Sugar has been getting some bad buzz lately. Beyond its classic crimes—weight gain and diabetes—it’s also been linked to depression and heart disease. Because it’s often hidden (in alcohol, “healthy” cereals, jarred pasta sauces, and most processed foods), you may be getting more than you realize. So we asked Meghan Dixon and Victoria Myers, the Florida-based registered dietitians behind Nourishing Minds Nutrition, how to lower your intake of the sweet stuff, starting at one of the most sugar-filled places out there: the grocery store.
1. Watch Out For Hidden Sugar
“A lot of foods we don’t normally think of, such as ketchup and bread, have a lot of added sugar,” says Dixon. Read the label: If sugar is one of the first three ingredients, find something better. And watch out for sugars in disguise. Cane crystals, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, liquid fructose, or anything that ends with -ose is a sugar.
2. Go Full Fat
Low-fat foods may rely on extra sugar for taste. (Many can have an extra gram or two per serving than their full-fat counterparts.) “We’re advocates for things like olive oil, avocado oil, and heavy cream because the fat enhances the flavor so much that you don’t need as much sugar,” says Myers. Like any food, though, fats can have downsides, so moderation is key.
3. Say No To Faux
Artificial sweeteners may seem like the way to go, but because they tend to be much sweeter than cane sugar (often more than 100 times sweeter), they can actually train your taste buds to crave super-sugary things, say Dixon and Myers. Instead of swapping in a sugar alternative, focus on decreasing the sugar you add to your food—like in your coffee—by small amounts each week. "There's a time and a place for sugar,” says Dixon. “and if you're mindful of your intake, you can eliminate the excess.”
4. Beef Up Your Diet
Besides building muscle and increasing energy, protein can also help you cut back on sugar by making you feel fuller longer. Plus, when paired with sugary foods, it can regulate your blood sugar response, says Myers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests women consume around 46 grams of protein per day. (But check with your doc about what’s right for you.)