Yesterday I gave you the lowdown on some dirty ways sugar sneaks into your diet. Now that you know where sugar lurks, it’s time to figure out some ways to cut back. I think the single fastest way to impact your sugar intake is to . . . stop drinking it.
If you remember, I told you the CDC found that half of Americans drink a soda or sugary beverage each day, but some drink a lot more than that. In fact, one in 20 people drinks the equivalent of more than four cans of soda each day, though health experts suggest you stick to less than half a can. At upwards of 8 teaspoons of sugar per can, one soda blows your total recommended sugar intake for the day.
It’s not just soda either. Americans are drinking too many empty calories in the form of juices, sweetened teas, sports drinks, coffee beverages and, of course, alcohol. None of these drinks provide any kind of nutrients to buffer the extra calories and sugar they deliver, which is why they don’t satisfy hunger. Because of a complex mix of hormones regulating hunger, scientists say the body doesn’t register liquid calories the same as food. So you could drink a 400 calorie Big Gulp and still be hungry enough for a 400 calorie cheeseburger.
In fact, the soda might even make you hungrier. According to Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard endocrinologist who wrote Ending the Food Fight, about healthy eating for kids, the sugar in drinks may set off a cycle of hunger.
“It’s rapidly absorbed, which raises blood sugar and in effect causes the body to panic,” said Ludwig. “The body releases insulin to break down the sugar” but the body overcompensates, “and blood sugar drops below the fasting level,” lower than it was in the first place.
Recognizing low blood sugar, the body releases hormones, signaling us to eat even more, Ludwig said.
Now, if you are reliant on your daily soda (or Arizona Iced Tea, or Frappuccino, or lemonade, or whatever), you may struggle with the idea of giving it up. But I’m telling you, just that one change can make a huge difference. Don’t believe me? Try writing down all the sugary drinks you consume over the course of three days. Then, add up all the extra sugar and calories. I bet you’ll be shocked at the number. If not, great! You’re already doing better than most. But if your calculations are jaw-dropping, you’ve got a meaningful first step to reducing your sugar and calorie intake. Win/win.
Btw, I’m on day four of my sugar cut-back, and I’m doing shockingly well. My sugar thoughts are ebbing and I’ve been able to resist major candy cravings with relative ease. Even with my husband out-of-town, and leftover Easter candy in the house, I haven’t slipped once. I did throw away a bag of marshmallows we had in the pantry though. I can’t resist them, so I got rid of them. (Mikey, I know you are laughing at me as you read this!) The only explanation I have for this lack of craving torment is that aliens have taken over my body, but since the rest of me feels relatively normal (now my dad is laughing), I don’t mind at all.