When it comes to a balanced diet, I’m very much pro the all-things-in-moderation mindset. Eating your favorite foods (in true moderation) is a very real part of the Meg Colvin Wellness Plan. I have a difficult time shunning any food altogether, even the worst of the worst, because I believe absolute restriction is the gateway to binge eating and all the BS that comes with it.
However, there’s one thing that I try and pay close attention to in my own diet: sugar. When I say I pay attention to it, I’m not saying that I never eat it. Au contraire - I definitely eat it. I find that for me, a square or two of dark chocolate or a few bites of something with natural sweetness helps me control my own cravings, and keeps me from feeling deprived, and in some cases, I suggest to my clients that they do the same.
But recently, I’ve had a handful of coaching clients who, in an effort to improve their mood and health, have taken impressive steps toward consuming sugar as an occasional treat...only to find that their focus wasn’t improving, moods weren’t changing much, and that they were still feeling ready for a nap at 3pm. When we took a look through their food journals, I realized something interesting: The majority of my clients weren’t privy to some of the sneaky places sugar hides out. As a result, many of them were still consuming boatloads of sugar each day, despite their best efforts.
Because of this, even some of the most well-intended people eat far too much sugar each day…even the lucky ones who don’t have a sweet tooth. Chalk it up to this: sugar is one sneaky little biatch. I’m going to hit you with a reality check here: it's not just found in cookies and pies. It’s found in over 75% of processed foods and it shows up in all sorts of sneaky places, even (often, in fact) hiding out in foods that are generally thought of as “healthy.” Sugar works under quite a few aliases: there are roughly 60 different names from sugar, so it’s not always obvious to spot in a list of ingredients. The easiest way to avoid added sugar altogether is to avoid packaged, processed food, but if that isn’t always possible, here’s a list of some of the biggest culprits when it comes to sneaky sugars:
Low Fat/Reduced Fat/ Fat Free Food
Reduced fat foods became popular in the 70’s and 80’s, when we decided that fat was the enemy. However, when fat was removed from foods, it was rendered flavorless. Fat, which had previously provided flavor, was replaced with sugar to compensate for lost taste. Today, we know most fat is both healthy and necessary, so switching to full-fat products will not only generally ensure that you’re not accidentally consuming extra sugar, but it will leave you far more satiated than the low-fat and fat free counterparts.
“Healthy” Processed food
This is tricky, because foods like yogurt, granola bars, instant oatmeal, and whole grain cereals sound healthy at face value, especially when they’re slapped with an “All Natural” label (sidenote: the USDA does not have a strict or meaningful definition for this term).
But don’t forget to read the rest of the label: healthy-sounding Nature’s Path Organic Hemp Seed bars have 11 grams of sugar in a very small bar. One 6 oz container of Yoplait Fat Free Lemon Burst yogurt contains 31 grams. A single packet (btw- who actually only eats a single packet?) of Quaker Strawberry Instant Oatmeal has 13 grams, and a ¾ cup serving of Kelloggs Smart Start Strong Heart cereal has 17 grams of the sweet stuff. To put these numbers in perspective, most health experts agree that we shouldn’t eat more 20 grams of sugar a day.
Sauces & Condiments
Condiment lover? Me too - I feel ya. Unfortunately, many of said condiments are loaded with sugar, and those teaspoon-sized servings add up fast! Ketchup, BBQ sauce, honey mustard, conventionally prepared creamy Balsamics, and pre-packaged salad dressings are the biggest culprits. Not ready to give up your favorite food accessories? Try salsa, mustards, Harissa, guacamole, hot sauce, or pesto, instead.
When you eat fruit, it’s been perfectly portioned out with a nice, fiber-rich skin to help slow the absorption of it’s naturally occurring sugars. This fiber also keeps you full – it’s unlikely you’d ever sit down and put away 3 or 4 apples. When you drink juice, it’s important to keep in mind that the skin has been removed, and you’re easily consuming 3-4 apple’s worth of sugar, which goes straight into the bloodstream without any fiber to help slow it down. This rule doesn’t just apply for traditional fruit juices – some of those highly-touted green juices are just as bad. (Starbucks sweetheart Evolution Super Green juice has 27 grams packed in there – more sugar than you should probably have in a day). When you choose a green juice, look for one made from mostly veggies and very little apple or orange juice, which are traditionally added to give green juice more mass appeal.
You probably know by now that soda is a no-go when it comes to keeping sugar levels low: one can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar packed in that little tin container! Check the labels on fruit juices, sodas, coffee beverages, teas, cocktails, mixers, and energy drinks – beverages are known to be one of the biggest offenders when it comes to added sugar. Can’t live without your fizzy drink? Try squeezing some citrus into plain soda water.
Refined carbs (think products made of white, wheat, or enriched wheat flour) have the same effect on your body as sugar. While complex carbs in their original or near-original form contain fiber, beneficial nutrients, and don't have as much of an impact on blood sugar, processed grains including most breads, crackers, and pastas have had their nutritious outer husk removed, and have been so processed that they rarely contain any nutrients. Eating processed carbs can create unsteady blood sugar, much like eating regular old table sugar. If you’re dying for some bread or pasta, look for brands such as Ezekiel 4:9 that undergo minimal processing and use sprouted ancient grains (meaning, the seed has not been hybridized over the years).
The easiest way to avoid added sugar is by mostly avoiding the obvious culprits (you know…donuts) and by replacing processed food with real, whole, unprocessed food like fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, grass fed / free range animal products, such as eggs, chicken, beef and fish, and grains in their original or near-original forms.
Sidenote on artificial sweeteners: synthetic sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose taste sweet, but don't help curb a sweet tooth, as they send a confusing signal to the brain that can lead to overeating. Instead, try a baked apple with cinnamon, full fat, plain greek yogurt with berries, a banana with almond butter, or a square of 70% + cacao dark chocolate.
If you’re ready to learn how to kick your sweet tooth, improve your health, feel better, lose weight, or any combination of the above talk to me! I offer a free consultation and meet clients in person or via skype/phone. You can contact me here.