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What if you were told that one ingredient could negatively affect your brain, mood, teeth, joints, skin, liver, heart, pancreas, kidneys and body weight? That ingredient is sugar, and it is so common in food that its negative effects aren’t realized until after removing it from your diet. Sugar is found in virtually everything we eat and drink, even the “health” foods that are marketed to the public as being better substitutes for sugary alternatives.

It is important not to confuse natural sugar with added sugar. Sugar naturally found in fruits and vegetables can be good for you; however, added sugar is what should be avoided or consumed in moderation. Americans typically consume 20 teaspoons of added sugar each day, compared to the recommended 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men per day. Excessive consumption of added sugars over time can lead to several health problems, including:

● Obesity and metabolic syndrome
● Heart disease
● Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
● Chronic inflammation
● High blood pressure and cholesterol
● Type 2 diabetes
● Dental plaque and cavities

If you think you could be on track to developing any of these health problems or if you think your diet contains an excessive amount of added sugar, you should consider cutting down your sugar intake significantly. Unfortunately, striking it from your diet can be extremely difficult. Many people even experience withdrawal-like symptoms from removing sugar. However, it is possible. Here are some tips for cutting sugar from your diet:

● Start Small- Cutting something out of your diet cold turkey may not be the best idea. When making such a drastic change, it is best to do it gradually. An easy first step is using less creamer and sugar in your coffee. Then, you could move on to cutting obvious sources of added sugar like baked goods.

● Read Nutrition Labels- Some sugars are obvious (cakes, cookies, etc.), but for others, you may have to do some research to know what has sugar and what does not. It’s important to check how many grams of sugar are in a serving size, but also to check the ingredients list. Sugar can be hiding under as many as 61 different names in the ingredient list, so be aware! By reading the labels, you may find sugar in places you never expected like salad dressings, tortillas or even milk.

● Avoid Simple Carbs- Simple carbohydrates can be easily broken down into sugars within the body which may cause your blood sugar levels to rise. Simple carbs can be found in white flour, white pasta and white rice. Simply avoid these foods by opting for a healthier multigrain option instead (which can be just as tasty).

● Avoid Artificial Sugars- When cutting sugar, many people flock to artificial sugars like Sweet ‘n Low, Splenda and Stevia. Artificial sugars are appealing because they are much sweeter than natural sugar and they contain little to no calories. However, artificial sugars can trick your body into thinking you’re eating real sugar, which can just increase your real sugar cravings.

● Don’t Drink Your Sugars- Many people may not even think about what is in their drinks. Soda is full of sugar and other chemicals, which most people are aware of. However, we often don’t think of juices, specialty coffees and sweetened teas as unhealthy options. Be aware of what is in your drinks and make necessary substitutions such as a sugar-free flavoring for your coffee, unsweetened herbal teas or simply water.

● Aim for Whole Foods- Processed foods typically contain the most added sugars and refined ingredients. Instead focus on natural, whole foods. You can almost guarantee that a food is good for you if it is grown naturally. A diet that focuses on whole foods will contain lots of vegetables, fruits, lean meats, fish, whole, unprocessed legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. Some people also choose to keep small amounts of dairy in their diets.

● Make a Plan- In order to stick to the no sugar diet plan, it’s important to plan ahead of time and have healthy snacks and meals prepared at all times. It will be much easier to reach for a soda, candy or other junk food if that is readily available, so have some healthy snacks prepared to keep near you throughout the week.

Cutting down sugar from your diet may seem very difficult at first, but once you have established a healthier diet, your body and mind will thank you.