Need a little motivation to cut back on your sugar intake? A new study found that reducing sugar in packaged foods by just 20% could save millions from devastating diseases. Read on to learn more about that, plus get some tips on cutting back on sugar in your diet without depriving your sweet tooth entirely.
This Recent Study Shows That Reducing Sugar in Packaged Foods May Save Millions of Lives
We all know that reducing sugar in our diet is good for our bodies, right? But how much do you need to eliminate to make a real difference? While there’s no single right answer (it all depends on your health and any conditions that you may have), a recent study may at least give all of us a starting point.
First, though, we need a little background on the study for context. So, a few years ago the New York City Health Department launched the U.S. National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI). I think their name pretty clearly defines their purpose, right?
Then, they needed to figure out a good “sugar reduction target number” so to speak. Basically, a real number that they could then take to policymakers and say “This is what we need to do to make a quantitative difference.”
So, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Tufts University, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene got together to figure out that number. They created a model designed to “simulate and quantify the health, economic, and equity impacts of a pragmatic sugar-reduction policy proposed by [NSSRI].”
How Much Sugar Do We Need to Cut from Food & Drinks to Make a Real Difference?
Researchers found that reducing sugar by 20% from prepackaged foods and 40% from beverages could save roughly 3,720,000 adults from heart disease, fatal heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes. Within 10 years, it could also save the U.S. “$4.28 billion in total net healthcare costs, and $118.04 billion over the lifetime of the current adult population (ages 35 to 79).”
Lead author Siyi Shangguan, MD, MPH states, “Reducing the sugar content of commercially prepared foods and beverages will have a larger impact on the health of Americans than other initiatives to cut sugar, such as imposing a sugar tax, labeling added sugar content, or banning sugary drinks in schools.”
One thing to note, though, is that no one is advocating for forced changes, at least not as far as I can tell. Companies would need to voluntarily reduce the amount of sugar in their food and drinks. So, it’s still entirely up to you to manage your own sugar intake. With that in mind, let’s talk about where to start, especially if you’re new to healthy eating.
Guide to reducing sugar without feeling like you’re depriving yourself
First, keep in mind that the study isn’t saying that YOU specifically need to reduce your packaged food sugar intake and your sugary beverages by 20% and 40% respectively. It’s basically saying that if food manufacturers, on the whole, did that, we’d see real changes in the overall health of American adults.
The amount of sugar that you need to eliminate from your diet depends on so many factors. The most obvious, of course, is how much sugar you currently eat. Talk to a doctor or nutritionist to find your own target number.
That said, if you’ve been eating all willy-nilly without paying attention to labels for your entire life, it helps to have a general idea of where to start. Here’s what I’d recommend.
Step 1: Track Your Sugar Intake
Start a food journal and write down everything you eat AND drink for at least one week. Make sure you note the amount of sugar in each item on your list. Add notes about when you consumed it and why you chose that particular food or beverage. At the end of the week, add up the total amount of sugar.
Step 2: Decide what you CAN’T live without
Highlight or circle the foods and drinks that you simply can’t live without (metaphorically speaking, of course). Go over each and every item on your list and ask yourself, “Could I get by without this or would giving it up make me want to give up this whole healthy eating thing entirely?”
I really think that most people give up on healthy eating because they feel like it has to be all or nothing. We all have that one thing that we just don’t want to give up. Instead of telling yourself that you have to eliminate everything all at once, give yourself permission to work with your cravings instead of against them.
Step 3: Identify areas where you could make better choices
The reason I told you to write down the when, where, and why for each food and not just the food itself is because of this step. Too often, we choose something because it’s easy. We eat when we’re bored instead of hungry, and we barely even give a second thought to what we drink.
If we really examine our choices, I bet we could find dozens of opportunities to easily cut back on our sugar intake. For example:
- Use Monk Fruit or Stevia to sweeten your coffee.
- Swap out half of your sugary drinks for water. Don’t like the regular stuff? Try these infused water recipes instead then!
- Use honey instead of table sugar. While it’s still a sugar, you usually need less of it to sweeten your food or drink. Plus, honey has health benefits that make it a better choice.
- Stop mindlessly snacking while eating! If you can’t do that, then switch to crunchy veggies instead of chips.
- Can’t live without chocolate? Switch to dark chocolate. Not only is it better for you, but it’s also significantly lower in sugar. Milk chocolate is roughly 75% sugar while 85% Dark Chocolate, for example, only contains 15% sugar.
- Ditch store-bought gummies and try these homemade gummies (pictured below) made without refined sugar.
Step 4: Repeat, reevaluate, repeat
Once you’ve figured out where you can cut back, do it all again the following week, and the week after that. Do it for a full month! It takes time to create a new healthy habit, and that includes reducing sugar in your diet. If you find yourself slipping back to your old ways, do another week’s worth of journaling until you’re back on track.
Unless and until companies make the decision on their own to significantly cut back the amount of sugar found in packaged foods, we really only have ourselves to rely on. Cutting back on sugar takes work, but it’s absolutely worth it when you think about how many problems it can help you avoid in the future. You can do it! I believe in you!