The average person in the U.S. consumes about 31.5 teaspoons (or 126 grams) of sugar per day, which is more than twice the upper limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). All that sugar doesn’t just come from obvious sources like soda, cake and candy; it’s hidden in plenty of other products, including condiments such as ketchup and barbecue sauce, salad dressing, breads and rolls, and many processed, prepackaged foods. In fact, about three-quarters of the packaged foods sold in supermarkets contain significant amounts of sugar.
It is well known that sugar consumption is related to serious health complications such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, but did you know that sugar can act as a food source for bacteria in the mouth, leading to tooth decay? In turn, tooth decay is detrimental for your oral health, potentially leading to negative effects such as increased tooth mobility, tooth loss, or the need to undergo extensive restorative or endodontic procedures to correct damage.
Of course, all those issues could be avoided by simply lowering your sugar intake. However, sugar is extremely addictive, stimulating the same type of reward pathways as nicotine and cocaine. Additionally, because added sugars are found in so many foods, finding convenient ways to curb your sugar intake can be challenging. If you’d like to reduce your sugar consumption —and save your body and teeth from serious damage— here are seven steps to get you started.
Be aware of what you’re putting in your body
One way to actively follow this step is to keep a food journal. Writing down what you eat and drink can make you more aware of damaging, high-sugar snacking habits that may have become a part of your daily routine. In addition to obvious culprits such as regular sodas, candy, and desserts, natural sources of sugar like dried or fresh fruit are also included, which, while healthy, still contribute to your overall daily sugar intake. Awareness is a major component in visualizing and changing your sugar consumption habits.
Read food labels when you go grocery shopping.
Most people are surprised— shocked, even— when they begin to read food labels and learn just how many foods contain added sugars. Even pantry staples like spaghetti sauce, gravy, soup, and crackers can be packed with artificial sugars. Bottled flavored waters, iced teas, energy drinks, and coffee beverages can all contain alarming amounts of added sugar. When reading labels, remember that the ingredients are ordered by amount, so if sugar appears near the top of the ingredients list, it’s a sign that the product contains a lot of added sweeteners.
Know that sugar isn’t always listed as “sugar” on food labels
There are plenty of other ingredients that indicate high sugar content. Corn syrup and cane syrup are common examples, as are ingredients ending in the suffix “-ose,” like sucrose, fructose, and lactose. Many foods— cereals, for instance— contain more than one type of sugar, including sweeteners like honey or maple syrup which, while they sound healthy, contribute to the food’s overall sugar content.
Choose “unsweeted” instead of “sugar-free” products
One of the most common traps that people fall into when cutting back on sugar is substituting sugar-laden foods with foods and drinks labeled “sugar-free.” Choosing a sugar-free product may seem like a good way to reduce your intake of sugar, but most of these products contain plenty of artificial sweeteners that can cause their own sets of problems. Plus, although it may seem counterintuitive, a study conducted by Yale University researchers found eating artificially-sweetened foods can also make you gain weight. Foods and beverages labeled “unsweetened” are generally better choices.
Curb your cravings by indulging in healthier food groups
There’s no doubt that cutting back on sugar can cause cravings, and one of the ways to curb those responses is to eat more proteins and healthy fats like nuts, avocado, olive oil, and salmon or other fatty fish. Fats and proteins can help you feel full longer by regulating the way blood sugar (or glucose) is processed so that you don’t crave snacks and sugary foods as often.
Be conscious of your choices when eating out
The above tips can help you reduce your sugar consumption when eating at home— but what about when you go out to eat? With no labels to read, monitoring sugar consumption is a little more complicated. While some restaurants offer caloric information, few provide detailed information like sugar content. In these cases, you’ll need to make your best bet when ordering entrees or side dishes. Once you get into the practice of reading food labels, it will be easier to determine which items to avoid. For instance, after realizing that certain dressings and sauces contain high amounts of sugar, you may elect to cut down your intake by asking your server to leave off condiments or salad dressings or to serve them on the side. Avoiding the bread basket is another way to avoid added sugars.
Don’t try to go cold turkey
If you regularly consume a significant amount of sugar, cutting back drastically can cause tremendous cravings. This can in turn cause even the strongest-willed person to binge on sugary foods and drinks. Instead, cut back gradually; for instance, if you normally drink two sodas a day, cut back to one. If you add two teaspoons of sugar to your tea or coffee, cut back to one. Give your body time to adjust before reducing further. You can also try addition non-sweetener substitutions to your food; for example, in teas or coffee, try using vanilla or cocoa powder, or spices such as nutmeg or cinnamon to simulate sweetness without adding sugar.
Sugars and artificial sweeteners are found in the vast majority of the foods that we eat, so cutting back your intake does take some work. However, considering the negative health effects sugar that has on your overall health and your teeth, limiting your sugar intake is well worth the effort. For more information on how you can reduce your sugar intake, give us at 610-692-4440 or email [email protected]. Ready to see the dentist? Schedule an appointment here!