If you’re a parent, you probably fight a daily battle with sugar. Most of us can attest to the noticeable effects of sugar on our kids’ behavior: “bouncing off the walls.” Study after study has demonstrated the negative side of added sugar: elevated cholesterol, liver inflammation and type 2 diabetes are on the rise among children and adolescents in the US. Diets higher in sugar have shown to be linked to behavioral problems, lower level of specific brain proteins associated with risk of depression, depressed immune systems and inflammation.
But with all the processed food on the market and added sugar lurking even in products that “seem” healthy, and with kids who are hooked on its sweetness, how do we reduce sugar in our diets? The answer is easier than it seems: crowd it out with the good stuff. Instead of worrying about what you’re taking away, add in healthy alternatives to leave less room for processed food and added sugars.
The ultimate goal is to reduce added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons (24 grams) daily for women and children and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) for men.
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It’s hard to know your enemy if you can’t recognize it. Packaged food is the biggest culprit of added sugar. Learn how to examine labels to find added sugars so you know which foods to steer clear of. Look at the sugar content on the label (under Total Carbohydrates), as well as the ingredient list. Beware of sneaky sweeteners like sucrose or agave.
Once you’ve figured out where your family’s added sugar is coming from, it’s time to crowd out those favorites with other sweet alternatives. Here are some of our suggestions for the most common culprits:
- Cereal: Swap out sugary cereals with unsweetened hot cereal like oatmeal, topped with fresh fruit. For a cold alternative, try homemade muesli (whole rolled oats, seeds, dried fruit and coconut flakes).
- Coffee Drinks: These sugar bombs should be avoided at all costs. Try homemade “bulletproof” coffee instead (coffee, unsweetened almond milk, grass-fed butter or coconut oil, vanilla extract).
- Cookies: Nothing wrong with a sweet treat, but packaged cookies are lots of sugar and not a lot of taste. Try a homemade recipe: Combine 1 cup of oats, 2 bananas and 1/4 cup of chocolate chips. Mix well and drop teaspoons of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes.
- Fruit-flavored yogurt: These yogurts have almost as much sugar as many desserts and masquerade as a healthy breakfast or snack option. Swap in plain, unsweetened full fat dairy, cashew or coconut yogurt and top with fresh fruit and a little bit of honey.
- Fruit juice: This is a huge culprit for kids. Save the fruit juice for rare special occasions–it’s a treat! Instead, try whole fruit (which is very hydrating), water infused with crushed fruit or a herbal, fruit-based tea. Our favorite is pomegranate berry!
- Fruit snacks: Slide a sweet finish like dehydrated fruit or unsweetened dried fruit like cherries or apples into the lunchbox instead of store-bought fruit snacks. Need a sweeter option try dates and figs which are also loaded with healthy fiber!
- Drinkable yogurt: Much like flavored yogurt, this is dessert masquerading as health food. Instead, try kefir pureed with fruit and a bit of honey or maple syrup (a little goes a long way).
- Graham crackers: They’re a diaper bag staple but they’re easily replaced! Try pumpkin seeds dusted with cinnamon and date sugar, or brown rice cakes spread with nut butter and dusted with cinnamon.
- Granola bars: Another quick snack that parents lean on and consider healthy, these often contain lots of sugar and little nutritional value. Try a trail mix with nuts, seeds and some dried fruit, or homemade muesli. Or swap for bars like Larabar that use dates and fruit to sweeten.
- Soda: Get a bubbly fix with flavored seltzer or seltzer with a bit of fruit flavored tea.
Ready to kick that sugar habit? We’ve got lots more tips for healthy eating and smart swaps in 52 Small Changes for the Family, available now for preorder.