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Here are four ways to break the habit.
1. Identify sources of hidden sugars
Obvious sources of sugar include sweets such as cookies and candy. But items such as flavoured yogurts, salad dressings, and condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce can also be loaded with the sweet stuff. To be clear, natural sources of sugar—think fruit, veggies and milk—are okay. It's the added sugars that you want to reduce, so be aware of products in which they may lurk.
"It can be hard to differentiate between natural and added sugars in foods on grocery store shelves," says Mallet. She recommends reading the ingredients list and looking not only for the word ‘sugar', but also for items that end in –ose—such as sucrose, dextrose and glucose/fructose—which indicate added sugars. "If sugar is listed as one of the first three ingredients, you should consider limiting it," says Mallet.
2. Swap sugary drinks for healthier beverages
According to Statistics Canada, soft drinks are the number one sugar source for Canadian kids age 9 to 18. (Boys age 14 to 18 consume a whopping 41 teaspoons of sugar daily—the highest amount of any age group.)
"Sugar-sweetened beverages contain no nutritional value," warns Mallet. Plus, those liquid calories won't fill you up, so you're likely to be still be hungry—which may make you reach for more sugary drinks.
Dr. Elaine Chin, MD, chief medical officer of the Executive Health Centre in Toronto, recommends replacing pop with water, or, if you're thirsting for a fizzy drink, choosing sparkling water with added limes and lemons for flavour. She also suggests swapping sports drinks for Emergen-C vitamin drink mixes. "You'll replenish electrolytes and they taste great," she says. Just be sure not to overdo those either.
3. Switch up your snacks
To curb cravings, start by replacing sugary snacks with foods that are healthier, while still providing that sweetness factor. Over time, your taste buds will adjust to less and less sugar and food will taste sweeter. "Try plain Greek yogurt and add a touch of maple syrup," advises Dr. Chin. Once your palate is used to less sweetness, swap the maple syrup for some berries, seeds or granola to change up the flavour. When you're on the go, Dr. Chin suggests grapes or tangerine slices to get your sugar fix. "Fruit won't give you that instant sugar high," she explains. "The sugar gradually enters your blood stream." Plus, fruit has health benefits beyond being a sweet treat.
Mallet agrees that fruit makes for a nutritious snack, despite the fact that some are higher in natural sugars than others. "Canadians don't eat enough fruit to begin with," she says. "So don't worry about restricting certain kinds of fruit because of higher sugar content. Aim for a variety and you'll eventually find a good balance."
4. Cook more meals from scratch
The best way to reduce your sugar intake is to cook meals yourself. "That way, you know exactly what you're putting on your plate," says Mallet. Start by eliminating sugar-laden foods from your cupboards and fridge and replacing them with fresh ingredients. Mallet recommends sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store—the produce, meat and dairy sections—and avoiding the middle aisles.
She also cautions against using artificial sweeteners to curb your sweet tooth, since they don't help your taste buds adjust. "If you cook from scratch, over time, you're going to grow to like the actual taste of food without adding sweetness to it," she says. "Take baby steps and your efforts will add up."
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