I don’t have a problem with daily limits for many of the DASH diet food categories, while a few are more difficult to adhere to. My suspicion is that everyone struggles with different food categories of the DASH diet, since everyone lives and eats differently. The most difficult challenge for me in the DASH diet framework is reducing sugar in my diet.
(And to clarify, I’m talking about added sugar, not carbohydrates, or sugar that occurs naturally in things like fruits, milk, vegetables and grains.)
Thankfully, I dislike sweet beverages, so avoiding sugary sodas and juices aren’t a problem at all, which is great, since a 12-oz bottle of Sprite contains 38 grams of sugar, about 4-5 days’ worth of sugar for DASH diet adherents. However, sweet foods are a different story: I love them all. Ice cream, cakes, cookies, chocolate–you name it, I love it. Good-quality sweets make me happy, and I can’t imagine giving them up entirely. So, in order to stay under the “5 servings per week” limit, I really have to be strategic about maximizing my happiness quotient from the sugar I consume.
I’m still figuring out how to consistently stay below the DASH diet’s sugar guidelines without developing a void in my gluttonous heart, but I’ve found some tactics that work. (Well, most of the time). If you need a refresher on the DASH diet daily sugar intake guidelines or how to figure out how many DASH diet servings of sugar/sweets a particular item is, here‘s a handy guide.
If you look at the tips to reduce sugar intake below, you might notice some of them are about knowing what makes me happy. To me, knowing what works for me is just as important in reducing sugar intake as knowing where sugar tends to hide and how many servings of sugar a slice of cake, say, contains.
Tips for Reducing Sugar in Your Diet (Without Feeling Too Deprived)
- Know where sugars tend to hide. Nutrition fact labels are your friend. Check the nutrition fact label and get a sense of how many servings of sugar a particular item might have.
- Don’t do a sweet breakfast if you want to have anything sweet the rest of the day. I’d rather have a piece of chocolate at work or ice cream after dinner, so most days I don’t have anything sweet for breakfast. When I do, it’s with the understanding that that’ll be it for the day.
Instead of buying flavored yogurt, get a plain yogurt and add your own flavoring at home, like fresh fruits, jam, maple syrup, grape molasses, dried fruits in honey, etc. This lets you control how sweet you make your yogurt and how much of it you eat in one sitting. I usually find store-bought yogurts too sweet anyway, so this works well for me.
- If you snack at work (like I do) bring non-sugary snacks. Some that I’ve tried and liked: Roasted nuts, peanut butter crackers, string cheese and pre-sliced cheese, dried fruits, pretzels, hummus with celery and fresh fruits.
- Dried fruits are your friend. They do still have fructose, so it’s probably not a good idea to gorge on them especially if blood sugar is a concern, but they satisfy my sweet tooth and keep me from reaching for cookies and chocolate.
Fresh fruits are also great when you want something cool and sweet (like ice cream!).
- Go for quality over quantity. Better-quality stuff satisfies you with less. I find it to be especially true for chocolates and cakes. (This applies to significant others, too. :P)
- Share a slice of cake with someone else. I do this with Hubby unless it’s a special occasion (or unless we are being particularly bad). While it doesn’t completely eliminate sugar (which is not my goal anyway with DASH diet), it does help us reduce it.
- Drink an interesting beverage instead. At home, I brew high-quality loose-leaf tea after dinner. At work, I have a stash of different tea bags that I rotate through. We also keep a stash of flavored sparkling water. And ah, yeah, we drink beer and wine, too.
- Use a smaller bowl for ice cream and other scoopable desserts. We use small ramekins from IKEA. They don’t sell the exact same one anymore, it appears, but these VARDAGEN ones might be the replacement.
- Don’t be bored. This is really true for me. When I have nothing to do, or I’m not in the “deep work” mode with whatever I’m doing, I tend to mindlessly snack on sweet stuff. (This blog is quite helpful here. It’s been a lot of engaging work!)
- Make sure your meals are satisfying. This is also an important point for me. When I’m not satisfied with dinner, whether because it wasn’t quite tasty enough or just wasn’t enough food, chances are, I’ll want something sweet to get my food happiness gauge up.
Spending the “Sugar Budget” My Way
The beauty of DASH diet is that there is room for tasty desserts and cookies, unlike some restrictive diets that tell you those things are evil and absolutely off-limits. With DASH diet, it’s a bit like budgeting. I sometimes ask myself “Is this really what I want to spend today’s sugar budget on?” I can answer yes and go ahead and eat a crappy candy because I’m stressed out at work and need a quick pick-me-up. That’s certainly a suboptimal way to spend my sugar budget, but I’ll have made a conscious decision, rather than mindlessly–or unknowingly–blow through my day’s limit and regret it later, when I want an ice cream but don’t have room left for it. But the decision is still mine, and I like that. A lot.
How About You?
Do you have a hard time limiting your added sugar intake? What tricks have worked for you in reducing sugar in your diet?