Let me begin by disclosing that I have always had, and always will have, a sweet tooth.
But you know what? I’ve discovered that it’s actually possible to have a sweet tooth and not eat much sugar.
If you’ve followed this blog from its inception, you know that I began it largely to share my journey to what I call a “real food diet.” (Here’s my Food Manifesto and here are 20 Steps to a Real Food Diet).
As I worked to eat healthier, I knew that sugar would be a particular weakness for me since I enjoy sweets so much! But I also became convinced that a sugar cutback needed to happen.
Sugar affects so much more than our weight. It can wreck havoc on our bodies and on all aspects of our health. (See the blog articles I’ve linked to at the end of this post for further reading on that.)
Here are the things we do to reduce our sugar intake:
1. We buy less processed food
One of the most effective ways to cut back, drastically, on your sugar intake is to avoid processed food. We changed the way we shop in the grocery store, stocking our pantry with real food ingredients and avoiding some foods altogether. We cook from scratch as much as possible. Because we sacrificed the convenience of processed food in favor of cooking from scratch, we try to keep our meals simple (although we do enjoy cooking!). Simple food is the heart of my cookbook, Real Food for the Real Homemaker, and I firmly believe it’s possible to eat well without spending hours and hours in the kitchen!
2. We eat actual sugar
When we do buy something that’s meant to have sugar in it, like a soft drink, we look for options with actual sugar. Corn syrup is the norm, but there are an increasing number of products that are returning to regular cane sugar instead. We don’t turn to aspartame as a substitute for sugar. High fructose corn syrup is one of the top ingredients we try to avoid, but I believe aspartame is even worse!
3. We changed our threshold for “sweet”
The less sugar you eat, the less you will crave it. I promise! I remember when it used to be a sacrifice to refuse a Coke. Now, it’s no big deal. It just doesn’t have the same appeal to me any more. We also add less sugar to recipes than the directed amount, and I put less sugar in my morning cup of coffee than I used to! We’re satisfied with less. We can taste the natural sweetness in whole foods, like bell peppers or carrots. And although I used to laugh at people who did this, I actually save fruit for the last part of my meal–it’s like dessert to me!
4. We satisfy cravings in other ways
When I’m hungry, I turn to savory, protein-rich foods rather than sweet things. Usually I can head off a sugar craving by eating one of these healthy snack ideas.
5. We drink water
A lot of dietary sugar comes from the liquids you drink. One no-brainer way to consume less sugar is to stick to water. We don’t drink juice with breakfast. We might average about one Coke a month, period. We don’t drink many alcoholic beverages because they’re simply not in budget! When we have hot tea, it’s sans sugar (for my husband), or just a squirt of honey (for me). Not buying many drinks also saves tons of money over the course of a year!
6. We don’t have dessert every night
I plan a couple of desserts into our menus per month, and we’re going to raise our kids not to expect desserts with every meal. We’ll have desserts for a special treat, or when company comes for dinner.
7. We just eat our favorites
I realized that I could apply the same principle to sweets that I do to my simplified wardrobe. I wanted to only own–and therefor wear–clothes that I love. Not clothes that I’m ambivalent about or I’m wearing for some vague “just because.” So why not eat only the sweets that I actually love? Gone are the days when I eat a dessert or cookie just because it’s there. Now I save myself for creme brulee, for carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting, for deep dish apple pie and gooey butter cake.
Those 7 are the main things we do to cut back on sugar in our diets. You might’ve noticed that I didn’t mention sugar substitutions. I like to take a simple approach to just about everything, so while I know there are viable sugar substitutions out there (such as sugar alcohols and stevia), I haven’t experimented with many of them. At this point, I’d rather just use a few basic sweeteners, but in careful moderation. Some recipes just need white sugar.
In addition to regular sugar, you’ll also find these in our pantry:
- honey (we like raw honey, which I’ve written about HERE)
- brown sugar
- rapadura/sucanat (read about it HERE, or buy it online)
- palm sugar (I haven’t used this much, but I think it works similarly to sucanat)
- molasses (molasses actually has health benefits! We add it to smoothies or homemade yogurt)
- sorghum (it’s like molasses but more mild. I haven’t used it much!)
All of these sweeteners are readily available in grocery stores or online. Agave nectar is easy to get, too, but we avoid it because it’s highly processed, making it akin to high fructose corn syrup.
Although we consume much less sugar than we used to (especially me–I always ate more than Eric!), we don’t feel deprived at all. I enjoy pastries and sweets in moderation, especially when they’re made from scratch, and there’s no guilt when I eat them. I’ve discovered the beauty of balance in the food I eat: I love the way my body feels on less sugar, and I love biting into a warm, gooey cinnamon roll now and then, too!
Further reading on sugar: