I’m generally a very healthy person. I love to cook my own meals, I work out regularly, I drink plenty of water, and get lots of sleep. But although my go-to dinner is grilled chicken, brown rice and veggies, when faced with a cookie, cupcake or any other sugary treat, I have a very hard time saying “no.” OK, to be honest, I am completely incapable of saying “no.” I’m addicted to sugar. Well, I was addicted to sugar.After working at a beauty and health website, I started to become very aware of what sugar does to your body and skin (spoiler: it’s not good). So last year, around this time, I decided I was officially going to cut back. (FWIW, the World Health Organization says you should cut back on sugar, too.) On top of my baked goods habit, I was funneling in sugar in so many inconspicuous ways. I decided that if I could consciously cut it out in some places where I wouldn’t even miss it, I’d feel less guilty enjoying it in its most obvious, and delicious, forms.
Over the past year, I was able to systemically cut excess sugar from my diet. Are you resolving to do the same this year? These are the tried and true tricks I used to cut back on my overall intake so that I could really have my cake and eat it, too.
1. Start Reading Labels: I can’t put anything in my cart anymore unless I give the nutrition facts and ingredient list a quick once-over. If I’m choosing between two types of almond milk, for instance, I don’t check the calorie content, carbs or fat. I check the sugar content. Keep in mind though that sugar in the nutrition facts isn’t necessarily added sugar. To find out if a food has added sugar, check the ingredients list. If sugar is listed, then it’s not naturally occurring and was added during the manufacturing process. Once you start looking at ingredient labels, you’ll be shocked at how many secret sugar foods there are. Low-fat foods and fruity yogurts were the hardest for me to get over.
2. Experiment With Spices: Since cutting back on sugar, my meals are more flavorful than ever. Cooking with spices is a genius way to add flavor to your meals without any extra sugar, salt or fat. I put pepper on everything when I never used to even touch it. Hot sauce has become my new best friend (be wary of sodium, though!). If you start making your meals more flavorful, you’ll fill up on your delicious main dish, feel more satisfied at mealtime and be less likely to crave sugar — or more food at all — after.
3. Add Fruit: Fruit has natural sugar in it, plus a ton of vitamins and nutrients important for health and beauty. Try adding fresh fruit to foods instead of sugar. Eat blander breakfast cereal instead of the sugar-laden kinds, and top it with fresh fruit to get that sweetness you crave. Mix berries or banana into your oatmeal instead of sprinkling it with sugar. In fact, think about how much sugar you eat at breakfast. If it’s a lot, think about swapping out the sugary versions for an alternative with less.
4. Don’t Deprive Yourself: Completely cutting all sugar out of your diet isn’t going to work. Anyone who has tried a strict diet and failed knows this. Plus, if you’re like me, making desserts off-limits would be torturous. So eat a donut every now and then. If you’re being conscious of what you’re putting into your body on a regular basis, you shouldn’t feel bad about eating a freshly baked cookie or two, or enjoying a slice of cake on a friend’s birthday. Cut the sugar out where you won’t miss it, so you can save up your allowance for the really good stuff.
4 Tips If Your Resolution is to Cook More in 2015
New Year’s Resolution: Fighting FOMO