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three cubes of sugar in a pile of granulated sugar with a gold tea spoon

Now that summer’s here, it can be easy to cool off with ice cream and slushies, or even beverages like lemonade, soda, and sweet tea. But we must be careful; all of those items may be filling your body with more sugar than it needs. So Wendy, one of our Personal Trainers and Certified Nutritionists from the Schottland Family YMCA, is here to help! The following is a guide from Wendy to help cut the extra sugar out of your diet. In the past, food was considered to be medicine, eaten to maintain health and well-being.

Today, ironically, a lot of food produces illness due to its quality and content. The average American eats more than 100 pounds of sugar a year, often lurking in packaged foods that are processed. In general, a good guideline is to eat real, whole food to avoid excess sugar. To slash sugar, you want to this of added sugars as empty calories. Your body doesn’t need them. It’s not hard to cut back on sugar and eventually not even miss it, when you eat whole food.

Here are a few tips:

It may be an obviously smart move to reach for cookies, candy, and other sweets less often, but sugar also lurks in processed foods, including savory ones like sauces and dressing. Food manufacturers use sugar to extend their products’ shelf life. Aim to eat more fresh foods and fewer of those that are sold in packaging. A few ways added sugar can be labeled are: evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, brown rice syrup, malt syrup, corn syrup, date syrup, barley malt, galactose or glucose.

A teaspoon holds 4 grams of sugar. A healthy diet limits added sugars to less than 10% of calories per day. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that's about 12 teaspoons.

Speaking of those sneaky sugars... Barbeque sauce, ketchup, and salad dressings are often loaded with surprising amounts of sugar. Why not make your own seasonings and condiments? Whip up an easy vinaigrette with olive oil, red wine vinegar, Italian spices, and garlic. Fresh or dried herbs can add flavor to meats.

A regular 12-ounce can of soda has 8-19 teaspoons of sugar. So, swap out sodas with water, or on occasion, sparkling water with a splash of lime, lemon or even cucumber.

Lemon, licorice, and anise are good flavorings for your tea. For coffee, try cinnamon, vanilla extract, or unsweetened cocoa powder. If you can drink milk, stir some in to add sugar that’s natural, but not sweet. Scan the nutrition information for your favorite coffee-shop beverage to learn which ones are loaded with the sweet stuff.

The sugar found in fruits is a great way to sweeten meals. Sprinkle raisins and chopped dates into salads and grain dishes; add fruit salsas to grilled or roasted meats, poultry, and fish. But be mindful of how much you’re adding, since natural sugar is still sugar.

Grilling or roasting brings out the sweetness in fruits. Think baked apples, poached pears, grilled pineapple. You can do the same with veggies. Roasted sweet potatoes and carrots are surprisingly sweet, compared to their raw versions. Sautéed onions and fire-roasted red peppers add sweet notes to many savory dishes.

Bake with unsweetened applesauce in place of sugar in your muffins, banana bread, and cakes. It adds texture and taste, but with no added sugar. Try a 1-to-1 swap to start, and experiment until you hit the right balance. Since applesauce is watery, you can also cut down on liquids in your recipe by about a quarter cup.

You detect 80% of flavor through your nose, so you can sometimes “trick” your brain simply by cutting a quarter of the sugar in non-baking recipes and replacing it with sweet-smelling spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Spices are good for your body, too. They’re packed with nutrients like calcium, fiber, iron, magnesium, and vitamins like C, K, and A.

Some servings of children’s cereal have as much sugar as three chocolate chip cookies! Try switching to whole-grain hot cereals like regular cooked —not instant — oatmeal. They usually have very little or no sugar. Mix in some mashed bananas or apples and cinnamon to kick the flavor up a notch.

Remember, this is a journey. Change takes time, but making small changes to your routine can have a big impact!