Cutting Back on Sugar: Healthy Ways to Curb America’s Mouth-Watering Obsession

By: Beth Winthrop
Feb 14, 2017 11:35 AM ET

Universally, people love sugar. It is a main ingredient in America’s favorite comfort foods, and with Valentine’s Day, sugar overindulgence might seem inevitable. Multiple studies show that eating too much sugar is directly correlated to obesity, which can lead to health problems. When it comes to sugar, moderation is key. Reducing the amount you eat is healthy, but that doesn’t mean you have to cut it out completely.

Our bodies need sugar. A type of sugar called glucose is the brain’s primary fuel, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Our bodies produce glucose by breaking down the carbs, fats and proteins that we eat, according to the NIH. As a result, we can get all the glucose we need from whole foods like fruit and milk. But we eat far more than we need. Sugar is often added to processed food to make them taste better—so much that the average American eats approximately 22 teaspoons of sugar a day.

Most health and nutrition professionals suggest reducing your sugar consumption by eating foods with added sugar in moderation. My colleague Kate Moran recommends checking your labels when food shopping and familiarizing yourself with other terms for sugar. Food manufacturers refer to added sugar under many names, including corn sweetener, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup and more.  Another strategy for reducing your sugar intake is substituting a high-sugar food for a lower-sugar one. For example, dark chocolate is a suitable exchange for milk chocolate—it’s less processed and is rich in antioxidants, satiating your craving for sweet while acting as a mindful substitution.

Many of us replace real sugar with artificial sweeteners, which are lower in calories. But while there’s no proof that artificial sweeteners cause cancer, researchers have found that they “alter the body’s ability to use glucose, which leads to weight gain.” Compounding the issue, artificial sweeteners taste sweeter than sugar and may be reinforcing our “sweet tooth.”  Overall, the healthiest alternative is to avoid both processed sugar and artificial sweeteners, instead eating whole foods with natural sugars.

With this in mind, when putting together a Valentine’s Day gift for a family member, friend or loved one, think about lower-sugar options. Include fruits like strawberries and blueberries, a few dark chocolate bars, and a snack like dried cranberries with nuts. A healthier lifestyle starts with a healthy influence, so show someone you love them by helping them make wholesome choices.

What strategies are you using to reduce the amount of sugar you consume? Share your ideas in the comments.