The #1 Thing You Can Do For Your Health
America's diet has been sugarjacked. Our foods are being gunked up with hidden sugars in ways—and to an extent—that most of us don't realize. We still tend to think about sugar as we did when we were kids: a pure, sweet treat that makes dessert taste like, well, dessert.
But in the past 40 years, new forms of sugar have crept into food processing at an astounding rate. Now most American adults consume a staggering two-thirds of a cup of added sugar every single day. And let's be clear: These are sweeteners added to food as an ingredient, not sugars that occur naturally, as they do in fruit. What's driving this increase is not just supersized cheesecakes or gigantic Frappuccinos. Sugar in its many forms is now showing up by the tablespoon in pasta sauce, in "healthy" breads, and in gravy, soups, and frozen entrees—as well as in yogurt and low-fat salad dressing. Some seemingly healthy breakfast cereals contain 10 different types of sugar.Ten.
Think you can spot all of them? Good luck. Sugar now goes by 50 different names on ingredient labels. And learning those names is only one step in finding out if your diet is exceeding the recommended limit of daily added sugar (6 teaspoons). First, consider that you need a sugar reality check.
Last year, when I was writingThe Sugar Smart Diet, we recruited volunteers to put our expert-developed 32-day plan to the test. We asked them to keep a diary for a few days so they could gain some insight into their own sugar intake. One panelist, who was not overweight but suffered nonstop food cravings, discovered that he was consuming more than 250 g of sugar a day—more than 10 times the amount recommended by the American Heart Association! He had no idea. It could be that maybe—just maybe—you, too, are taking in more than you realize.
Stop the Madness
As the editorial director forPrevention, I consult with many of the country's leading experts about the health issues plaguing Americans, and these experts are saying that our overconsumption of sugar is contributing to a tsunami-size national health crisis. That's because drenching your body in a continuous flow of sugar has far-reaching health implications.
Many of us struggle with weight, no doubt in part because consuming 130 pounds of added sugar a year adds up! Research shows that one form of sugar in particular packs on belly fat and stimulates the secretion of toxic chemicals that wreak havoc on the body.
Of course, too much sugar has also been linked to diabetes. Is it any wonder that 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes? Research also fingers sugar overload in the development of high LDL ("bad") cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, inflammation, early onset of Alzheimer's—even premature wrinkles.
So what can you do? Get smart and eat clean. Take a close look at your diet and kick out the hidden sugars, so you stay in the safe zone of about 25 g of added sugar a day.
Go Clean, Not Crazy
One of the truly amazing things about developingThe Sugar Smart Dietwas seeing what just 4 weeks of clean eating can do. The volunteers' results were spectacular. That test panelist who was consuming 250 g of sugar a day? He dropped 115 cholesterol points and no longer has a chattering chorus of food cravings in his head.
Another panelist lost 16 pounds during the first month. And, never an athlete before, she just participated in her first half-marathon and told me that she has dropped 33 pounds: "I dieted for 45 years and always got derailed by hunger and food cravings—until this plan." Of course, followingThe Sugar Smart Diet's step-by-step plans made it easier for these folks, but the bottom line for everyone: Cleaning out sugar overload works. It means a slimmer figure, more energy, and radiant skin. It also means you're taking your health seriously, preventing diseases that can take years off your life (as they add inches to your belly).
The really good news is you don't have to go overboard. Once you get what I call sugar smart and know where sugar is hiding in your diet, you can make smarter choices. You can decide when and where you want to eat sugary foods and what kinds of sugar are acceptable to you. You can even reclaim your right, as I did, to enjoy sugar the way you did as a child: as a simple, delectable treat. (See how one busy mom finally freed herself from sugar.)
So this year, I urge you to right-size sugar in your diet. I do believe you'll be amazed at the results. Your health, energy, and waistline will thank you.
1. Set a daily intention
Spend a few minutes acknowledging what you hope to achieve, practically or spiritually, and giving thanks for what is good in your life. Focus on the positive, so you don't try to fill an emotional void with food.
2. Start with a protein- and fiber-packed breakfast.
Breakfast skippers are 4½ times more likely to be obese than breakfast eaters. Aim for 300 calories, with 15 to 20 g of protein. Quick options: Greek-style yogurt with a little peanut butter, ½ cup of oatmeal with 1 cup of milk and 2 teaspoons of peanut butter, or eggs with low-fat cheese.
3. Don't go hungry.
Eating every few hours prevents the blood sugar dips that trigger cravings. Aim for 100 to 150 calories. Some good snacks: crudités (half a cucumber or 2 stalks of celery) with 3 tablespoons of hummus, 16 ounces of a fat-free latte with 7 almonds, or a small wrap with a slice of turkey and a stick of part-skim string cheese.
4. Get a good night's sleep.
One important goal ofThe Sugar Smart Dietis to restore metabolic harmony between the hormones ghrelin (which triggers appetite) and leptin (which signals satiety), along with insulin. When these hormones are working in concert, the result is fewer cravings and less propensity to store fat.
Swap out these sugar bombs for cleaner alternatives.
1. DITCH soda (39 g of sugar per can of Coke), and don't be fooled by sweetened iced tea (36 g in a snapple!). Opt for plain seltzer, or make your own infusion with fruit.
2. BEWARE of sugar-packed "healthy" foods, such as Denny's Cranberry Apple Chicken salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, which has a whopping 36 g of sugar. Instead, opt for Panera bread's Chopped Chicken Cobb with avocado, which has 3 g of sugar.
3. WATCH OUT for fat-free foods, especially low-fat salad dressings. Food manufacturers commonly use sugar as a flavor enhancer instead of fat.
Here's a recipe to help you get a taste of what we're talking about:
Broiled Mustard Salmon With Roasted Broccoli And Quinoa
1 tsp Dijon mustard
¼ tsp minced garlic
¼ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp balsamic vinegar
3 oz salmon fillet
2 c broccoli florets
2 tsp olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
¾ c cooked quinoa
COMBINEmustard, garlic, oregano, and balsamic vinegar. Spread onto salmon.
TOSSbroccoli with oil, salt and pepper. Spread broccoli on baking sheet and bake at 375°F for 20 minutes.
TURNoven to broil, place salmon on baking sheet with broccoli, and broil, stirring broccoli so it doesn't burn, until salmon is just cooked through, 7 to 8 minutes.
SERVEsalmon over quinoa with broccoli on the side.
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