By Marty Munson
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When it comes to cutting back on sugar, there are people and experts who swear by going cold turkey, and others who are sure the only way to make it happen is to cut back a little at a time. Which is better? It depends on your natural style. You generally know if you’re a person who can handle small steps or prefers to just go jump into a different way of eating, and each approach can work to get the extra sugar out, says Karen Ansel, R.D.N., author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging.
We say “extra sugar,” because while sugar is the villain du jour, experts aren’t saying you have to cut out sugar entirely. They’re just recommending that men limit added sugars to about 9 teaspoons (or 150 calories, or 36 grams) a day. (The sugar in fruit doesn’t count as “added sugar.”) Most people eat more than that, which invites a host of health and wellness issues. So it’s smart to cut back. Here’s how to make it happen, according to your style.
If You Want to Cut Out Sugar Cold Turkey
Get sugary foods out of your cabinets.
To oust those foods from your diet, get them out of your home and give them away. “If they’re not there, it’s going to be a lot easier for you,” Ansel says.
Plan to “cheat.”
If you’re an all or nothing person, then while you’re doing very little sugar, go ahead and plan an “all” moment. Knowing you’ll have sugar at some point can help you get through not having it most of the time. If you do decide to have a few sweets a week, Ansel says, “there are a few things you’ve got to do. First of all, plan in advance when you’ll have it. And plan exactly what you’re going to have,” she says. Then—and this is critical—“you have to eat it out of the house someplace. Go where you have to order it so you can’t go back for seconds,” Ansel says.
Plan your non-sugar “sugar rush.”
What are you going to do to give yourself the things that sugar has been doing for you? If sugar gives you an afternoon rush, then you might get a similar rush with tea or coffee. If you eat a pint of ice cream right after work as a habitual way to unwind, then think of what else you can do—and where else you can be—during that time. “Most of us can pinpoint when we’re eating the foods that we wish we weren’t eating,” says Ansel. So think through your day to the places where you reach for sugar the most, and set up some strategies for what else you could be doing instead.
If You Want to Cut Out Sugar Gradually
Look for the low-hanging sugars.
“Take a look at where the sugar in your diet is coming from and see if there are places you can easily cut back on it,” Ansel says. If you’re eating a lot of sweetened yogurt, you could get a minimally sweetened one and add some toppings, like real fruit. “You can still have things that taste sweet but aren’t drowning in sugar,” she says. There may be more opportunities than you think to trim a little. “We’re not just getting sugar from one source, so those little things can add up to a lot.”
Ask yourself, “what’s the very least I can get away with?”
For instance, if you pour syrup on your pancakes, start by measuring how much you usually pour. “Most people are surprised to find out that they’re pouring something like a quarter of a cup of syrup onto their pancakes,” she says. It doesn’t seem like that much when you’re pouring it. Instead of using that much, try spooning a tablespoon over them. If that looks skimpy, then use two tablespoons—“that’s still half as much as you were having before,” Ansel points out.
Don’t just cut out sugar. Add something else good where sugar used to be. So when you’re pouring that syrup, you could try having a tablespoon of it and adding a half of a banana on top. You’re still getting sweetness without that sugar dump. Even better, you’re not just cutting syrup; you’re adding flavor. It works the same with other foods, even dessert. Instead of just cutting back how much you eat, pair it with something else. You might have a few squares of dark chocolate with a plate of pineapple or some nuts, Ansel says. Or if your habit was to eat four or five cookies, then try having two with a glass of milk. Don’t just subtract. Substitute.
No Matter How You Tackle It
Everyone needs to do this:
Be aware of what you’re drinking.
“We walk around with something to drink all the time” Ansel says. “And more often than not, those drinks have tremendous amounts of sugar.” Even if you don’t drink soda or juice. Iced teas, sweet coffee drinks—they can have more sugar than a soda. If you have to have your tea sweetened, buy the unsweetened stuff and add your own, smaller serving of sugar to it. Or sprinkle cinnamon over your coffee in place of some of the sweet stuff. Or add a ton of ice to whatever you’re about to drink. “That will slow you down, it dilutes the drink, and you won’t feel deprived” Ansel says.
Do aim to get the sugar out, but don’t stress about it so much along the way (Ansel isn’t the only nutritionist who thinks this). “If there’s a spectrum of healthy eating, most of us are at one end and healthy is at another. Just to get to the middle would be amazing.”