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How to reduce your sugar intake to improve your health

Trying to curb your sugar intake? Whether your efforts are part of a diet to lose weight, a prescribed diet to manage or improve a medical concern, or for some other reason, you may find it more difficult to do than you thought.

Sugar can be deliciously appealing, whether it comes by itself in a packet or has been added to the baking of donuts or the manufacturing of chocolate candy. The use of sugar can also seem sweetly addicting and is habit-forming. Additionally, the substance can be found just about everywhere, which makes a sugar habit particularly challenging to break.

Sugar can be found on the shelves and counters of kitchens, on tables at restaurants and coffee shops and in other locations in the community, wherever people gather to relax and socialize. Sugar is also found in local supermarkets and other stores, including the added sugar found in canned goods, sauces, breads and an overwhelming number of other processed products wherever food and beverages are sold.

While sugar itself is not harmful to the body, consumption of excessive amounts day after day, year after year, has a damaging effect on both body and mind. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than the equivalent of nine teaspoons per day of sugar for men and six teaspoons of sugar for women. However, average daily consumption for Americans is 22 teaspoons per day, a factor that contributes to the national obesity epidemic as well as alarming rates of diabetes, depression, and other diseases that affect growing numbers of children as well as adults, negatively affecting quality of life and adding to already soaring costs of health care and use of prescribed drugs.

To curb your sugar intake, keep the following three interrelated guidelines in mind:

Start with high motivation and constantly maintain it

Attempts to curb sugar intake requires changes in diet as well as habits, ranging anywhere from causing a little discomfort to significant stress, depending on a number of factors, including how long the diet and habits have existed. A habit of consuming much sugar that started in early childhood, for example, will not be easy to change many years later as an adult. But, with a high degree of motivation, an individual can overcome even the worst habits and most difficult temptations and cravings.

One way to develop and maintain high motivation is to become increasingly aware of how excess sugar consumption harms the body, physically as well as mentally. To learn more, read a little each day, watch short informational videos, or talk to medical professionals you have access to. As you continue to learn, you will experience changes in attitude that will ultimately help set the stage for effectively curbing your sugar intake permanently and even effortlessly.

Another way to increase your motivation is to create incentives that reward you for your efforts to curb your sugar intake. For example, an individual who is accustomed to using one or two packets of sugar in his or her hot beverages every day may chose to only use a half a packet, a decision that is found to be very difficult to apply on a daily basis. Rewards might include relaxing for an hour each night with a favorite new book, indulging in a home facial or pedicure, or doing something else that brings pleasure or excitement. Rewards can be simple and plentiful as well as affirm self-worth and enhance self-confidence.

Prepare

Prepare yourself by setting goals, developing strategies, and organizing your resources. It is not enough to simply decide you want to curb your sugar intake, just as it is not enough to decide you want to start a diet, save money, or undertake some other new goal. Decide in concrete terms just how much you will reduce your sugar consumption, how you’ll do it, and what resources you’ll need. Include in your plan, consideration of how you ‘ll handle emergencies such as unexpected temptations, sudden cravings, and stressful situations, especially if you tend to be an emotional eater.

Strategies to curb sugar intake involve familiarizing yourself with the labels on foods and beverages you purchase. For example, names of added sugars on labels include: corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates and sugar molecules such as dextrose, fructose, maltose and sucrose. Furthermore, it helps to familiarize yourself with the meanings of labels that include terms involving sugar, such as reduced sugar or less sugar, which means that the product has at least 25 percent less sugar per serving compared to the standard size of the traditional variety.

Strategies to curb sugar intake also involve food and beverages you bring into your home and have access to both at the workplace and when traveling. Purchasing food for the kitchen that contains less sugar is a healthy move and can benefit the entire family. Putting together small packets of raw nuts, homemade trail mixes, and other snacks that are not processed in commercial bakeries and manufacturing plants can also provide you more control over the amount of sugar you consume. They can also serve as alternatives to the sweets available at the office or the sugary treats in the vending machines or convenience stores, whether you are at your office or on the road.

Strategies also involve a number of lifestyle changes. For example, eating a well-balanced diet that contains sufficient amounts of protein, vegetables, fiber and other nutrients, as well as drinking sufficient amounts of water can help provide feelings of fullness, increased well-being and energy that help combat the urge to give in to sweet indulgences. Becoming more active, going to bed earlier, and finding effective ways to reduce feelings of boredom, anxiety and effects of conflict without resorting to excessive amounts of sugar and overeating can also be very effective.

Evaluate

Periodic evaluation is an important key to success. In the beginning, you may benefit by checking your overall progress as much as once a month or even once a week. Are you reducing your sugar intake according to your plan? If you’re doing well, you’ll definitely want to continue your efforts. If there are difficulties, you’ll want to find out what isn’t working and why. Do you need more or different strategies? Do you need new rewards for greater variety? Or do you need to change your goal or work on a mini-goal, whereby you can take smaller steps? Keep in mind that evaluating your efforts will give you the answers to these important questions as well as help keep you motivated. Ultimately, even with the tiniest of changes, “progress, not perfection” will get you to your goal.

Through trial and error, you will move along the path to your goal. As you learn and take one step after another, your attempts to curb your sugar intake will lead lead you on a journey to better self-understanding, reduced health risks, and improved quality of life.