- Decrease your sugar: With more refined and processed foods, many of us are overconsuming sugar with little awareness. The American Heart Association now recommends no more than 25 grams (6 tsp) of sugar per day for women and 36 grams (9 tsp) for men. A 12 oz glass of regular soda is about 36 grams of sugar. So in one drink, you’ve met your daily intake of allowed sugar with zero nutritional value. It would be much better to have a few strawberries which has protein and fiber in it to get your sugary fix in.
You do need some sugar (and salt) in your system to stay hydrated, but too much sugar (or salt) can actually dehydrate. Excess sugar is being shown to contribute to inflammation, Dementia, Cancer, Diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, acne, depression and cognitive decline just to name a few. With increasing awareness of these problems, more people are switching to sugary alternatives such as monk fruit or stevia; however, these alternatives still undergo a process to refine them (much like sugar does) and still lead to weight gain when taken in excess. Your best bet is to keep any kind of sugar or sugar substitute low. Over time you’ll find your taste buds adapt and may even reject a sugary treat that was once your all time favorite.
- Drinks and sauces: This is where a lot of our daily intake of sugar can sneak in, even when we think we finally mastered a healthy diet. Most people are over consuming on sugary beverages and or sauces. One 12 oz soda and you’ve already met or gone past the daily recommended sugar intake. One of the best ways to decrease sugar and other unhealthy options is to watch what you drink. Make sure you get enough filtered water (typically 64 oz or more a day). This can vary from day to day depending on things such as how hot it is, how much you’ve exercised, etc.
While getting enough water is important, it is also important not to drink too much of other things. This includes artificial choices such as those sodas, fruit and sport drinks. Sugar, natural flavors, color dyes, and too much caffeine are just a few of the things these drinks contain, not to mention a lot of empty calories. If you need caffeine, a well sourced coffee or tea is more beneficial in moderation.
Another thing to be mindful of is alcohol. Sugars mostly make up carbohydrates, so if you are drinking a bottle of beer, you might as well have just had a bottle of sugar water. If there are carbohydrates with no protein or fiber in the nutritional value, your blood sugar level is going to rise much quicker. Switching to low carb options such as vodka or whiskey can be better if you don’t mix it with a fruit juice or sweet mixer, however all alcohol interferes with the fat burning process and still contain empty calories. Since your liver is busy burning the alcohol off instead of fat, your fat is not getting burned. They also have a negative effect on our hormones which can lead to high carb snacking.
If you just want to make one healthy change, replacing all of your drinks with water (with the exception of your daily tea or coffee) could quite possibly offer the most benefits. Just don’t load up your coffee with sugary creamers or your tea with lots of honey. Finally, remember most sauces contain high amounts of sugar and or sodium. Just one tablespoon of Heinz Ketchup contains 4 grams of sugar. That may not seem like a big deal, but you add that with your salad dressing (ranch is about 1 gram), coffee creamer (around 5 grams) and other choices of the day and we are once again hitting the sugar limit quickly.
- Consider a food sensitivity test: Food sensitivity tests can be a great tool in your toolbox for understanding your body. A food sensitivity (not to be confused with allergy) can go unnoticed and over a long period of time and be a source of current ailments such as headaches, gas, bloating, acid reflux to name a few. Just be aware not all tests are accurate and some food sensitivities can come and go as often as every 6 months. These tests should be used as a tool and not a tombstone. If dairy is coming up on the high end of your food sensitivity test, then try eliminating dairy for a month and see how your body feels. Then you can slowly reintroduce it and check for any discomfort.
Remember, most testing is just a snapshot in time. You don’t have to label yourself as having a dairy sensitivity for the rest of your life. However, being aware of any current problem foods may offer much relief when you understand how it is affecting you. If you find yourself consistently coming up positive for a particular food sensitivity over a period of time, it might be worth either eliminating or at least greatly reducing that item.
If you really want to understand your diet better, there is a great free app called My Fitness Pal that will track all the nutritional values of the food, drinks and sauces you consume. There is even an area to keep track of your daily water intake. It can be time consuming as you get to understand how the app works, but if you do it for a month you can get a great idea of where you are over (or under) consuming. You should get your nutritional recommendations from your doctor or a nutritionist to better monitor your own personalized needs. We are all unique in how our bodies process food and drinks.
To help keep all those bad food and drinks at bay (processed, refined, trans fats, high in sugar), try restricting them to once a day. Then see if you can stretch it further and go one day without any of them. Get yourself to a place where those bad items are genuinely just an occasional treat. This may mean once a week, once a month or only on special occasions like holiday parties. You’ll learn to truly savor them when you do have them and even consume smaller portions!