yummy whole wheat bread spiked with high fructose corn syrup counts toward your daily quota.
The AHA’s stance is based on the fact that sugar = calories = extra pounds—not to mention that as we fill up on sugary treats, we’re missing out on foods that could do more for us than just expand our waistlines. Veggies, for instance, or lean proteins.
As a long-time waist-watcher, I’ve been painfully aware of my intense love/hate relationship with sugar. Love to eat it, hate the fallout. So I’ve put a lot of thought into how to curb my craving for the white stuff (and its syrupy relatives). Here are a few of my favorite strategies:
1. Chew your calories. I learned early on—maybe back in my Slim-Fast shake period—that liquid calories simply don’t satisfy. Some time after that, researchers confirmed that calories consumed in liquids don’t affect hunger like calories from solid foods. The upshot? Don’t waste your precious calories on sodas (the number one source of added sugar in the diet, by the way) or other drinks.
2. Discover seltzer. I’m not saying you always have to opt for plain old water—that’s just plain old boring! When I want a bit of flavor, I cut cranberry juice (100% juice, please) with fizzy, zero-calorie seltzer water, and add a bit of fresh lime. You can spike just about any drink—even white wine—with seltzer. Some stores carry seltzer infused with flavors like lime or raspberry, so you get a hint of fruit, sans calories or sugar substitutes.
3. Try natural sugar substitutes. People who shun the blue, yellow and pink packets because of their artificial origins may want to experiment with stevia, a natural, zero-calorie sweetener. Stevia’s the stuff in Truvia, on grocery store shelves now.
4. Go low-sugar across the board. One of the positive results of the Adkin’s anti-carb craze (yes, there were a few!) was the introduction of lower-sugar versions of various products, such as jams, juices, kids’ cereals and such. Many of these formulas cut sugar without the use of artificial sugar substitutes—but read labels carefully to make sure you know what you’re getting.
5. Bake from scratch. Try making your own muffins, cookies, brownies, etc—and I don’t mean from a boxed mix. It may take a bit more measuring, but following a real recipe for a quick bread or muffin will allow you to control the amount of sugar in the final product. In my experience, you can usually cut about 1/4 of the sugar in a traditional recipe without affecting the flavor. But even if you stick to the amount called for in most recipes, chances are you’ll end up taking in less sugar than you would if you used a mix or bought ready-made baked goods.
6. Exercise your INO. As in “It’s Not an Option.” INO is the mantra I use to help me put the brakes on when faced with temptation. Here’s the simple explanation: We all live by a set of rules, a code we subscribe to. For instance, “I never ride my bike without my helmet.” Or, “I refuse to watch anything on the Syfy Channel.” And, “I don’t text when I drive (only at stoplights).” These are boundaries we create for ourselves, our own personal rule of law. Part of losing weight for good is finding a way to create new rules when it comes to food and exercise. INO is my way of reigning in my appetite and keeping myself on track (for instance, “It’s Not an Option to polish off an entire sleeve of Girl Scouts Thin Mints” or “INO to take the elevator instead of the stairs”). Try it for yourself—or feel free to come up with another mantra (because mantras can be a very personal thing).
And don’t despair! Living the “sweet life” doesn’t require a ton of sugar. I promise!