March Madness? Yes. Yes It Is.

For those brides who are vying to get into their mermaid style gown or the rest of us who are already losing sleep about the upcoming swimsuit season, the lovely Desiree Nielsen, registered Dietitian, has kindly provided some words of wisdom to help us keep on our “no sugar” road to better health:

March is National Nutrition Month; it is a perfect time to reevaluate how we eat and the foods we choose to buy. So are you ready to go sugar free? Sugar is one of the most ubiquitous substances in our food supply today. Since the fat free nineties, we have worked on injecting this liquid “nutritional crack” into our diets to the point where our society is completely hooked. Just 50 years ago, the sugar we consumed came from cooking and baking with sugar in the home. Nowadays, people rarely buy a bag of the stuff, yet we are eating more than ever.

Where is all this sugar coming from? Processed foods. Every time you get a caramel latte, pop in a frozen dinner instead of cooking for yourself or snack on something out of a bag instead of something off the tree.

10 Foods where Sugar likes to Hide

1. Potato Chips

Lucky Charms

3. Salad Dressing

4. Granola Bars

5. Yogurt

6. Coffee Drinks

7. Breakfast Cereals

8. Bread and Baked Goods

9. Trail Mixes and Dried Fruit

10. Marinades and Sauces

So we eat a lot of sugar. Could it really be that bad for us? It can. While foods with naturally occurring sugars such as fruits, vegetables and dairy foods are chock full of nutrients, consuming added sugars provides no valuable nutrition. What added sugars do provide are lots of extra calories, which few of us need with all the sitting around we do. The result? Our seats feel cushier and we have to shop for bigger pants. In addition, a diet high in sugars makes it difficult to control our blood sugar, which along with excess pounds contributes to our risk of type two diabetes…a true epidemic in our modern world.

5 Health Conditions Added Sugars Contribute to

The Dreaded Scale

1. Acne*

2. Heart Disease*

3. Diabetes

4. Cancer*

5. Overweight

*through an increase in inflammation in the body

So how can we go sugar free?   We can clear our pantries of all sweeteners but we also need to investigate the rest of the food we have in our cupboards.   Don’t look at the sugars listed on a food’s nutrition panel as it will also list naturally containing sugars which we don’t have to worry about.   We want to attack added sugars so we need to read the food’s ingredients.

10 Names for the Substance formerly known as Sugar

1. Fructose, glucose, sucrose, maltose…actually, anything ending in -ose

Aunt Jemima Syrup

2. Corn syrup (high fructose or otherwise)

3. Maple Syrup

4. Honey

5. Cane Juice (evaporated or not)

6. Sucanat

7. Concentrated fruit juice (don’t kid yourself…this is sugar)

8. Agave nectar or syrup

9. Molasses

10. Brown Rice Syrup

Now that we have pantries and consciences cleared, we actually have to make it through the month without starving. If you are a confident cook, this won’t be too much of an issue for you. If you aren’t, it is time to get crafty. Go for a big grocery shop and fill your cart with healthy and easy to prepare foods such as fruits, vegetables, hummus (check for sugar!), canned beans, eggs, plain nonfat yogurt, cottage cheese, whole grains like quinoa and whole wheat pasta and sprouted grain bread and lean meats. I recommend that you focus on eating a bit more protein as it will help to stabilize your blood sugar, keep you energized and ward off maniacal sugar cravings. So at every meal and snack, choose a protein source to go with your fruits, veggies and whole grains.

In addition, I recommend avoiding foods that will quickly metabolize into blood sugars as they can still contribute to sugar cravings and leave you feeling lethargic and crabby, such as white bread, most crackers and cold breakfast cereals and fruit juice.

What about artificial sweeteners? I recommend you avoid them entirely, including granulated stevia products. Not only do we find artificial sweeteners in the processed foods we are trying to eat less of but they do nothing to help calm sugar cravings by providing you with more sweets to lust after, even if they are reduced calorie sweets. There isn’t a great deal of research to support their safety or their harm but common sense tells us that they are completely unnecessary as they don’t provide nutrition or energy, just a sweet crutch.

5 Super Nutritious Sugar Free Snacks

Carrots & Hummus

1. 3/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt with 1 cup thawed blueberries and 1 tbsp ground flax

2. Natural, unsweetened peanut butter spread on a sprouted grain tortilla and wrapped around a banana

3. Carrot sticks dipped into hummus

4. Turkey slices wrapped around apple wedges

5. A smoothie made from 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1/2 cup skim or soy milk, 1/2 banana, 1/2 cup frozen berries and 1 serving of plain unsweetened protein powder like whey or hemp.

Good luck on your sugar free journey…while a little bit of added sugar will always fit into a healthy diet, experiments like this can really help increase your diet awareness and teach you how to bust some bad habits. After a month, you may find you enjoy the way you are eating so much that you want to continue!

If you find yourself inspired to continue to make improvements to your diet, check out my blog All year long, I am sharing my weekly UnDiet plan. It is all about building healthy habits gradually to improve your diet painlessly and permanently.