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Read any advice column about improving your energy levels and you’ll likely come across some tip related to eating less sugar – the oh so good, yet oh so bad, sweet substance that seems to make most of the Western world go round. But reducing your intake of sweets can do more for your body than help you avoid the dreaded energy crash. It can also help improve your brain function and several other aspects of your total health.
In fact, research has proven that eating too much sugar impairs cognitive abilities and reduces key proteins necessary for responsiveness and memory. Doctors have also warned against a high intake of sugar because of its correlation with metabolic syndrome – a cluster of conditions that includes high blood sugar and high blood pressure, excess fat around the waist, and high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, having all these conditions together elevates the risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.
So what’s the best way to reduce your sugar intake? (Because we all know it’s much easier said than done!) Here are seven tips:
- Don’t Go from 60 to Zero. First things first. If you’re going to cut sugars out of your diet, don’t go cold turkey – you may be setting yourself up for failure. Instead, make the transition gradually. Only put one sugar packet in your coffee instead of two, or cut the post-lunch sugary snack you allow yourself in the afternoon. Do this for a week or two, and then move on to the next sugar-cutting opportunity.
- Read Nutrition Labels. Cookies, donuts, and candy bars are blatantly obvious sugar sources, but you may be getting a high intake of sweets from foods you don’t even realize contain sugar. Crackers, salad dressings, and condiments, such as ketchup, can all be loaded with sugar. So check the label closely and buy reduced sugar variations, if possible.
- Focus on Fiber, Protein, and Healthy Fats. Complex carbohydrates – which include grains and the foods made from them, such as breads, pastas, crackers, chips, etc. – are composed of sugar molecules that, as the name implies, are strung together in complex chains. These turn to glucose in the bloodstream and are digested much more quickly than food rich in proteins, fiber, and healthy fats, which will leave you fuller and satisfied for longer.
- Avoid the Artificial. Artificial sugars are actually associated with weight gain and have been proven to do little to diminish a person’s desire for sugar. Instead, try sweetening your food with spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, which can naturally help to reduce sugar cravings.
- Remove the Temptations. Don’t keep anything in your house that may tempt you to stray from your reduced-sugar diet. If it’s within arm’s reach, go ahead and toss it now!
- Drink Water and Lots of It. Sometimes food cravings are a disguise for thirst. Drink a glass of regular or sparkling water to try and curb the desire.
- Eat Regularly. You’re more likely to crave sweets when you experience dramatic dips in your blood sugar. To avoid this, eat five meals a day: three larger meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and two snacks.